"On or about December 1910 human nature changed." The great modernist writer Virginia Woolf wrote this in her essay "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown" in 1924. "All human relations shifted," Woolf continued, "and when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature." This intentionally provocative statement was hyperbolic in its pinpointing of a date, but almost anyone who looks at the evolution of Western culture must note a distinct change in thought, behavior, and cultural production beginning sometime in the late nineteenth century and coming to fruition sometime around the Second World War. This change, whether in art, technology, philosophy or human behavior, is generally called Modernism.
Modernism like Romanticism, designates the broad literary and cultural movement that spanned all of the arts and even spilled into politics and philosophy. Like Romanticism, Modernism was highly varied in its manifestations between the arts and even within each art. The dates when Modernism flourished are in dispute, but few scholars identify its genesis as being before 1860 and World War II is generally considered to mark an end of the movement's height. Modernist art initially began in Europe's capitals, primarily London, Milan, Berlin, St. Petersburg, and especially Paris; it spread to the cities of the United States and South America after World War I; by the 1940s, Modernism had thoroughly taken over the American and European academy, where it was challenged by nascent Postmodernism in the 1960s.
Modernism's roots are in the rapidly changing technology of the late nineteenth century and in the theories of such late nineteenth-century thinkers as Freud, Marx, Darwin, and Nietzsche. Modernism influenced painting first (Impressionism and Cubism are forms of Modernism), but in the decade before World War I such writers as Ezra Pound, Filippo Marinetti, James Joyce, and Guillaume Apollinaire translated the advances of the visual arts into literature. Such characteristically modernist techniques as stream-of-consciousness narration and allusiveness, by the late 1930s, spilled into popular writing and became standard.
The movement's concerns were with the accelerating pace of society toward destruction and meaninglessness. In the late 1800s many of society's certainties were undermined. Marx demonstrated that social class was created, not inherent; Freud reduced human individuality to an instinctive sex drive; Darwin provided fossil evidence that the Earth was much older than the estimate based on scripture; and Nietzsche argued that even the most deeply held ethical principles were simply constructions. Modernist writers attempted to come to terms with where humanity stood after its cornerstones had been pulverized. The modernists sifted through the shards of the past looking for what was valuable and what could inspire construction of a new society.
T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 26, 1888. He attended Harvard, the Sorbonne, and Oxford, studying philosophy and writing a dissertation on the logician F. H. Bradley. While in college, Eliot began writing poetry, but in 1908 he discovered French symbolist poetry and his whole attitude toward literature changed. Ezra Pound read some of Eliot's poetry in the 1910s and immediately decided that Eliot would be a member of his own literary circle. Pound advocated for Eliot with Harriet Monroe of Poetry magazine and got Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" published in that journal in 1915. Eliot had settled in London at the same time and married the emotionally unstable Vivian Haigh-Wood. Eliot struggled to make a living, working as a teacher and later at Lloyd's Bank until 1925.
In 1922 Eliot broke through with his brilliant and successful poem "The Waste Land," although the manuscript of the poem demonstrates that Ezra Pound played a large role in the editing of the poem. "The Waste Land" brought Eliot fame and a place at the center of the burgeoning modernist movement. For the rest of the 1920s and 1930s, Eliot used his fame and his position as editor of a prominent literary journal (The Criterion) and as managing editor of the publishing house Faber & Faber to argue for a new standard of evaluating literature. In critical essays and his own poetry, he denigrated the romantics and neoclassicists and celebrated Dante and the Elizabethan "metaphysical" poets. He argued for the central role of "Tradition" in literature and downplayed the cult of individual genius created by the romantics.
For the remainder of his life, Eliot occupied the role of literary elder statesman. He continued to produce poems such as the Four Quartets but was never prolific. He became the model of the conservative, royalist, High Church English gentleman. He died January 4, 1965, the very embodiment of the literary establishment.
William Faulkner (1897-1962)
William Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, on September 25, 1897, to a family with deep Mississippi and Confederate roots. He grew up in Oxford, Mississippi, and briefly attended the University of Mississippi before leaving the state to seek his fortune as a writer. Settling briefly in New Orleans, Faulkner came under the tutelage of Sherwood Anderson and published his first book, The Marble Faun, a collection of short stories, in 1924. In 1929 he published the novel Sartoris, his first work set in the fictional Mississippi county of Yoknapatawpha. Others followed, including his masterpieces The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Faulkner received a great deal of critical attention for his works, but he never obtained the kind of financial success that he sought. Attempting to remedy this, he wrote two sensationalistic books (Sanctuary and Requiem for aNun) and briefly moved to Los Angeles to work as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Faulkner died on July 6, 1962, in Byhalia, Mississippi.
James Joyce (1882-1941)
James Joyce is the most important writer of the modernist movement. He produced relatively few works, but these books included poetry, drama, short stories, and the novel that the Modern Library publishing imprint named the most important novel of the twentieth century. His life, too, became the embodiment of many of Modernism's most central themes: exile, the presence of the past in one's life, familiarity with a broad range of cultures and historical periods, and self-destruction.
Joyce was born in Dublin, Ireland, on February 2, 1882, to a lower middle-class Catholic family. His father died when Joyce was young. Joyce attended Catholic schools in Ireland and matriculated at University College, Dublin. During his youth and college years he struggled with the rigid structures of Catholic school and Irish nationalism. In 1902 Joyce left Dublin for Paris, but was called back to Ireland when his mother fell ill. He left Dublin again in 1904, bringing with him his companion Nora Barnacle, an uneducated but vivacious young woman (who became his longtime companion and then married him in 1931). For many years Joyce struggled to make a living and to provide for his growing family. Settling first in Trieste and then in Zurich, he taught literature and enjoyed an occasional monetary grant.
During this time Joyce wrote and published stories, poems, and a novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Dubliners, his collection of stories, was published in 1914 and immediately obtained the notice of the Anglo-American avant-garde and the disapproval of the Irish literary establishment. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) was just that, a stream-of-consciousness narrative of Joyce's own life (barely fictionalized as protagonist Stephen Dedalus) up to the point that he left Ireland. In 1922 Joyce published his masterpiece and the single greatest work of Modernism, Ulysses. This retelling of the Odysseus myth through the persona of a Jewish advertising salesman in Dublin is a triumph on every level. The book was immediately banned in England and the United States for blasphemy and obscenity; it was not until 1934 that it became legal in the United States.
After Ulysses, Joyce began work on another long novel, which was simply called Work in Progress during its composition. Joyce, by now the leading modernist writer, was living in Paris and had the worshipful admiration of the Lost Generation Americans as well as the more established writers of the city. Celebrations of Work in Progress appeared even before any of the work appeared in print. When it finally was published as Finnegans Wake in 1939, it shocked readers with its incessant wordplay. It is a very difficult novel, barely recognizable as English in many places, but its intricate structure and brilliant use of all of the English language's possibilities ensure that readers will attempt to decipher it for decades to come. After finishing Finnegans Wake, Joyce and Nora moved back to Zurich to avoid being caught in the Nazi occupation of Paris. Joyce died in Zurich on January 13, 1941, following surgery for a perforated ulcer.
Ezra Pound (1885-1972)
In many ways, Ezra Pound was the father of literary Modernism. If nothing else, he almost single-handedly brought the techniques of Modernism to U.S. poets, while at the same time bringing the talents of American modernist poets to the notice of the avant-garde establishment. Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho, on October 30, 1885, but soon after his birth his family moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia. He grew up in that area and attended the University of Pennsylvania (where he met William Carlos Williams and another important American modernist poet, Hilda Doolittle) and Hamilton College. After a short stint teaching at a small college in Indiana, Pound grew tired of what he saw to be American small-mindedness and moved to Venice, Italy.
In Venice, Pound resolved to become a poet. He published a book there, but soon relocated to London. In the decade he spent in London, Pound, through the strength of his own will, created movements and forced himself into the center of those movements. Probably the most important of those movements was Imagism, a school of poetry that explicitly rejected Victorian models of verse by simply presenting images without authorial commentary. In 1920 Pound left London for Paris, where he spent a few years before becoming frustrated by the dominance of Gertrude Stein in the avant-garde scene there. In 1925 he moved to Rapallo, Italy, where he developed a strong affinity for Mussolini and Italian fascism. At this time he also began working in earnest on The Cantos, the epic poem that would become his life's work. In composing The Cantos, Pound also undertook translations, including Anglo-Saxon works such as "The Seafarer." As examined by Lee Garver, Pound's translations have not received much critical attention, but they did influence his politics and his writing.
Pound stayed in Italy for more than twenty years. During World War II he spoke on Italian state radio broadcasts aimed at U.S. soldiers; in 1943 he was indicted for treason as a result of these activities and, in 1945, returned to the United States to face trial. Found mentally unfit to defend himself, Pound was incarcerated in St. Elizabeth's Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Washington, D.C. for thirteen years. Because of the intercession of such luminaries as T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and Ernest Hemingway, in 1958 Pound was released from his incarceration and allowed to return to Italy. Settling in Venice, he published a few more books but by the mid-1960s he fell into a silence. He died in Venice, Italy, on November 1, 1972.
Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)
Gertrude Stein was born February 3, 1874, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. She studied philosophy and psychology at Radcliffe College and then medicine at Johns Hopkins University but left to live in Paris in 1903 before earning her M.D. Stein lived with her beloved brother Leo in Paris and together they began a famous collection of modern art that included paintings by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Paul Cézanne. Many of the painters whose work they collected became part of the Stein salon, a social gathering for artists and intellectuals. Stein met Alice B. Toklas in 1907; in 1910, Toklas moved in with Leo and Stein and became Stein's lifelong partner. Leo and Stein had an irreconcilable split in 1913, whereupon they divided their collection and he moved to Italy.
Stein's first published novel is Three Lives (1909), but she found international fame in 1933 with the publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (which is actually her own autobiography). She is credited with coining the term "Lost Generation" to describe the American expatriate writers and artists who began gathering at her house after World War I. Stein died on July 27, 1946, from cancer, having survived two world wars and the Holocaust despite being Jewish, homosexual, and living in Europe for most of her adult life.
Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)
Wallace Stevens was born October 2, 1879, in Reading, Pennsylvania. He lived a dual life as an insurance lawyer working out of New York City and Hartford, Connecticut, and as a modernist poet. Stevens married Elsie Kachel in 1909, and they had a daughter, Holly, in 1924. His first book of poetry Harmonium was published in 1923. Stevens received the National Book Award in 1951 for his poetry book, The Auroras of Autumn. In 1955, Stevens received the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. While ill from terminal cancer, Steven converted to Catholicism; he died several months later on August 2, 1955. Although he was a successful poet during his life, his intellectual poetry became even more well known after his death, influencing poets such as Donald Justice and John Ashbery.
Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
Born January 25, 1882, in London, England, Woolf met many eminent Victorians during her childhood. In 1904 she moved to the Blooms-bury district of London, a neighborhood that gave its name to Woolf's literary and intellectual circle. She married the journalist Leonard Woolf, and in 1917 she and her husband founded the Hogarth Press, an important literary and cultural publishing firm that published the first English-language editions of Freud's work and T. S. Eliot's early collection Poems (1919).
