There is traditionalism, and there is innovation. There are artists who, by temperament, tend towards the former, and there are those who tend towards the latter. While both categories are valuable and necessary, the most striking works are often created by artists in whom there exists a healthy tension between the two: fiction writers, say, who are enchanted by avant-garde techniques and hybrid forms as much as they relish the pleasures of a good yarn; or poets who enjoy typographical kinkiness and the worrying of language as much as they enjoy metaphor, rhythm, and clarity of image.
While modernism as a cultural-artistic movement was a spirited attempt to radically break with the past, novelty in art is more often a question of degree: a certain amount of tradition – the application of existing templates - together with a certain amount of innovation. The severest works of modernism, such as that fascinating abomination, Joyce's Finnegans Wake, have little to do with any pre-established templates whatsoever. YetFinnegans Wake, let’s be honest, is pretty-much unreadable. We admire it for what it is: an audacious, near-insane act of literary extremism; but its radicalism, its monstrous solipsism, mean that very few of us ever really connect with it (even Ezra Pound, Joyce’s erstwhile champion, expressed disdain for Joyce’s 17-year descent into glossolaliac obscurantism.)