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Modernism. An Overview. Herrick on Modernism. Characteristics questioning received truths of Christian tradition elevating rationality over other sources of truth seeking solutions to social problems by means of scientific method viewing the universe as governed by inviolable physical laws.

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An Overview

herrick on modernism
Herrick on Modernism
  • Characteristics
      • questioning received truths of Christian tradition
      • elevating rationality over other sources of truth
      • seeking solutions to social problems by means of scientific method
      • viewing the universe as governed by inviolable physical laws
three key concepts
Three Key Concepts
  • Modernism is generally used as a way of referring to an aesthetic approach dominant in European and American art and literature in the Twentieth Century. The principles of formalism and the autonomy of art are key features of modernism.
  • The "project of Modernity" can be thought of as the development of science, philosophy and art, each according to its own inner logic. This links the concept of modernity to the concept of modernism as it was articulated by Greenberg.
  • The concept of the avant-garde is that of a loosely organized oppositional force and challenge to the dominant artistic culture. The avant-garde is often thought of as part of the "inner logic of modernism" - the built in source of contradiction or critique that moves art forward. (Note that this assumes a model of progress as part of the inner development of the arts and culture.)
general definitions
General Definitions
  • Modernism
    • a term typically associated with the twentieth-century reaction against realism and romanticism within the arts. More generally,it is often used to refer to a twentieth-century belief in the virtuesof science, technology and the planned management of social change.
  • Modernity
      • refers to a period extending from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries (in the case of Europe) to the mid to late twentieth century characterized by the growth and strengthening of a specific set of social practices and ways of doing things. It is often associated with capitalism and notions such as progress.
history the influence of modern science
History & the Influence of Modern Science
  • Modern European society emerged from the 18th Century with an Enlightenment optimism based on the apparent success of science & technology in explaining various natural phenomena in rational& mechanical terms and in utilizing aspects of "Nature" for the purposes of "Man".
  • This modern, Enlightenment approach retains, for the most part, vestiges of a Christian world view which assumes
      • a separation of "Man" and "nature", mind and body, and thus
      • the possibility of understanding human experience as, in some sense, distinct from natural events.
  • The experience of human beings on earth becomes the basis for a grand teleological concept of History [Hegel]. On this account, the history of "Man" becomes the story of how human beings came to increase their freedom from the natural world and the material constraints associated with it by the exercise of their innate capacity to think logically in the pursuit of truth and knowledge.
a working definition
A Working Definition
  • Modernism is a cultural movement which rebelled against Victorian mores
    • emphasis on nationalism & cultural absolutism.
    • placing humans over and outside of nature.
    • belief in a single way of looking at the world, and in absolute and clear-cut dichotomies between right and wrong, good and bad, and hero and villain.
    • seeing the world as being governed by God's will, and that each person and thing in this world had a specific use.
a working definition1
A Working Definition
  • Modernism is a cultural movement which rebelled against Victorian mores
    • seeing the world as neatly divided between "civilized" and "savage" peoples.
      • According to Victorians, the "civilized" were those from industrialized nations, cash-based economies, Protestant Christian traditions, and patriarchal societies; the "savage" were those from agrarian or hunter-gatherer tribes, barter-based economies, "pagan" or "totemistic" traditions, and matriarchal (or at least "unmanly" societies).
in contrast modernists
In contrast, Modernists
  • rebelled against Victorian ideals
  • emphasized humanism over nationalism, and argued for cultural relativism.
  • emphasized the ways in which humans were part of and responsible to nature.
  • argued for multiple ways of looking at the world, and blurred the Victorian dichotomies by presenting antiheroes, uncategorizable persons
in contrast modernists1
In contrast, Modernists
  • challenged the idea that God played an active role in the world, which led them to challenge the Victorian assumption that there was meaning and purpose behind world events.
  • Instead, Modernists argued that no thing or person was born for a specific use; instead, they found or made their own meaning in the world.
  • Challenging the Victorian dichotomy between "civilized" and "savage," Modernists reversed the values associated with each kind of culture.