Beginning in the late 1910s, Woolf began to write. She quickly internalized the discoveries of Freud and the literary advances of the modernists and produced a number of novels striking in their sophistication: Jacob's Room (1922), Mrs. Dalloway (1925), and To the Lighthouse (1927). Her novels brought the stream-of-consciousness style a new depth and possibility. In addition to her activity in the literary world, she brought her feminist orientation and bisexual lifestyle to the forefront of her writing. In such works as Three Guineas (1938), A Room of One's Own (1929), and Orlando (1928) she expressed opinions revolutionary for her time. However, her own life was not entirely happy. During the 1930s she grew increasingly fearful that she was suffering from a mental illness and would become a burden on her husband and friends. Spurred on by this fear and by her dread of World War II, she committed suicide by drowning on March 28, 1941, in Lewes, East Sussex, England.
Call It Sleep
Perhaps the most notable example of Joycean prose in American literature is this novel, written in 1934 by Henry Roth, the son of Jewish immigrants to New York. The novel tells the story of David Schearl, an immigrant boy in New York. Using the stream-of-consciousness technique perfected by Joyce in his A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the novel articulates the interior voice of this boy as he grows up poor, watches his parents fight, and struggles with persecution from neighborhood bullies. The novel gained critical acclaim upon publication but was quickly forgotten until its paperback republication in 1964. By this time Roth had given up writing and moved to New Mexico. In the early 1990s, near the end of his long life, Roth returned to writing, producing four sequels to his masterwork.
If Ulysses is the most successful and greatest work of the modernist movement, Ezra Pound's
- Historically, most modernist works have not translated well into film or television adaptations. Of the modernist writers, it is Hemingway whose work has been most often filmed. Hollywood produced two versions of A Farewell to Arms, one in 1932 (starring Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, directed by Frank Borzage) and the other in 1957.
- Other modernist writers have seen their novels turned into films. A few attempts have been made to produce Joyce's work, for instance. In 1967 the director Joseph Strick filmed a version of Ulysses that depicted a bare-bones version of the story. However, since most of the book takes place on a linguistic and allegorical level, most viewers have found the film unsatisfying.
- The 2003 film Two Soldiers is based on a short story by William Faulkner about two brothers in Mississippi during the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It was directed by Aaron Schneider and stars Jonathan Furr and Ben Allison as the brothers and Ron Pearlman as an Army recruiter. Two Soldiers won an Academy Award for Best Short Film. As of 2008, it was available on DVD from West-lake Entertainment.
- Hubby/Wifey is a comedic romance about a lesbian couple who pay homage to Stein and Toklas for the path they forged for modern artists and gay couples. It was written and directed by Todd Hughes, using letters written by Stein, and produced by Killerpix Global Media.
- Virginia Woolf's novel, Mrs. Dalloway, was made into a 1998 film of the same name. Directed by Marleen Gorris, it stars Vanessa Redgrave and as of 2008 was available on DVD from First Look Pictures.
long poem The Cantos is perhaps its most characteristic. Its composition and contents mirror the ideas of the modernists. It is composed of fragments, of different voices from different times and places. It attempts to diagnose the ills of the modern world, comes up with an ultimately failed solution, and imagines a better world that existed once and could exist in fragmentary form again.
Pound began writing his "poem including history," as he called it, in 1917, when he published early versions of three of the cantos in a literary magazine. He began working in earnest on the poem in the 1920s after he moved to Italy, and continued working on it, eventually publishing eight installments, until the late 1960s. The poem is an epic, attempting to tell "the tale of the tribe" (civilized humanity) from ancient to modern times.
Structured to mirror and include characters from two of history's great epics (Homer's Odyssey and Dante's Divine Comedy), the poem was originally planned to include 120 cantos, or shorter chapters. There is no plot per se, but the poem broadly moves from hell (literally but also in the sense of an utterly fallen civilization) to purgatory, where historical figures such as Confucius, Sigismondo Malatesta, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Mussolini are introduced. Pound wanted to highlight moments in history when a just and aesthetically appreciative society existed or could have existed. The poem veered sharply back to Pound's own life during the 1940s, when Pound found himself working for the Fascists and ultimately was incarcerated in a mental hospital in the United States. As Pound neared the end of his life and of the poem, he discovered and recorded glimpses of paradise on earth.
Public opinion of the work varies dramatically. Many readers can make no sense of the poem; others find that it contains some of the most remarkable passages in English-language poetry. Critics have been similarly divided. Although the poem is solidly in the canon of American literature and is considered one of the central works of modernist literature, many scholars and academics dismiss it as a failed, obscure, and ultimately fascist poem.
A Farewell to Arms
Ernest Hemingway published A Farewell to Arms in 1929. He was already famous for his portrait of dissolute youth in Paris, The Sun Also Rises, but this novel was a great step forward in terms of sophistication and importance. It tells of Hemingway's own experiences as an ambulance driver during the last days of World War I; his wounding and convalescence and affair with a nurse. More important, though, was Hemingway's revolutionary technique. His prose was terse and journalistic, stripped of adjectives and any construction that might call attention to itself. Such narration achieved a numbness that reflected the mental brutalization the war visited upon the hero—and the author. Hemingway eschews abstract concepts such as glory, duty, and honor because, like his hero's, his own experience during the war showed him that these were weapons used by people in power to manipulate ordinary people.
After the popular and critical success of this novel, Hemingway became an international celebrity with literary credibility. He continued to write for much of the rest of his life and produced at least two great novels (For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea) before committing suicide in 1961.
The popularity of the work of poet and insurance lawyer Wallace Stevens has continued to grow even as the work of other modernists has fallen in favor. Stevens's first book of poetry was Harmonium, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1923. While modernist poetry written by Pound and Eliot was allusive, drenched in the fragments of previous cultures and other languages, and overwhelmed by an almost angry melancholy, Stevens's work was light and lyrical. In Harmonium, Stevens exhibited a verbal dandyism, delighting in the sounds of words and in Elizabethan definitions. He was a direct descendant of Keats and Marvell, whereas other modernists saw Browning, Shakespeare, and Dante as their ancestors.
But Stevens cannot be dismissed as a writer of light verse. His poems exhibit the characteristic modernist fear of nihilism while entertaining the fear that the entire world is simply a projection of his mind. In "The Snow Man," for instance, Stevens listens to "nothing that is not there and the nothing that is," and in "Tea at the Palaz of Hoon" the narrator questions whether "I was the world in which I walked." In his later books Stevens produced longer, philosophical poems that questioned art's place in human cognition, and by the 1970s and 1980s, Stevens, not Eliot or Pound, was cited as an influence by hundreds of practicing American poets.
The Sound and the Fury
William Faulkner, a Mississippian, began his career as a writer heavily influenced by the regionalist Sherwood Anderson, with whom he worked in New Orleans (in the 1920s, the home of American Bohemianism). But Faulkner quickly outdid his teacher. He created an entire fictional world in which almost all of his fiction was set: Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. In this world the past always impinges upon the present, and Faulkner's fiction is full of narrative devices intended to outflank language's need to be based in time. His 1929 The Sound and the Fury contains Faulkner's most successful experiments with time.
The novel is the story of the fall of the Compson family that culminates in the suicide of son Quentin. Told by a series of narrators, the stories in the book provide different perspectives on the same events and the reader must compare all of the different versions in order to understand what "really" happened. Most difficult is the narration of Benjy, a retarded boy who has no conception of time. In his narration there is no differentiation between what happened years ago, what happened yesterday, and what is happening now. Faulkner's experiments did not gain him a large audience in the United States (in search of income, he moved to Hollywood in a failed attempt to be a screenwriter) but his influence was vast among Latin American writers, especially such magical realists as Gabriel García Márquez.
Gertrude Stein's second book was a collection of poetry, Tender Buttons, published in 1914. Her poems are avant-garde word clusters wherein Stein seeks to rename objects whose original names have lost their meaning. She relied on prosody, or rhythm and intonation, to discover these new names. The book is divided in three sections, Objects, Food, and Rooms and does not conform to conventional poetics but instead reads like lyrical prose in short paragraphs. Its literary significance is hidden in the book's subtle references to homosexuality and its expression of Stein's cubist influences.
To the Lighthouse
Virginia Woolf perfected the stream-of-consciousness or interior monologue style in her novels of the 1920s. Her 1927 novel To the Lighthouse depicts the Ramsay family, who is spending the summer in a vacation house on the Isle of Skye. Assorted guests, including the painter Lily Briscoe (a character many readers feel is a stand-in for Woolf herself), also come and go. The novel moves from a focus solely on the personal level of the family to a wider focus; the impending world war appears as a dark cloud on the horizon. The novel then shifts time to ten years later as the family deals with the death of one of its members.
Woolf's novel delicately and insightfully pulls apart memory, family relationships, and the effects of death. In a movement such as Modernism, generally so focused on the big picture often to the exclusion of the personal, To the Lighthouse stands out as an example of how modernist technique can be applied to the examination of emotion.
James Joyce's novel Ulysses, first published in 1922, is the single greatest work of modernist literature and is considered by many to be the finest novel ever written. Joyce spent ten years writing this book, a meticulously detailed day in the life of three Dubliners. The main characters are Leopold Bloom, a Jewish advertising salesman; Molly Bloom, Leopold's wife, a singer who is planning to cheat on her husband; and Stephen Dedalus, a dissipated young intellectual. The story parallels Homer's Odyssey but translates that epic journey of ten years to eighteen hours and one city.
Upon its publication—and even before, when fragments were published in magazines—the book was immediately hailed as a work of genius. Joyce's boundless erudition, his command of languages and literature and history, his love and intimate knowledge of one small place at one specific time, are all on display in this book. More than just an intellectual enterprise and a small gem of engineering, though, Ulysses is a genuinely moving story of conjugal and parental love. Because of its frank treatment of sex and its, at times, insulting portraits of religion and Irish nationalism, the book was banned in Ireland and the United States. It took twelve years for the book to be allowed in the United States; until then, travelers to Paris would have to hide the book in their luggage from customs inspectors (who were warned to look for its characteristic blue-green binding).
"The Waste Land"
T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," published in 1922, is the single most important modernist poem. Essentially plotless, the poem instead attempts to capture historical development to the present day by use of allusion. Characters such as Tiresias, the Smyrna merchant, and an East London housewife, wander through the poem. London, the "Unreal City" in the fog, becomes the synecdoche for the fallen world as a whole. The poem moves from Elizabethan times to the ancient world to the present and ends, finally, with a small failing voice speaking Sanskrit.
Interestingly, in its original version the poem was six times as long and titled "He Do The Police in Different Voices." When he was still a struggling poet, T. S. Eliot showed the poem to Ezra Pound, asking for his advice. Pound performed what he called a "Caesarean operation" on Eliot's manuscript, telling him to cut the links between the vignettes so that the poem appeared as a series of fragments. Eliot never called attention to Pound's central role in creating "The Waste Land" and it was not until the 1960s, when the original manuscript was found, that Pound's true role became publicly known.
