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What Ever Happened to Modernism?

What Ever Happened to Modernism?

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    What Ever Happened to Modernism?
    Book Description:

    The quality of today's literary writing arouses the strongest opinions. For novelist and critic Gabriel Josipovici, the contemporary novel in English is profoundly disappointing-a poor relation of its groundbreaking Modernist forebears. This agile and passionate book asks why.

    Modernism, Josipovici suggests, is only superficially a reaction to industrialization or a revolution in diction and form; essentially, it is art coming to consciousness of its own limits and responsibilities. And its origins are to be sought not in 1850 or 1800, but in the early 1500s, with the crisis of society and perception that also led to the rise of Protestantism. With sophistication and persuasiveness, Josipovici charts some of Modernism's key stages, from Dürer, Rabelais, and Cervantes to the present, bringing together a rich array of artists, musicians, and writers both familiar and unexpected-including Beckett, Borges, Friedrich, Cézanne, Stevens, Robbe-Grillet, Beethoven, and Wordsworth. He concludes with a stinging attack on the current literary scene in Britain and America, which raises questions about not only national taste, but contemporary culture itself.

    Gabriel Josipovici has spent a lifetime writing, and writing about other writers.What Ever Happened to Modernism?is a strident call to arms, and a tour de force of literary, artistic, and philosophical explication that will stimulate anyone interested in art in the twentieth century and today.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16582-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. 1 My Whole Body Puts Me On My Guard Against Each Word
    (pp. 1-8)

    In 1864 Mallarmé, aged twenty-three, wrote to his friend Henri Cazalis: ‘I feel I’m collapsing in on myself day by day, each day discouragement overwhelms me, and the lethargy is killing me. When I emerge from this I’ll be stupefied, nullified (. . .Chaque jour le découragement me domine, je meurs de torpeur. Je’sortirai de là abruti, annulé).’ Shortly after this Mallarmé began work on a verse tragedy,Hérodiade, but was soon struck down by another bout of poetic impotence:

    On top of that I am disgusted by my self; I step back from the mirror, seeing my face...

  6. I The Disenchantment of the World

    • 2 The Oracles Are Silent
      (pp. 11-20)

      When does Modernism begin? That seems an innocent enough question, but it is actually the source of many of the problems we have in coming to terms with it. Since the passages I quoted in the last chapter from Mallarmé, Hofmannsthal, Kafka and Beckett all fall between the years 1850 and 1950 the temptation is strong to date Modernism in that hundred-year period. This is certainly when it flourished and when its manifestations were so prevalent that no-one could ignore it. The danger in seeing it like that, though, is that Modernism is thereby turned into a style, like Mannerism...

    • 3 What Shall We Have To Drink In These Deserts?
      (pp. 21-38)

      Let me try to give a little more life to that striking phrase, ‘the disenchantment of the world’, by focusing on the work of a few artists, working from the early sixteenth to the early nineteenth centuries. I could have chosen others, but these will do both as examples and as a way of introducing some of the themes that will come into prominence when we turn to the modernism of our own time.

      I want to begin with three sixteenth-century artists, and, first, with a visual artist and with a work made in 1514, three years, that is, before...

    • 4 Anxiety Is The Dizziness Of Freedom
      (pp. 39-47)

      One cannot look at Dürer’sMelencolia Ior read a chapter of Rabelais or Cervantes without sensing that they knew in their bones that they were living through a period of decisive change. Every major artist of the time sensed this, but most, from Leonardo to Michelangelo, from Petrarch to Spenser, saw only the opening up of new possibilities as older traditions crumbled and were swept away. The repressive tyranny of the Church was being destroyed and Protestantism had got rid of old superstitions while Humanism gave the individual a new freedom to express himself – that at least is...

    • 5 I Heard The Murmur And The Murmuring Sound
      (pp. 48-62)

      But before we turn to Modernism proper it may be useful to take a slightly more extended look at an artist working in the heyday of the French Revolution. It is important to do this to give flesh to what might seem too abstract and general, just as we turned to Dürer, Rabelais and Cervantes to anchor the discussion of the sixteenth-century ‘disenchantment of the world’. Wordsworth was born in the same year as Beethoven, 1770, and is perhaps, like him, so remarkable an innovator just because he was still rooted in the eighteenth century. He has much to teach...

  7. II Modernism

    • 6 It’s A Quick Death, God Help Us All
      (pp. 65-77)

      If Wordsworth and Friedrich abandon genre they nevertheless produce works which immediately assert that they are art and not something else, Wordsworth because he writes in verse, Friedrich because he paints in oils and frames his pictures. The novel’s denial of genre was more radical. For the novel is precisely the form that emerges when genres no longer seem viable. From the start it pretended or pretended to pretend to be something else: a translation from a lost Arabic manuscript, the true account of the wreck of a boat on a desert island, the memoirs of a whore, a rake...