      • Modernists presented the Victorian "civilized" as greedy and warmongering (instead of being industrialized nations and cash-based economies), as hypocrites (rather than Christians), and as enemies of freedom and self-realization (instead of good patriarchs).
modern philosophy
Modern Philosophy
  • Modern philosophy liberates itself (to a large extent) from the Aristotelian world view. In doing so it shifts its emphasis (via the French philosopher Rene Descartes) toward the notion of an a priori conscious ego--a thinker or cogito--that observes the world and historical events from a position of rationality, detachment and objectivity.
  • Rationalism: We, as thinkers, are linked to pure rationality--a transcendental order. We are rational beings because the universe is rational. The universe is rationally ordered because God is rational. Thus, by objectively--empirically and scientifically--studying the order concealed in Nature we are studying the ways of God the Mathematician.
  • This "objectivity", together with an increasing value placed on the individual, puts the human being ("Man") at the center of History and knowledge.
  • With this freedom and centrality comes a strong measure of responsibility and the duty to protect and increase the autonomy of every rational human being. [Kant]
literary characteristics
Literary Characteristics
  • "a general term applied retrospectively to the wide range of experimental & avant-garde trends in the literature (and other arts) of the early 20th century....
  • Modernist literature is characterized chiefly by a rejection of 19th century traditions and of their consensus between author and reader: conventions of realism ... or traditional meter.
  • Modernist writers tended to see themselves as an avant-garde disengaged from bourgeois values, and disturbed their readers by adopting complex and difficult new forms and styles.
  • Modernist writing is predominantly cosmopolitan, and often expresses a sense of urban cultural dislocation, along with an awareness of new anthropological and psychological theories. Its favored techniques of juxtaposition and multiple point of view challenge the reader to re-establish a coherence of meaning from fragmentary forms."
general critique
General Critique
  • Late Modernism: Social turmoil, increasing nuclear threat, the technologization of the workforce under multinational capitalism, and the breakdown of religious belief leads to a kind of nihilism and anxiety about the future.
      • World War II - Negative effects of the war are offset temporarily by the economic prosperity & postwar reconstruction which takes place during the ‘50s.
      • Cold War - Tension between the Soviet Union and the United States under the strain of a nuclear buildup offsets the psychological effects of the post-War economic prosperity.
      • Domestic tensions: Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Movement, Environmentalism, Viet Nam, political assassinations (JFK, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X).
general critique1
General Critique
  • All aspects of the Enlightenment project of modernity are called into question. This involves a radical critique and often uncritical rejection of:
    • objectivity;
    • the a priori subject as the source of meaning, authenticity, and authority;
    • the importance of truth and abstract reason;
    • the teleological approach to history;
    • universalizing grand narratives that aspire to completeness;
    • the distinction between "high" and "low" culture.
general critique2
General Critique
  • According to Frederic Jameson, postmodernism rejects what he calls "the depth model" and its binary oppositions:
    • essence vs. appearance,
    • latent vs. manifest content,
    • authenticity vs. inauthenticity
    • signifier vs. signified.
general critique3
General Critique
  • Thought, reason, & observation come to be seen as dependent on language as a structural, mediating system and not as the acts of a pure, nonmaterial consciousness with direct access to reality.
  • Thus, "there is no outside-the-text" [Derrida], i.e. there is no point outside of some conceptual frame-work, model or form of representation.
  • There are no origins or fixed references. All discourse is an intertextual play of signifiers on a level surface without depth and without a foundation.
general critique4
General Critique
  • The alienation of the subject is replaced by a sense of "free-floating and impersonal" fragmentation. This signals the "death of the subject", i.e. the end of Individualism.
    • Modernism valorizes personal style.
    • This presupposes a unique individuality - a private identity or self (subject) - that generates his or her own style according to a personal vision.
    • This individualism is put into question in High (or Late) Modernism. The concept of the individual, autonomous subject is looked upon as ideological.
    • This presents us with a problem: If there are no individual, creative subjects, and nothing new is possible, what is it that an artist does?