Most critics have seen the poem as expressing a fundamental despair at the sense that, with the loss of all certainties, the world was nothing but "fragments" that are "shored against [our] ruin." It continues to vex students with its complexity, but even the most basic reading evokes a sense of desperation and loss.
In very real terms, the entire world and the way that humans understood that world changed between 1860 (when the modernist period is generally understood to have begun) and 1940. In 1860 the idea of traveling at a mile a minute was but a dream, as was the notion of flight for human beings. The photograph was new; moving pictures, much less moving pictures that talked, were only fantasies. Electrical signals being sent through wires was a possible dream, but the idea that voices could be transmitted was fantastic. The idea that voices could be transmitted without wires, through the air, was utterly preposterous.
In 1940 the world was a different place. Machines allowed people to see moving, talking pictures; to travel at more than one hundred miles an hour; to fly through the air; to transmit both voices and images without wires; to talk, in real time, with someone at the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Humans relied on machines to a much greater extent than they ever had. It is hard today to conceive of a world without powered machines, but in 1860 many people in the United States lived their entire lives without ever encountering a powered machine. By the 1940s machines had made it possible to communicate or travel—or destroy—with much greater speed and efficiency than anyone had ever dreamed in 1860.
The modernist writers, almost as a rule, feared the new technology and left it out of their writing. Joyce set his masterpiece Ulysses in 1904, before motorcars had become widespread. Eliot and Pound move easily between historical periods but rarely mention the technological advances that had permeated all aspects of urban life by
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY
- Modernism evolved as an artistic reaction to dramatic changes in politics, culture, society, and technology. Research some of the technologies that were developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s that might have literally changed the world. Some of the inventions you might want to investigate might be the technologies that captured and recorded reality (photography, sound recording, film), the technologies of communication, the technologies of transportation, and the technologies of weaponry.
- The two world wars of the twentieth century had an enormous effect on the modernist movement. Many critics feel that the movement hit its height just after World War I and was effectively killed by World War II. Research the wars' effects on writers of the modernist movement. What did they do during the war years? How did the war change their lives? You might want to look at lesser-known writers such as Rupert Brooke or Wilfred Owen who actually served in the conflict.
- Most of the important modernist writers were born between 1880 and 1900, and most of them died in the 1960s. The world changed dramatically in the intervening period. In 1890 what were the world's great powers? Who were its important leaders? What were the important issues in international relations? What products did people use? How did people travel from place to place? Compare the answers to these questions to what the world looked like in 1965.
- In addition to being a reaction to changes in technology and politics, Modernism was a reaction to important developments in Western thought. Dozens of philosophers and scholars of the late nineteenth century rejected the accepted explanations about the world and proposed their own. Of these, the thinkers who had the greatest effect on Modernism were the economist Karl Marx, the naturalist Charles Darwin, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and the psychiatrist Sigmund Freud. Research any one of these thinkers. What were their most important insights? What previous explanations did their writings reject? How do their ideas affect the world today?
1920. Rather, they look back to the classical or medieval or Renaissance periods, fearing that dependence upon machines will cloud their minds, make them less able to understand what is truly important about being human. The only modernist writer who really engaged with technology, in fact, is the Italian futurist writer Filippo Marinetti. Marinetti was a Milanese who came to London to perform spoken-word pieces that celebrated machines. The glory of airplanes, cars, factories, and machine guns was always the subject of Marinetti's verse. Blinded by his fascination with the clean efficiency of machines, Marinetti ended up advocating the violence of World War I and, in the mid-1920s, became an apologist for Mussolini.
Modernist novelists had no more important influence than the Viennese psychiatrist Sigmund Freud. Although he did not actually invent the discipline, Freud is considered the father of psychoanalysis. His writings propose a three-part model of the psyche consisting of the id (or the primitive drives), the ego (the sense of the self), and the superego (or the moral lessons and codes of behavior people internalize). Freud believed that human behavior and neuroses have causes of which people are unaware, causes that stem from childhood experiences or from the thwarting of certain basic urges. Psychoanalysis was predicated on the idea that an analyst could pick out certain ideas and reactions in a patient that would indicate the real problem.
Such writers as Woolf and Joyce took this idea and turned it into the basis for fiction. They were reacting against realist writers, who sought to simply record the unadorned facts of the world around. Doing so was impossible, the modernists believed; the psyche of the narrator will always be affected by unknown forces and thus is never able to capture reality without any kind of bias or alteration. Rather, people should attempt simply to record thoughts, for by this the reader can understand things about the narrator that the narrator him- or herself does not. Joyce's first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, records the thoughts of Stephen Dedalus from the time he is a "nicens little boy" to the time he is a college student. In her short story "The Mark on the Wall," Virginia Woolf captures a moment in time as a woman looks at a mark on the wall. The narration follows her mind as she extrapolates all of the possibilities of what the mark could be and follows all of the subconscious connections her mind makes with seemingly unrelated topics. Modern-ist writers felt that the "interior monologue" or the stream-of-consciousness technique gave readers access to the character's subconscious.
The "Unreal City"
In "The Waste Land" Eliot describes London as an "Unreal City," a city through which shades of the dead troop over the bridges. Modernism was the first literary movement to take urban life as a given, as a form of experience that was categorically different from any other kind of life. The French symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire was fascinated by the "flaneur," the man who strolls the city aimlessly as a way of life. The anonymity of the city, its darkness, its mechanization, its vast power, all inspired the modernists; it attracted and repelled them in equal measure. Modernist writers (most of them, interestingly enough, from suburbs or small cities) gravitated to London and Paris, St. Petersburg and New York, where they found each other, formed movements, drank and fought together, and broke apart.
London was the first home of Anglo-American Modernism, but the city's essentially commercial character eventually sent most of the writers elsewhere. By the 1920s, Paris was the home of one of the greatest concentration of artists in history. In the 1930s, with war looming in Europe, the artistic energy moved west to New York. But no matter what city, the city was almost always the subject of modernist literature. Although he could not stay there and moved between Paris, Trieste, and Zurich during his "exile," everything James Joyce ever wrote was about the vibrant urban life of Dublin. The poet Hart Crane composed his epic poem "The Bridge" about the Brooklyn Bridge, the monument of engineering and architectural beauty that made New York City the center of American urban life. Eliot's melancholy poems point out the loneliness and lack of meaning city-dwellers often feel. The city, where technology and masses of people and anonymity come together, became the master trope of Modernism itself.
Alienation is defined as the sense of being alien, or of not belonging, to one's own milieu. It can also mean separation from something. If the city is the master trope (or image) of Modernism, alienation is its master theme. Almost all modernist writing deals with alienation in some form.
The primary kind of alienation that Modernism depicts is the alienation of one sensitive person from the world. The stream-of-consciousness technique of narration is particularly well suited for this because readers can see the inner feelings of a person and witness his or her essential self along with the actions of the world outside. Stephen Dedalus, Joyce's protagonist and stand-in, is alienated from his family, his friends, his religion, and his country because of devotion to art and his certainty that nobody can understand and accept him. Woolf's heroines are doubly alienated from the world because of their status as women; because of their sex, they are not allowed to participate in the world of politics, education, or economics. Eliot's narrators (most notably Prufrock in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock") are confronted by a world that is just broken shards of a discarded whole; everyone else seems to walk through the world calmly but they cannot. And for Ezra Pound, it is the world itself that has been alienated, by the forces of greed, from what should truly be historical heritage.
The Presence of the Past
Surrounded by the debris of all of the smashed certainties of the past, modernist writers looked at the contemporary world as a directionless place, without center or certainty. These past certainties, although oppressive and constructed on specious values, were at least some kind of foundation for the world. The modernist age set out to break apart these certainties; World War I then finished the job and horrified the world by demonstrating what humanity was capable of. Writers in the modernist age often felt that they were at the end of history. Because of this, modernist poems and novels often incorporate and mix together huge swaths of history. Allusion—brief references to people, places, things, or even languages and literatures—was the characteristic modernist technique for including history. Partly because of their profound uneasiness in the modern world, modernist writers alluded constantly to the past.
This is not to say that the modernists were uncritical admirers of the past. In his poem "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley," Ezra Pound wrote that World War I's vast slaughter was ultimately for the purpose of defending "an old [b——] gone in the teeth ...a botched civilization ...two gross of broken statues . . . [and] a few thousand battered books." Joyce's Stephen Dedalus says that "history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake" and the Irishmen who live in past glories are portrayed as buffoons and fools. But both of these writers' works are filled with allusions to the past. And almost all of the important modernist writers, as well, incorporate in their work the belief that the past exists in the present.
Pound, for instance, called his The Cantos "a poem including history" and the list of allusions in that poem has over ten thousand entries.
Modernism sought to accurately portray the world not as it is but as humans actually experience it. Modernist literature, then, relied especially on advances in narrative technique, for narration (a voice speaking) is an essential way to convey the perceived or experienced world. Interestingly, the narrative techniques in modernist poetry and modernist fiction illustrate the same ideas about experience, but they do so in very different ways.
Modernist fiction tends to rely on the stream-of-consciousness or "interior monologue" techniques. This kind of narration purports to record the thoughts as they pass through a narrator's head. The unpredictable connections that people make between ideas demonstrate something about them, as do the things they try to avoid thinking about. In Ulysses, Leopold Bloom attempts not to dwell on his knowledge that his wife will cheat on him as he wanders the city, so thoughts of his wife, of Blazes Boylan (her lover), or of sex make him veer quickly in another mental direction. Also, a number of small ideas and images recur throughout the book: an advertisement for Plumtree's Potted Meat, for instance, and the Greek word metempsychosis. These ideas crop up without any apparent pattern and get stuck in Bloom's head, just as a song or a phrase might resonate through people's minds for hours and then just disappear. This narrative technique attempts to record how scattered and jumbled the experience of the world really is, and at the same time how deeper patterns in thoughts can be discerned by those (such as readers) with some distance from them. That humans are alienated from true knowledge of themselves is the implicit contention of the stream-of-consciousness form of narration.
Modernist poets such as Ezra Pound or T. S. Eliot, by contrast, did not delve deeply into the individual consciousness. Rather, they attempted to model the fragmented nature of minds and civilization in their narratives. Eliot's "The Waste Land" has dozens of speakers that succeed each other without warning: The poem opens with the voice of the dead speaking from underground, then shifts quickly to the unattributed voice of Countess Marie Larisch of Bavaria, then shifts just as quickly to a stentorian, priestly voice. The effect is a cacophony of voices, a mass of talking devoid of connection.
In Ezra Pound's The Cantos or William Carlos Williams's Paterson, this array of voices is taken to its logical conclusion. The poet speaks in many different voices, but historical figures speak, artworks speak, ordinary people speak. In both of these long poems, the poets transcribed letters (Pound used letters of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, while Williams used the letters of his friends and admirers) and included them in the poem. The poet, in this case, is less a writer than a compiler of voices; it is the arrangement of pieces, not the content of each individual piece that is important. The effect is to "decenter" the reader. Readers are no longer sure where the poet (with his or her implicit authority over the text) exists in the poem.