    • 7 The Marquise Went Out at Five
      (pp. 78-91)

      I have been talking about the classic novel as a lure and a temptation, to which therealwriter, in Kierkegaard’s terms, succumbs at his peril. I have been suggesting that because it subtly confuses possibility and actuality it produces in the reader the impression that he or she understands something – what it feels like to be a tiger, to be boiled alive as lobsters are – when full understanding is impossible and what the writer who cares for reality should be doing is making us grasp the distance that separates us from the tiger in his tigerness, the...

    • 8 A Universe for the First Time Bereft of All Signposts
      (pp. 92-100)

      ‘This poem’, Tolstoy wrote inWhat is Art?about Mallarmé’s ‘A la nue accablante tu’, ‘is not exceptional in its incomprehensibility. I have read several other poems by Mallarmé and they also had no meaning whatever.’ Tolstoy was not alone in his suspicions, but neither was Mallarmé alone in being the subject of general incomprehension. In his early, rather romantic memoircum- meditation,La Corde raide, Claude Simon, who himself started out as an artist, describes a taciturn, friendless, obsessive painter, who also like himself had been born and bred in the South, returning day after day to the same spot,...

    • 9 The Mutilated Body Was Thrown Back Into The Sea
      (pp. 101-113)

      Here is a cultural historian’s view of Cubism:

      For centuries painters had faced the task of providing an illusion of three-dimensionality in a two-dimensional medium . . . Now the first Cubists . . . Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, rejected these time-honoured solutions: they were intent on making works of art that would not let the viewer forget their distinct essence as human products. They shattered surfaces that in nature belong together and reassembled fragmented reality by transforming a curved object like a woman’s breast or a man’s cheek into some strange geometric contour that resembled virtually nothing, certainly...

    • 10 Fernande Has Left With A Futurist
      (pp. 114-124)

      What Rosalind Krauss discerns as happening in the Picasso collages of 1912–13 is a key moment in Modernism’s understanding of itself, not just a moment in Picasso’s personal odyssey. For it is the moment when artists grasped that what they were producing were signs or emblems for the external world, not mirrors reflecting it. With that insight, however, as Rosalind Krauss realises, a new abyss yawned: is art then nothing but the circulation of signs?

      Picasso’s hatred of Futurism and of abstraction is well documented. As always with these things motives are mixed and strongly held views overdetermined. Krauss...

    • 11 A Clown, Perhaps, But An Aspiring Clown
      (pp. 125-135)

      I grow old . . . I grow old . . .

      I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

      Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

      I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

      I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

      I do not think that they will sing to me.

      I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

      Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

      When the wind blows the water white and black.

      We have lingered by the chambers of the sea...

    • 12 I Would Prefer Not To
      (pp. 136-142)

      When Bartleby is asked by his employer to do something, it will be remembered, he takes to answering: ‘I would prefer not to.’ In an interview with his dealer, Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, Picasso recalled: ‘I well remember what I told [Braque and Gris] in the cubist room at the Indépendants, where there were some Gleizes and Metzingers: “I thought we’d enjoy ourselves a bit, but it’s getting bloody boring again.” ’ ‘The whole scaffolding of art bores me and gives me a headache’, remarks Thomas Mann’s composer-hero, Adrian Leverkühn. And Beckett: ‘I speak of an art . . . weary of...

  8. III Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

    • 13 The Imitation of an Action
      (pp. 145-162)

      What we need is an example of a different language-game. Rabelais, we saw, played his own work off against the Bible, and Cervantes his againstThe Odyssey. Schiller’s great essay on the travails of modern art, ‘On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry’, set the ‘naïve’ poetry of the ancients against the ‘sentimental’ or self-conscious poetry of his age. If we are to take an Eliot, a Kafka or a Wittgenstein seriously, then we need to try and focus on a period in which there was no ‘dissociation of sensibility’, in which Alexander’s sword did point the way to his goal, in...

    • 14 It Took Talent To Lead Art That Far Astray
      (pp. 163-177)

      Here are three quotations:

      He spoke sententiously, breaking off abruptly. I had an uneasy feeling, unlikely as this would be, that he might be about to ask me to act as best man at his wedding. I began to think of excuses to avoid such a duty. However, it turned out he had no such intention. It seemed likely, on second thoughts, that he wanted to discuss seriously some matter regarding himself which he feared might, on ventilation, cause amusement.

      If it had not been such an intolerably hot evening, Bernard would have suggested remaining in their seats in the...

    • 15 Stories Of Modernism
      (pp. 178-187)

      Naturally I think the story I have just finished telling is the true one. At the same time I recognise that there are many stories and that there is no such thing asthetrue story, only more or less plausible explanations, stories that take more or less account of the facts. I am aware too that these stories aresites of contestation; more is at stake than how we view the past. That is what is wrong with positivist accounts of Modernism, which purport simply to ‘tell the story’, like Peter Gay’sModernism. These make a show of impartiality...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 188-196)
  10. Index
    (pp. 197-206)
  11. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 207-208)