An allusion is a brief reference to a person, place, thing, idea or language that is not actually present. Because of modernist theories about the omnipresence of the past, allusions are difficult to avoid in modernist literature. Joyce, Eliot, and Pound—the three authors generally acknowledged as the leaders of the modernist movement in English—included allusion as perhaps the central formal device in their writing. The past is everywhere in the writing of these three, and indeed this is the case with most of the other modernist writers.
But it is in Joyce, Eliot, and Pound that the allusion is particularly important. Indeed, it is essentially impossible to understand their work without tracking down their more important allusions, and scholars have compiled long volumes explaining each reference in Ulysses and The Cantos. Some of their allusions are quite clear: for instance, in "Canto IV," Pound includes the lines "Palace in smoky light, / Troy but a heap of smouldering boundary stones." Most readers would be able to identify those lines as a reference to Homer's Iliad, which tells the story of the end of the Trojan War. But not all of Pound's allusions are so clear: "Canto VIII" begins "These fragments you have shelved (shored)"; the allusion is to Eliot's famous line "These fragments I have shored against my ruins" at the end of "The Waste Land." Eliot's line is well-known, but only those who have studied poetry would know it. And many of Pound's allusions, indeed most of them, are frankly inaccessible. Pound spends a number of cantos alluding to Sigismondo Malatesta, an obscure Italian warrior-prince from the Renaissance. Only because Pound made him famous does anyone recognize his name.
Joyce structured Ulysses to work on numerous levels. All of the mundane events in Bloom's day correspond to episodes in Homer's epic Odyssey, for instance, but the book also works as a retelling of Irish history, of the growth and development of the human fetus, and of the history of the Catholic Church. Eliot's "The Waste Land" can be read simply as a collection of allusions or fragments as he calls them in the last section: appearing in the poem are the Greek seer Tiresias, a pair of working-class women in East London, a number of Hindu deities, Dante, and an American ragtime singer. These references are not explained; they just appear and the reader must make what sense of it he or she can. In the critical reevaluation of Modernism that took place during the 1990s, one of the central questions was whether one must understand all of the allusions in order genuinely to appreciate the work.
Fin de siècle
Fin de siècle is a French term meaning "end of the century." The term is used to denote the interval between 1880 and 1914, a transition period when writers and other artists abandoned old conventions and looked for new techniques and objectives. Many despaired that western culture was morally degrading, but others anticipated the new century with great hope for what was to come. Fin de siècle has strong associations with French Symbolism but was also an immediate precursor to Modernism in Europe and the Americas. Writers commonly associated with the fin de siècle mindset are Stéphane Mellarmé, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw.
Imagism is the best-known of the dozens of small movements in modernist poetry in the years leading up to World War I. Ezra Pound formulated the "rules" of Imagism, which were essentially a rejection of Victorian poetry. Imagist poets were encouraged to "simply present" an image; the poet "does not comment." Excessive adjectives and the voice of the poet were anathema. Finally, Pound urged imagists to use the rhythm of the metronome.
From his base in London, Pound published the anthology Des Imagistes in 1914. Other poets in the movement included H. D., William Carlos Williams, Richard Aldington, and Amy Lowell; H. D.'s poem "Oread" embodies the imagist project. Pound soon moved on from Imagism but Lowell, from Boston, continued to publish imagist anthologies for years after the movement had become irrelevant.
After Imagism, Pound moved on to Vorticism. Works of this movement (which consisted primarily of Pound, the writer T. E. Hulme, and the painter/novelist Wyndham Lewis) were published in their magazine Blast: A Review of the Great English Vortex). It took the basic tenets of imagism, combined them with the painting style of Cubism, and injected an aggressive anger. At this time Pound had discovered the Chinese written character and had decided that its unique combination of sound, text, and image created a luminous "vortex" of energy. The movement fell apart as World War I began, for its anger and violence seemed very small and ineffective when compared to the realities of trench warfare.
The Bloomsbury Group was a gathering of English writers, artists, and intellectuals who held informal artistic and philosophical discussions in Bloomsbury, a district of London, from around 1907 to the early 1930s. The Bloomsbury Group held no uniform philosophical beliefs but did commonly express an aversion to moral prudery, a desire for greater social tolerance, and pacifism in the face of two world wars. At various times the circle included Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, Clive Bell, Lytton Strachey, and John Maynard Keynes.
The objectivists were a group of modernist poets who formed relatively late during the modernist period. In a way, they can be considered the descendants of the imagists, but their poems tend to be even starker and flatter. The objectivists drew their inspiration from William Carlos Williams but most of the members of the movement were of the younger (born after 1900) generation. George Oppen, Louis Zukofsky, Charles Reznikoff, and a few others are the best-known poets of the objectivist movement.
The Lost Generation
The "Lost Generation" was a name given by Gertrude Stein to the group of young Americans who migrated to Paris in the 1920s. Ernest Hemingway is the most famous of these Americans (in fact, it was to him that Stein said, "you are all a lost generation"), but there were dozens. Many of these Americans were artists and writers, but just as many were not and were attracted to Paris because of the strong dollar and the bohemian lifestyle. Hemingway's first novel, The Sun Also Rises, is the enduring portrait of this group as they wander from Paris to Spain and back, looking for thrills and occasionally working.
The Lost Generation's members constantly crossed paths with the European artists who were already living there. Pablo Picasso, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Stein, Constantin Bran-cusi, and many others had made Paris their home and had made it into one of the great centers of artistic activity. When the "Lost Generation" arrived, many of the established artists befriended these Americans, took advantage of them, or even worked with them. By the end of the 1920s, though, most of these Americans had returned home.
World War I
Modernism took place over many decades, and almost no facet of life in the West was not profoundly transformed by the changes that took place between 1860 and 1939. But if Modernism revolved around one historical event, it was the unthinkable catastrophe that became known later as World War I. In the years leading up to World War I, the modernist writers thought of themselves as rebels, ruthlessly breaking apart all of the societal certainties of the Victorian age. The American modernists sneered at American middle-class acquisitiveness, while the British modernists chafed at the smug, self-assured conservatism of the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Modernist writers broke convention by writing frankly about sex, by insulting religion, and by arguing passionately that the poor were not poor simply because of moral depravity. By breaking these societal taboos, modernist writers found themselves cast in the role of rebels, pariahs, even dangerous men and women. And such writers as Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis began to believe their own hype about being dangerous to society.
The coming of World War I fulfilled the modernist predictions of a coming fragmentation and destruction beyond anything they could have imagined. The war itself came upon an unsuspecting Europe almost in a way that the modernists might have envisioned, for it was society's faith in its own structures that ended up destroying it. Specifically, the complicated network of alliances dividing Europe into two moderately hostile camps (one consisting largely
COMPARE & CONTRAST
- 1890s: The United States' economy expands rapidly as the nation exploits its natural resources. Large corporations in the transportation, steel, oil, meat-packing, and financial industries establish monopolies; as a result, Congress passes the Sherman Anti-Trust Act intended to break up such monopolies.
Today: Dozens of states and the federal government go to trial with the Microsoft Corporation. Charged with being a monopoly, the company defends itself on the grounds that standardization is better for consumers than variety.
- 1914: World War I breaks out when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is assassinated in Sarajevo. The system of interlocking alliances among Europe's great powers compels these nations to go to war on each other's behalf. The war drags on until 1918; millions are killed.
Today: After a terrorist attack destroys the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., President George W. Bush calls for a war against terrorism and initially against Osama bin Laden. In the first stage of the war, American and British submarines and airplanes bombard Afghanistan, where bin Laden is said to reside. Later, The United States invades Iraq and over a hundred thousand die.
- 1915: During the first years of World War I, the United States refuses to join the fighting. In 1915, though, the passenger ship Lusitania is sunk by the German navy, killing thousands of Americans. This incident plays an important part in swaying American public opinion toward joining the war.
Today: After terrorists pilot jetliners into American targets, killing thousands of people, President George W. Bush calls for a "war on terrorism" and begins bombing targets in Afghanistan. American troops fight alongside the local militias to defeat Afghanistan's Taliban government.
- 1927: Al Jolson stars in The Jazz Singer,the first "talkie" motion picture. The conjunction of recorded sound and recorded image, revolutionary in its time, follows the instantaneous broadcast of sound by radio, which achieved its first transatlantic broadcast in 1901. It is followed by the instantaneous broadcast of sound and images by television in 1939.
Today: The advent of computers in the 1960s has by now changed the nature of recorded sound and images. Pre-computer technologies such as film, magnetic tape, vinyl records, and radio broadcasts present information in analog (other than binary bits) form. Modern technologies such as compact disks, digital cameras, computer hard drives, and even cable television feeds present information in digital (binary bits) form, in which electrical "on" and "off" signals correspond to binary digits.
- 1927: Charles Lindbergh is the first aviator to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. In his plane Spirit of St. Louis, Lindbergh travels from New York to Paris without stopping and becomes an international celebrity.
Today: Commercial air travel is the norm in the West and transatlantic flights are common.
- 1929: After the decade of what is now known as the Roaring Twenties, a period in which the American economy expands rapidly and the United States begins to develop the consumer culture, the stock market crashes on October 29, 1929. The crash is caused by many factors, including dramatic economic troubles in Europe and Asia and the tendency, among American consumers, to buy items on credit and then default on payment. The crash leads to the terrible Great Depression of the 1930s.
Today: After many years of unprecedented economic expansion (largely driven by the high-technology sector of the economy), the economy slows down dramatically. Many stock options become worthless. Hundreds of Internet companies go out of business, but the slowdown also affects "brick and mortar" industries such as automobiles, construction, and travel.
of democracies such as Great Britain and France, the other consisting of monarchies or dictatorships such as Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but even these categories had exceptions—Czarist Russia fought on the democracies' side) became not a means of stability but the mechanism of Europe's destruction.
The war began when the Serbian rebel Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in1914. Austro-Hungary sought reprisals against Serbia, the Russians came to the Serbian defense, the Germans came to the assistance of the Austro-Hungarians, and Eastern Europe was at war. At the same time, the Germans took this opportunity to try out a plan they had been developing for years. The German strategic command had worked out a way to march across Belgium and northeastern France and take Paris in six weeks, and in 1914 they attempted to do just this. The plan bogged down and soon the English came to the assistance of the French and Belgians. Pushing the Germans back from the very suburbs of Paris, the Allied forces managed to save the French nation but the armies soon found themselves waging trench warfare in the forests and fens of northern France, Alsace, and Belgium. Millions died in futile attempts to move the line forward a few yards. Among these were a number of modernist artists and writers, including the French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Ezra Pound's friend.
The tone of excitement about violence that characterized earlier modernist writing disappeared after the war, for the writers who exalted in the promise of destruction were utterly numbed by the effects of real destruction. Although the soldier-writers like Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon have left readers with vivid, horrifying pictures of combat, perhaps the enduring modernist imagery of the war is contained in two poems: Eliot's "The Waste Land" and Pound's "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley." Pound's poem addresses the war directly, saying that "There died a myriad, / And of the best, among them, / For an old [b——] gone in the teeth, / For a botched civilization." Eliot's poem is more evocative of the psychological effects of the war, for it is a collection of fragments, of pieces of culture and society broken apart and without meaning. The poem is perhaps the best verbal portrait ever created of civilized man confronting the possibility that everything has been destroyed.
Modernism did not exist until it was almost dead. That is, until the 1930s or later the term "Modernism" simply did not mean what it means today: a group of writers, an arsenal of literary devices, a number of characteristic themes. Interestingly, in the 1910s and 1920s—the height of Modernism as it is understood today—the word "Modernism" referred to a particular strain of thought in the Catholic Church. At that time, the modernist writers did not see themselves as a unified movement. Instead, the writers now called modernists were members of dozens of different smaller movements: the Lost Generation, the Dadaists, the Imagists, the Vorticists, the Objectivists, the Sur-realists, and many others. What is identified as the characteristic themes or concerns of the modernist period (a general pessimism about the state of the world, a rejection of society's certainties, a sense that only the rebel artist is telling the truth about the world) were simply "in the air" of the times; everyone was thinking and writing about the same ideas, so it did not seem necessary to name their commonalities.
Literary critics of the early twentieth century were generally hostile to the writers now called modernists. The Victorian ethos held that literature's purpose was to identify "sweetness and light" and "the best that has been thought and said" (in the words of Matthew Arnold, one of Victorian England's most important critics) in order to make better citizens. Literature and art, for the Victorians, were meant to be "edifying"—educational. Literature was read to learn how one should behave. By that same token, literature that did not put forth edifying models was simply bad literature. This attitude is shown especially well in the hostile response to Gustave Flaubert's 1857 Madame Bovary, a novel that depicted, without comment or condemnation, the adulterous behavior of a middle-class woman. The Arnoldian attitude toward literature persisted well into the twentieth century, and in the United States was personified by the writers and editors of the Saturday Review of Literature,especially Henry Seidel Canby.
For these critics, modernist literature was both incomprehensible and dangerous. Its stylistic experiments made it difficult to digest easily—readers had to work to make it through Ulysses or The Sound and the Fury, not to mention The Cantos or "The Waste Land"—and its pessimistic, negative attitude toward society could hardly be expected to make better citizens. In fact, modernist literature celebrated those people, artists especially, who rebelled against society. Where the late Victorian critics and their intellectual descendants wanted edifying, socially-uplifting literature, modernist literature sought to create independent, critical, alienated subjects.
As a result, Modernism had to create its own critics and to a remarkable extent it succeeded. At first, modernist writers simply started their own magazines and reviewed each other's work. Ezra Pound, through the journals Poetry and The Egoist, was especially productive in this. Later, T. S. Eliot became Modernism's leading critic. In his journal The Criterion and, later, from his post as managing editor of the publishing house Faber & Faber, Eliot advanced his own vision of good literature. He denigrated the neoclassicists and the romantics and praised the Elizabethans; he argued for a literature steeped in the "Tradition"; he valued tension, ambiguity, and allusion. Not coincidentally, his own poetry seemed to be the height of "Good Literature" as he defined it.
After Eliot defined a modernist aesthetic, other critics began to agree with him. Difficulty, resistance, ambiguity, irony, and the sense of an ending to something were all qualities praised by critics ranging from the political right wing (the New Critics) to the far left (the New York Intellectuals). By the 1930s and 1940s the modernist aesthetic was taking over Anglo-American literary criticism. The old guard of critics defending the edifices of Western civilization seemed less and less relevant after a war, a depression, and another war. The pessimistic modernist view of the world began to seem correct. By the 1950s, Modernism and its aesthetic standards were almost unquestioned in American criticism and education. Susan Jones argues that Modernism found popular acceptance through serialization, which also affected narrative technique.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Modernism remained dominant in American literature. Literary histories were rewritten to reflect Modernism's new importance; earlier, forgotten writers such as Herman Melville were rediscovered as important ancestors. And the modernist aesthetic of alienation, separation from the world, and profound pessimism became almost synonymous with literature.
This all changed in the 1970s and 1980s. Because of the political upheavals of the 1960s, relevance again became an important virtue of literature. Readers wanted literature to be politically engaged, to tell the stories of the struggles of oppressed groups (women, African Americans, Chicanos, gays and lesbians), and most importantly to take a political stand on issues. The modernist aesthetic denigrated works that sought to be politically relevant; this dated the works and made them less timeless and universal. But again, as in the 1940s and 1950s, a new generation of critics and teachers reevaluated Modernism and found it to be lacking in many virtues. It did not help that many modernist writers held political and social beliefs that ranged from extremely conservative to outright Fascist.
Through the 1990s and into the 2000s, a new generation of scholars sought to again reevaluate Modernism. These scholars no longer looked at Modernism according to Eliot's own opinions of what is important in literature. In a sense, these new scholars read Modernism against its own grain, trying to find buried content in the literature. And while Eliot's reactionary beliefs and Pound's anti-Semitism still exist, even the most left-wing critics often find something to admire in their works, something that often Pound or Eliot explicitly urged readers to ignore. Perhaps the most notable example of this "against-the-grain" reading of Modernism is the reconsideration of "The Waste Land" after Pound's central role in the poem's composition was discovered. Eliot's cult of the solitary, alienated artist standing apart from all of his peers and creating suddenly seemed questionable after readers discovered that Eliot's greatest poem was, in fact, the product of a collaboration that he tried to hide for decades.
Barnhisel directs the Writing Center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. In this essay, Barnhisel describes the process by which Modernism became the dominant literary movement of the twentieth century.
In its heyday (the 1910s and 1920s), Modernism did not exist. That is to say, the word "Modernism" did not have the meaning that it has today. Modernism referred to technology, to an openness to the new commercially-driven society that was coming about, and to changes in Catholic theology. The literary themes and concerns and stylistic innovations that today are called modernist belonged, in their time, to dozens of different writers who lived in different places, spoke different languages, were members of different groups, and very often were hostile toward each other and their work. It was only in the 1950s and 1960s, years after the movement ended, that the term Modernism came to designate a group of writers preoccupied with alienation and the destruction of old certainties. It can be instructive to look at the ways that large trends in literature and culture are examined, classified, and codified into a movement by readers and critics. Modernism was produced long after the movement's height by critics; Modernism was not produced by the modernist artists themselves.
In a very real sense there is no one Modernism; there are many modernisms. Some critics have identified Modernism as far back as the French writer Gustave Flaubert, who wrote in the 1850s, and many critics see a number of works of the 1970s (Thomas Pynchon's novel
WHAT DO I STUDY NEXT?
- There was almost no facet of life that was not fundamentally transformed by the technological advances of the modernist period. Stephen Kern's 1983 book The Culture of Time and Space 1880-1918 (1983) is an excellent meditation on how technology changed human life and perception.
- A movement that was not similar to Modernism in its formal features but provided many modernist writers with a model of artistic rebellion was the so-called "Decadent" movement of the 1890s. The best-known Decadent writers were the Anglo-Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde and the French novelist J. K. Huysmans, but dozens of other writers were loosely affiliated with this group. Reading Wilde's Importance of Being Earnest (1895) gives a good idea of the nature of Decadent literature.
- World War I was the central historical event affecting Modernism. Paul Fussell's study The Great War and Modern Memory (1975) provides a detailed and often moving discussion of this war and its effects on contemporaries.
- Out of the armistice that settled World War I grew the seeds that would eventually mature into World War II. The "belligerents," or the losing powers, were forced to pay vast sums to the victors and give up large amounts of territory. Even in Italy, a poor country that was dragged into World War I, the effects of the war led directly to the ascension of Benito Mussolini to power. Dennis Mack-Smith's 1983 biography Mussolini gives a detailed portrait of post-World War I Italy.
Gravity's Rainbow, for instance) as late examples of Modernism. The themes now understood as characteristically modernist existed in many works of the nineteenth century. By the early 1900s, an explosion of artistic subgroups whose members crossed between music, painting,
‟MODERNISM, WITH ITS FRAGMENTED VISIONS OF THE WORLD AND ITS INSISTENCE THAT THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN OBJECTIVE PERSPECTIVE, WAS A BLOW AGAINST THE SMUG CAPITALIST STRUCTURE OF ADVERTISING AND CONSUMPTION."
sculpture, dance, photography, and literature rapidly coalesced and just as quickly disappeared. Almost all of these groups—the Surrealists, the Imagists, the Cubists, the Vorticists, the Dadaists, the Futurists, and many others—are considered components of Modernism.
It was only near the end of the movement that critics came to a consensus about what constituted Modernism in literature, and these critics set the rules for who should be considered a central member of the movement and who would remain only a minor figure. Perhaps more important in the long run, these critics codified a way of reading and criteria for evaluation of literature, both of which, not coincidentally, were particularly friendly to Modernism.
These critical developments of the 1950s were a direct reaction against the climate of earlier decades. In the 1930s and 1940s, art and politics were linked together very closely. Artists were expected to weigh in on the political issues of the day, and especially in the 1930s they allied themselves with left-wing causes. Dozens of artists and writers joined the Communist Party, feeling that only a worker-centered movement could save America from the Depression and from vast concentrations of wealth. Other, albeit fewer, writers and artists allied themselves with the other side: of these, the most notorious were the English painter and novelist Wyndham Lewis, the Norwegian novelist Knut Hamsun (who praised Hitler), and the American poet Ezra Pound, who admired Mussolini and held anti-Semitic beliefs. T. S. Eliot, although he never supported fascism, had extremely conservative political views as well.
Writers have never become famous only by their own efforts. It takes dozens of people to bring a work from the mind of the writer to the hands of the reader. And in an age such as the mid-twentieth century, when thousands of works of literature were published every year, the role of the critic became especially important in establishing whether a writer was important and why. In the 1930s, when the modernist writers had already produced a solid body of work to be explained and evaluated, two groups of critics with drastically different backgrounds and political inclinations set their sights upon Modernism. Together, these groups defined the sprawling movement, telling readers what it meant and, most importantly, arguing that Modernism should be read without concern to any political beliefs expressed in the works or held by the writers. Their consensus about Modernism eventually made the movement the great movement of twentieth-century literature.
The first of these two groups came together in the American South in the 1920s. This "Fugitive" or "Agrarian" group included writers Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, and Allen Tate (most of whom were poets or novelists as well as critics) who were inspired by the antebellum South and its Elizabethan English heritage. They yearned for a preindustrial world where cultured aristocrats cultivated the land and wrote subtle, accomplished verse. In the 1920s they read the influential critical writings of T. S. Eliot, which meshed well with their own ideas about literature and led them to appreciate Eliot's (and by extension other modernists') works.
Eventually, these writers obtained academic posts and developed a method of literary analysis called "New Criticism." The New Criticism valued such formal devices as tension, ambiguity, wordplay, and irony. It had absolutely no interest in questions of what a work can tell about history or about an author's life or what political meaning a work holds. People who read works for what they had to say about society were Philistines to the New Critics; the goal of reading literature was to refine one's sensations and to make ever-finer distinctions about the excellence of language. In such works as Brooks's The Well-Wrought Urn and Ransom's The New Criticism, these critics provided a model for reading literature apolitically.
This apolitical attitude was anathema to the New Critics' counterparts, the New York Intellectuals. The New York Intellectuals were urban, immigrants or the children of immigrants, largely Jewish, and adamantly left-wing (many of them were briefly Communist Party members). They came together writing for Partisan Review, the leading intellectual journal of postwar America. And for these critics—Philip Rahv, Delmore Schwartz, Diana Trilling, Irving Howe, and many others-Modernism's value was that it undermined the simplistic happy-ending narratives produced by capitalism and "mass culture." Modernism, with its fragmented visions of the world and its insistence that there is no such thing as an objective perspective, was a blow against the smug capitalist structure of advertising and consumption. Modernism accomplished this not by means of the content of the writing, but by means of the form. The complicated combination of allusions, the decentralizing interior monologue, and the often jarring sense of time take away all certainties and call attention to the ways that minds create the world.
During most of the 1930s, these two groups had little to do with each other. The New Critics, from their posts at universities and colleges, taught students how to read and appreciate literature. The New York Intellectuals wrote for journals and lived as public intellectuals; few of them had any affiliation with schools and most of them mistrusted universities. But both argued to different audiences that the type of writing now called "modernist" was the highest form of literature in the contemporary world.
In 1949, though, these two groups were forced to directly confront Americans' refusal to ignore literature's political meanings. The great American Modernist poet Ezra Pound had lived in Italy for over two decades, during which time he had expressed his admiration for Mussolini as well as for a growing anti-Semitism. During World War II, Pound broadcast radio programs on Fascist state radio and, as a result, was indicted for treason in 1943. In 1945 Pound was arrested and brought back to Washington to face trial. Broken and unstable, he was found mentally unfit to stand trial. He was sentenced to an indefinite period in St. Elizabeth's Hospital for the criminally insane.
But Pound was not finished. During his term in the army's detention center in Pisa, Italy, Pound composed a series of cantos (individual installments of his epic poem The Cantos). Published in 1948 as The Pisan Cantos, the book was Pound's most personal work in decades and perhaps his greatest single book of poems. It won the first Bollingen Prize, an award given by the Library of Congress, in 1949. Immediately, a storm of controversy arose. The American press and large numbers of American citizens were angered and insulted that a man who had supported an enemy power only a few years before, and who could have been executed for treason, was now being honored by the United States government.
The Bollingen Prize committee included members associated with the New Critics and the New York Intellectuals as well as the poets W. H. Auden, Conrad Aiken, and T. S. Eliot. Called upon to defend their decision, the committee members did so in very different ways. The Jewish poet Karl Shapiro frankly stated that he voted against Pound because he could not abide anti-Semites. Allen Tate argued that poetry must be judged without reference to the personal life of the poet. The committee as a whole released a statement to the press arguing that their decision was grounded on "that objective perception of value on which civilized society must rest."
Where the New Critics would have been expected to defend the prize, many assumed that the left-wing, anti-Fascist, Jewish New York Intellectuals would oppose any award being granted to Pound. Partisan Review convened a symposium in its pages to discuss the award, and although a range of points of view were expressed, the editors of the notably leftist journal (Philip Rahv and William Barrett) came out in support of the award. They feared what they termed the "Stalinoid" tendency of governments and societies to judge art only by the criteria of whether it advances that society's interests. To the New York Intellectuals, art must spur challenge of society's assumptions, not uphold them; art must demand thinking and questioning. By no means did the New York Intellectuals endorse Pound's ideas; on the contrary, many of them made a point to condemn him even when defending his award.
If World War I was the vortex out of which Modernism was truly born, the Bollingen Prize controversy became the event that transformed Modernism from an avant-garde movement into the literary establishment. During the 1950s, literary critics of the left and the right agreed about literature, at least in broad strokes. And while they each admired different things about Modernism (the New Critics liked its formal intricacy, while the New York Intellectuals endorsed its demands on the reader), their consensus about the movement defined it and ushered it into the center of the American literary canon, where it has remained ever since.
Source: Greg Barnhisel, Critical Essay on Modernism, in Literary Movements for Students, The Gale Group, 2003.
In this essay, Jones argues that modernist author Joseph Conrad in revising his originally serialized novel, Chance, critiqued methods of popular publishing.
Many early twentieth-century authors now associated with protomodernist or modernist experimentation appeared initially in weekly or monthly journals before proceeding to book form, partly as a matter of economic necessity, partly to ensure a broad dissemination of their work. Experimental writers relied on journal publication in the British Isles and the United States to make a living, while their innovations in narrative method often failed to fit the contexts of their initial appearance. Thus, three of Joyce's Dubliners stories, "The Sisters," "Eve-line," and "After the Race" were first published in 1904 in a popular Dublin agricultural journal, The Irish Homestead, a journal Joyce later referred to in Ulysses as "the pigs' paper."
Moreover, a distinctive eclecticism characterised many journals in the period, where writers such as Thomas Hardy or Joseph Conrad appeared in Harper's (then a far more broadly-based journal than the current publication) or The Pictorial Review alongside the romances of Baroness Orzcy, Marjorie Bowen or Marie Corelli. Instalments of fiction were often framed by features on beauty and fashion, advertisements for household goods, articles on topical issues, and photographs of distinguished personalities. In the July issue of The London Magazine for 1912 an advertisement directs its female readers to "Obliterate Fatness and Restore Beauty," while the October number offers a fictional romance by Arnold Bennett, whose content questions the very conventions of representation that implicitly shape female identity in this context.
Recent critical debates have revealed the complexity of the relationship between modernism and popular forms. Tim Armstrong, for example, asks whether modernism might not be understood as "a phenomenon of the market" (2005, 48). He cites competing accounts
‟WAS CONRAD MERELY TRYING TO CHURN OUT A POPULAR ROMANCE AND FAILED?"
presented by Lawrence Rainey (1998) and Mark Morrisson (2001), who both establish, in different ways, modernism's response to market forces and the emergence of popular journal publication. Both critics try to avoid the polarisation implied by Andrea Huyssens's notion of "the great divide," in which modernist authors' relationship to mass culture is seen as "an anxiety of contamination" (1986, vii). Even so, Rainey's account of the development of Little Magazines sometimes reflects the enduring Greenbergian distinction between "lowbrow" and "highbrow." As Armstrong observes, Rainey argues for modernism's eĺitist tendency "to create a new niche market for an 'advanced literature' structured by scarcity rather than abundance" (2005, 48).
It is true that with the development of the Little Magazines and literary journals, experimental fiction moved out of the broad-ranging popular contexts like Pall Mall, London Magazine,and Metropolitan Magazine and found a more exclusive niche. Pound and Eliot's The Egoist, which ran 1914-1919 as a mouthpiece for Imagism, serialised Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; John Middleton Murry's The Adelphi published Dorothy Richardson in London, Margaret Anderson's Chicago The Little Review published work by Wyndham Lewis, T. S. Eliot, Ford Madox Ford and chapters of Ulysses.However, Rainey's account of modernism's emergence through systems of patronage rather than through direct commercial relations changes the emphasis from a polarisation of "high" and "low" to a more nuanced identification of authors' individual relations with figures associated with the mass market, such as the newspaper magnate, Alfred Harmsworth (Lord Northcliffe) or C. Arthur Pearson in England, Randolph Hearst or S.S. McClure in the United States.
On the other hand, Morrisson suggests a more fluid interaction between modernism and the popular market, outlining the ways in which modernism exploits techniques of advertising and popular publishing, "even where it seems to create a 'counter-public' sphere" (Armstrong 2005, 48-49). Morrisson argues for the adaptation of mass publication techniques by contemporary political groups such as suffragists, socialists, and anarchists and the argument for a strong relationship between experimental work and the popular press can be illustrated by the fact that the popular context for "high-brow" fiction does not disappear in the twentieth century. After all, Sylvia Plath published short stories such as "Sunday at the Mintons" in Mademoiselle in August 1952, and "Initiation" in January 1953 in Seventeen.
Studies such as those of Rainey or Morrisson give rise to general theories of modernism's relationship to the marketplace, yet they have not always explored fully the close textual problems arising from this context, in particular the implications of a transformation from serial to book text of much modernist writing. Critics such as Alfred Habegger (1989) or R.B. Kerschner (1996) have led the way by exploring the periodical publication of the works of protomodernist and high modernist figures ranging from Henry James to James Joyce. Likewise, Linda Hughes and Michael Lund have observed an important relationship between the serial context and the protomodernist novel, noting that "serialization was the dominant form for the first appearance of major works by Stevenson, Hardy, Wells, Kipling, James, Conrad, and others" (Hughes and Lund 1991, 230).
Yet for those writers who sought a wide read-ership as well as integrity for the novel as art form, a tension often arose in the period between aesthetic aims and marketing incentives, where the themes and content of fiction did not always meet the generic expectations of a mass audience. The censored serial text of Hardy's Jude the Obscure, for example, appeared in Harper's in 1895 under the editor's somewhat misleading title of Hearts Insurgent. As Hughes and Lund observe, this title suggests the "romantic fulfilment, ascension through the social ranks and expansion of real influence" that conformed more readily to serial readers' expectations than to the harsh scepticism of Hardy's book text (1991, 232). Moreover, Hardy's manuscript was bowdlerized in the serial, the editor having cut such events as the pig-killing or Arabella's seduction of Jude.
In fact, the serial text of late nineteenth-early twentieth-century protomodernist fiction has often been dismissed out of hand by contemporary critics and editors. It sometimes occupies a similar place to that of the "The Bad Quarto" of Hamlet—where the text has in the past been almost too easily dismissed as inferior, unreliable copy without reference to its more elusive potential. The serial version of novels of this period, cranked out to deadline, unchecked at proof stage, brutally censored and edited, nevertheless retains, in its context, an "improvisational" quality, not least in its often disjunctive combination of text and illustration. Of course it could be argued that the apparently naïve mismatch between fictional texts and the surrounding visual material used for illustrations of fiction, advertisements and feature articles incorporates the discourses of freedom and individual worth. But you could polemicize this phenomenon in a different way. Images for advertisements and illustrations for fiction usually conform to a limited taxonomy, promoting received conventions of genre and of gender identity according to standards of contemporary taste or fashion and often eliding generic ambiguities in the texts themselves. Instead they emphasise the conservative tendencies that shaped the desires of readers of popular romance.
In this respect, textual studies have provided useful models for rethinking critical assumptions associated with modernist writers. Theorists of the history of the book, ranging from Pierre Macherey and Pierre Bourdieu to Jerome McGann have increasingly encouraged us to engage with the context in which the text is produced (see Macherey 1966, Bourdieu 1993, McGann 1983). D. F. McKenzie's theory of the "Sociology of the Text" has similarly led to a radical revision of critical attitudes in the examination of all pre-publication and published states of the text, identifying a more fluid, open and inclusive framework (McKenzie 1986).
The serial text of modernist fiction may be unreliable in bibliographical terms, but I want to question whether the transformation from serial to book version can tell us something about the construction or development of modernist narratives. In this essay I shall consider some of the issues raised by the condition of popular serialisation in this period, using the example of Joseph Conrad's Chance (1913) to illustrate the complexity of the problem. Rather than focussing on the familiar image of Conrad as writer of sea-stories and masculine tales, in this essay I shall reflect on his modernist strategies in relation to popular contexts and especially those that courted a female readership of romance fiction. Drawing on his experience of the periodical market, where many of his novels and short stories were first published, Conrad produced a striking response to popular genres in Chance. With this novel he broke with his usual masculinist themes, offering instead a number of intertextual allusions to the treatment of feminist politics in contemporary fictional forms such as the romance, sensation fiction, or the New Woman novel. But while Conrad was, throughout his career, an astute reader of popular forms, the extant manuscripts suggest that it was during the revisions of Chance that he first began to consolidate a response to the popular asa critique of the contemporary serial. I would argue that in his response to serialization, Conrad interrogates to some extent the modern journal's dependence on its readers' recognition and repetition of visual images, in a context that gave equal emphasis to the printed word and the printed image. A study of the revisions of the text of Chance from serial to book reveals Conrad's striking engagement, in his final version of the novel, in a critique of the methods of popular publishing.
It is important to remember that Chance was not Conrad's first encounter with a popular market. The author's enduring relationship with Blackwood's Magazine (which published "Youth," Heart of Darkness, and Lord Jim) meant that the works up to 1900 with which he is now most popularly associated first appeared in a sober context whose tone often verged on the masculinist and jingoistic. But Conrad moved to a different phase in his career as he sought a wider readership. The Blackwood's years had failed to produce economic success for Conrad, and, attempting to reach a more lucrative market for his work, the author engaged with a broader, more popular and visually appealing form of journal publishing, initially starting in Britain, and then in the United States. In a deliberate move away from the conservative presentation of his contributions to Blackwood's, he began to court the popular journals, with their strongly visual component, as far back as 1901 with "Amy Foster" in Illustrated London News (1901). "Typhoon" (1902) and "Gaspar Ruiz" (1906) both appeared initially in Pall Mall Magazine, "The Secret Sharer" in Harper's (1910), "A Smile of Fortune" in The London Magazine in 1911, and "Freya of the Seven Isles" appeared in that magazine in June 1912.
The big breakthrough for Conrad came in 1909 with a contract from Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald to publish a serial novel in the women's pages of the Sunday Magazine of the paper. In fact, Conrad's customary practice of deferral and delay in completing projects meant that Chance did not appear until three years later. It has now become a critical commonplace to refer to the success of the book version of Chance (1913) as a turning point in Conrad's career as a writer. The novel secured his reputation in the United States, and brought him economic success for the first time in his life. But the serialisation of the novel had initiated this success. Appearing in the Herald from January-June 1912, it was preceded by a lively marketing campaign which declared the sea-novelist's promise to write especially for women. Instalments of the serial text were sandwiched between advertisements for hair care, dress design, and domestic appliances, articles on the Suffragist movement, and Marriage Schools for young ladies. The serial accommodated its context in many ways—it was a narrative about a woman, full of contemporary references to feminism. Set mainly in the English countryside and in London, Chance confirmed Conrad's attempt to shift his public image from that of, exclusively, "writer of the sea," and the marketing drive paid off. The book versions were a roaring success, first published by Methuen in London in 1913, and then by Doubleday in the United States in 1914, where it was again aggressively marketed by Alfred Knopf (Karl 1979, 746-47). In May 1914 one Chicago bookseller had orders for 1,200 copies of the novel, having never before taken more than 200 orders for a Conrad title. (Karl and Davies 1996, 382n2).
Modern critics have been baffled by the phenomenon. They frequently mourn the fact that Conrad never found popularity in his lifetime with the protomodernist Heart of Darkness or Lord Jim, but achieved it with what they consider to be an inferior women's romance. In 1996, Cedric Watts asked,
Why should Chance, of all his novels, have been so successful? Chance is certainly not one of Conrad's best works; among the texts in which Marlow features as narrator, it is remarkably disappointing: it lacks the radical verve of the earlier works. But neither is it obviously popular in its nature. The narrative is fluid, serpentine, diffuse and prolix, employing complicated relays of reporters of events.
(Watts 1996, 84)
Watts's argument raises several critical dilemmas. He believes that Conrad set out to write a popular romance. But since the text seems to him to be far from populist in character, he wonders why it was a success. Later in the essay he concludes that it was successful only by virtue of its American-style marketing for women readers. But does the puzzle associated with this text amount solely to a matter of modern marketing? Was Conrad merely trying to churn out a popular romance and failed? And should this novel be so easily dismissed as "inferior" Conrad? (Moser 1957).
Conrad's engagement with a burgeoning serial-market in his late novels might seem to favor the argument that Conrad had "capitulated" to popular trends, where the contextual material of serialised fiction assumed readers' conservative expectations. The themes of his later novels, such as The Arrow of Gold (1919), The Rover (1923), and Suspense (published posthumously 1925) seem to suggest the emergence of an emphatically romantic, revisionist Conrad, nostalgic for the quest of the hero in the context of the historical novel so popular with the journals in which they were initially serialised, Lloyd's Magazine (1918-20), The Pictorial Review (1923), or Hutchinson's Magazine (1925). The Rescue (1920), in its finished form (Conrad first began it as a short story "The Rescuer" in 1896) but then serialised in 1919 in Land and Water, fits into the "popular" category, both in its subtitle, "A Romance of the Shallows" and in its continuity with the Malay fiction of the early years, which had often been (mis)represented by H. G. Wells and others, as predominantly "exotic romance." Yet to categorise these novels of the very early and the very late phase so reductively is in part to deny the late works their continuity with areas of Conradian scepticism developed during the years of his "major" work and to ignore his engagement with the periodical press throughout his career. A close examination of manuscript, serial, and the fundamental typescript revisions for the book-version of Chance shows the extent to which Conrad increasingly shaped the work to achieve a delicate balance in positioning the book successfully between a saleable romance and a critique of the romance form itself, a move that suggests the complex interdependence of popular forms and the rise of literary modernism.
The transition from manuscript to serial version of Chance, with its major shift in composition from short sea tale to full-length romance novel, illustrates the nature of Conrad's experiments in the late work. (Jones 1999, 134-60) Conrad had first thought of the idea for Chance in 1898. At that time he had conceived of it, not as a novel, but as a sea-tale (entitled "Dynamite"), to be part of a projected collection for Blackwood's. It was never completed, but the idea was revived when Conrad obtained the contract for the New York Herald Sunday Magazine. He made changes to the projected novel at this point, moving away from a tale exclusively about the sea and accommodating within the story its contemporary feminist context and female readership. Nevertheless, the serial version of Chance still relates to some degree to that earlier version. Each instalment was squeezed out to deadline in the manner of a Dickens novel, without giving Conrad time to reflect much on his editing process. During the frenzied composition of Chance for the New York Herald deadlines, Conrad had been cynical about its worth, a point that has often led critics to believe that he did not care about it and had merely capitulated to modern marketing by writing a serial for women. He had, at the serial stage, altered the focus of the story, dividing the location between sea and land; he included a larger, central role for the female protagonist, and added many "popular" or contemporary elements. In fact the bare essentials of the plot read like a popular melodrama, complete with isolated heroine, wicked governess, financial frauds, attempted suicide, a failed poisoning, unrequited love, and a prospective marriage to finish. The inclusion of topical characters, such as the financier De Barral, and an ardent feminist, Mrs Zoë Fyne, integrates a rites of passage narrative, and a potentially conventional romance of a young girl and a sailor with a contemporary tragi-comedy whose sharp political register explores the relationship between gender and genre.
In spite of these changes in plot, character, and theme, much of the serial version still conforms, in its register and tone to our assumptions about the masculinist Conrad. The serial version is framed by the dialogue between an unnamed first-person writer and a dramatised narrator who is a retired sea-captain and oral story-teller, Charlie Marlow (he had already appeared in "Youth," Heart of Darkness, and Lord Jim). As the tale unfolds in the serial version, these men ponder the nature and meaning of textuality, and the discussions of the male narrators threaten to hinder the advance of the plot. The text is prolix and meandering with few obvious divisions (it has no chapter titles, for example). But with the revisions for the book version, a new focus emerges. Marlow's interlocuter loses his role as writer, shifting the focus of the narrative away from Marlow's discussions with him about textuality, and allowing the shadowy presence of the female figure to emerge into sharper relief. In this version the elusive female protagonist herself represents the "gap" associated with a modernist text, resisting as she does Marlow's imposition upon her of a romance narrative in which he awards himself a paternalistic and chivalrous role. For the book, Conrad divided the text into chapters and two parts, entitled "Damsel" and "Knight," achieving a more deliberate ironisation of the romance form. He cut large sections of the early manuscript that related to an earlier conception of the novel as a sea story, augmenting the character of the female protagonist, and highlighting a political discussion about feminism.
Conrad himself suggested a rift in continuity of subject matter from the original sea-tale to the topical romance. In a letter of June 1, 1913 to his agent J.B. Pinker he wrote that Chance"was written in 1907 and the rest of the novel in 1911-12. And it did not belong to that novel—but to some other novel which will never be written now." However, Conrad's most radical changes to Chance occurred at an even later stage, during the revisions from serial to book in 1913, completed rapidly and intensively that year between May 11 and June 18 (Karl and Davies 1996, 221-35).
We can trace the history of Conrad's rewriting of Chance in manuscript. Besides the holo-graph manuscript (MS Chance), held in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library, there are three extant typescripts of Chance (TS1, TS2, and TS3), held in special collections at Colgate University, University of Texas at Austin and Yale University, which document this process of revision in 1913, recording the cuts and refinements Conrad made to the serial version. But it soon becomes clear that the really essential structural revisions from serial to book occurred in TS2, the Texas typescript with holograph revisions, now residing at the Harry Ransome Humanities Library, Austin.
The plot of the final version still retains, in its barest details, its debt to popular melodrama. Flora de Barral, the motherless daughter of a parvenu financier who has been jailed for fraud, is abandoned to her own resources. Flora is "rescued" by a concerned couple, Mr and Mrs Fyne, the latter being an active feminist. Nevertheless, Flora suffers psychological despair, and she first attempts suicide, then marries a sea-captain who happens to be Mrs Fyne's brother. Flora's jealous father, released from prison, tries to poison the captain on board ship. But when discovered by a young seaman, Powell, de Barral kills himself. After a brief period of happiness for Flora, her husband drowns at sea. Some years later, Powell reappears in her life, and the novel concludes with a prospective marriage. In spite of its melodramatic themes, Conrad constructs in the book version of the text a complex narrative framework that lends itself more closely to modernist writing. The story is constantly punctuated by elusive gaps and hiatuses, and the representation of the female protagonist evades its narrators' assumptions about her identity.
But something else is going on. The serial includes an oppressively didactic element in which Marlow laboriously explains to the women readers of the Herald the value of life at sea compared to the moral failures of a life on land. In the book version Conrad's new narrative strategy itself offers a critique of the serialised version, in which the author felt obliged to offer the women readers a patronizing explanation of all things pertaining to the sea. Conrad cut large tracts of Marlow's moralizing framework, leaving the women readers to think for themselves. But Conrad also removed aspects of Flora's characterisation where, in the serial she appears to conform far more closely to the conventional presentation of the heroine of serial romance. In the Texas typescript (TS2), for example, Conrad made several cuts to Marlow's imagining of the meeting between Flora and Captain Anthony (from Chapter 6 in the book) and his decision to ask her to marry him. The book version retains a passage from TS2, concerning Marlow's view of Anthony: "I imagine to myself Captain Anthony as simple and romantic . . . " (Conrad 1949, 193).
But in TS2 Conrad cuts from the serial a long passage about how Marlow imagined Flora might have felt, and how Anthony might have responded:
This girl of which he knew nothing would interpret him like a personal matter. It was possible he had never seen grief—not a girl's grief. His concern would be naïve and genuine and probably helpless—in masculine fashion. And probably the girl . . . would be touched . . .
Did poor Flora ever in this new experience find the opportunity to smile while resting her eyes on him; and did he then feel her glance penetrate his heart like a beam of bright sunshine that seems to descend deep, to the very bottom of clear water?
The tone here conforms very much to the overwritten passages of serial romance to be found elsewhere in the Herald Sunday Magazine pages. In the serial version of Chance Marlow implies the possibility of a conventional romance situation, insinuating that both parties are "innocent" or inexperienced in dealing with love—but that Flora might have subconsciously wished to reciprocate Anthony's half-suppressed, but protective attentions. The passage might have appropriately described a moment in another fictional item, published in an earlier issue of the magazine (June 18, 1911), "The Adventure Hunter: The Affair of the Assistant Cashier," by Hamilton Lang. Here the illustration for the story shows a woman in distress leaning over a railing, while an honourable gentleman looks on with outstretched arm to comfort her. The caption runs: "He attracted her attention and she raised a face so turned by despair that all its traces of beauty seemed to have gone from it."
But although a similar semantic and icono-graphic register is used to illustrate Anthony's protective intentions towards Flora in the serial version of Chance (one illustration shows Flora leaning on a gate between fields, while Anthony looms over her)—in the book version, where Conrad has cut Marlow's narratorial intervention, the reader gets no guidance on how to interpret the situation—leaving Flora's responses to Anthony as something of a mystery. She behaves unconventionally—by this point in the narrative we have no explicit knowledge of her feelings for him, and thus Conrad presents bewilderment, confusion, and misunderstanding between them. He leaves the onus of interpretation to the reader to fathom Flora's psychological pain, first in relation to Anthony's attentions, and then (paradoxically, it seems) in the Captain's later refusal to consummate the marriage. Such cuts from the serial text show to some extent Conrad's sense of freedom from, and critique of the serial's demands for conventional explication and fulfilment of readers' generic assumptions. By leaving out Marlow's influential interpretation of Flora's situation, Conrad resists a reductive image of Flora as innocent young girl embarking on a first love, wishing for male protection, and instead, a more complex, unfathomable portrait emerges of a psychologically damaged woman, who, through experiences of abandonment and betrayal feels both unlovable and incapable of expressing love. Moreover, it is a portrait that resists Marlow's romanticising.
But not all the revisions to the serial came in the form of cuts. If we look closely at one of the few additions Conrad made at this stage in the novel's evolution we find some striking shifts in the focus of the final story. Here he frames Marlow's comments in the context of a more sceptical discussion of the Woman Question. But he also achieves this tighter ironisation of romance by bringing into play his responses to a new form of serial fiction in which he now aimed to present his work.
The following section comes from an earlier moment than the above section, from what eventually constitutes Chapter Two. The dramatised narrator, Marlow, tells his interlocutor about his visits to the country home of a middle-class couple, Mr and Mrs Fyne, whom he has befriended while taking a vacation in the home counties of London. It is through this couple that he meets the abandoned heroine, Flora de Barral. On the surface, the Fynes's is a highly conventional marriage, but Mrs Fyne is a feminist, writing a tract on women's education. This episode sets the scene of Marlow's visits to the Fynes. In the first state of the text, which appears in the manuscript and corresponds to the serial text, we hear nothing about Mrs Fyne's political or possible sexual persuasions at this point:
The atmosphere of that holiday cottage was—if I may put it so—brightly dull. Healthy faces, fair complexions, clear eyes—and never a smile, not even amongst the kids. After tea we would sit down to chess and then Fyne's passive gravity became faintly animated by an attenuated gleam of something inward which might have been a smile.
In an interim text (TS1) Conrad refines Mr Fyne's character only slightly. But in the revised TS2 text, Conrad adds an important paragraph, placing Mrs Fyne in the feminist context much earlier than in previous states of the text. Marlow's expression of wry anxiety about the girl friends (note the "kids" have disappeared) is fundamental at this point to his reshaping of the narrative framework:
TS2 (Texas; holograph corrections to the TS1 text appear here in italics):
The atmosphere of that holiday cottage was—if I may put it so—brightly dull.
Healthy faces, fair complexions, clear eyes—and never a frank smile in the whole lot, unless perhaps from the girl friend.
The girl-friend problem exercised me greatly. Were they got these pretty creatures from I can't imagine. I had at first the wild suspicion that they were obtained to amuse Fyne. But I soon discovered that he could hardly tell one from the other, though obviously their presence met with his solemn approval. In fact they came for Mrs Fyne. They treated her with admiring deference. They answered to some need of hers. They sat at her feet—They were like disciples. It was very curious. Of Fyne they took but scanty notice. As to myself I was made to feel that I did not exist.
After tea we would sit down to chess and then Fyne's everlasting gravity became faintly tinged by an attenuated gleam of something inward which resembled sly satisfaction.
This passage shows how Conrad emended his narrative strategy in two specific areas, both of which extend the role of feminist critique in the novel. The first applies to narratorial positioning. His additions contribute to the greater sense in the final version of Marlow's possessiveness over the story. In his somewhat dry and teasing tone there is nevertheless a hint of his increasing paranoia (developed elsewhere in TS2), an anxiety about being marginalised from his own story—"As to myself I was made to feel that I did not exist." Conrad also confirms this move elsewhere in TS2 by cutting Fyne's role. In this version Fyne has almost no response to "the girl-friends," whereas in earlier versions Marlow hints at Fyne's erotic attraction to the main "girl-friend" Flora. TS2 leaves Marlow's textual and sexual appropriation of Flora unchallenged (he expresses an erotic attraction to her victimisation). Thus Flora's later rejection of his chivalrous attitude to her and his misunderstanding of her actions is more acutely refined.
Second, Conrad draws on his familiarity with the social and political context of the narrative, particularly through allusion to a variety of popular contemporary texts. Marlow introduces a far more pointed sexual and political subtext to Mrs Fyne's association with the girlfriends. The shift from kids to girl-friends emphasises Mrs Fyne's role as proselytising feminist and introduces the possibility of a lesbian subtext that Marlow articulates with a certain coyness. The narrator who elsewhere insists on his iron control of the narrative here initiates a tone of equivocation and unreliability—again a point that is developed throughout TS2. Conrad is of course gesturing to those popular or sensational, as well as controversial fictional contexts like the New Woman novel, initially exemplified by Sarah Grand's The Heavenly Twins(1893) but which endured into the twentieth century. Certainly something of the characteristics of Hardy's Sue Bridehead appears here in the combined presentations of Mrs Fyne and Flora. Jane Eldridge Miller has observed that
In his 1912 postscript to the preface of Jude the Obscure, [Hardy] . . . agrees with a German critic that Sue Bridehead is "the woman of the feminist movement—the slight, pale, "bachelor" girl—the intellectualized, emancipated bundle of nerves that modern conditions were producing, mainly in cities as yet; who does not recognize the necessity for most of her sex to follow marriage as a profession."
(Miller 1994, 34)
In the emended TS2 Conrad fleshed out Mrs Fyne's role as an ardent feminist, interested in the careers of her "girl-friends," advocating female autonomy and writing books on women's education, although she apparently sustains a highly conventional marriage herself. Conrad's method seemed also to include a fitting acknowledgement, on his part, of the difficulty someone like Hardy had found in writing seriously about the contemporary position of women for a popular readership. On the other hand, Conrad exploited the new market for fiction about women's issues (where Laurence Bliss or John Gals-worthy had found some success). First, these texts capitalised on the topicality of the Woman Question. But Conrad avoids to some extent the problems encountered by Hardy in his presentation of the New Woman by refusing a direct confrontation with the issue. He distances himself as author from the narrative frame in his novel and couches his presentation of Mrs Fyne in Marlow's ironic tone, while providing an interlocuter who will later question the validity of Marlow's position.
But this passage from TS2 not only gestures to the political context. Consider the line—But I soon saw that he could hardly tell one from the other. Here we need to return to the issue of serialisation. Marlow hints at the homogeneity of all those ubiquitous images of women to be found in contemporary serial publications. The moment initiates an overall shaping of the critique of female representation throughout the book, where the text constantly refers us to the limited nature of existing representations of women (including Marlow's).
Conrad had published "A Smile of Fortune" in The London Magazine in 1911, and "Freya of the Seven Isles" appeared in the same journal in June 1912. He possessed copies of the issues, which he had already offered to send to Henri Davray to show that he "had arrived" in terms of popular publication (Karl and Davies 1996, 61). It is of interest here to consider that before Conrad commenced the revisions of Chance he had been discussing with Davray the publication of his earlier stories in a magazine context. We might speculate to what extent Conrad was aware of the illustrations for these journals, but in the text of "Smile" he certainly teases the reader with a wry perspective on visual conventions associated with the representation of women. While the illustration accompanying the story presents a sensuous, but otherwise traditional portrait of the heroine, in the text Alice Jacobus appears entrapped in her father's house, "snarling and superb," "the everlastingly irritated captive of the garden." If we then compare, for example, the illustration for "Smile," which followed directly an advertisement for Beecham's Pills sporting a very similar image, with an earlier illustration for the front cover of the American Ladies Home Journal in 1903, we find a curious iconographic homogeneity. The practice of syndication is partly responsible (whereby one image might be sold to any number of periodicals to illustrate any number of different features). The construction of visual stereotypes in these illustrations make the interaction between Conrad's text and the context in which it is published peculiarly disjunctive. In each of the above examples, the representation of the woman converges in the depiction of hairstyle, facial characteristics and bone structure, expression, and so on. The limitation of popular representations of women seems to provide evidence for Conrad's sense of the limitations experienced by the female protagonist of his story. Alice Jacobus expresses, with unladylike defiance, a feeling of frustration in her role as dependent woman, confined to the spaces of a bizarre hortus conclusus, where she is destined to conform to conventional assumptions about her appearance and behavior.
In similar fashion, whether consciously or not, Conrad's serial text of Chance also allows for some ironic readings in context. But I would suggest that it is after the serialisation of Chance, as Conrad turned to the book version, that he refined and sharpened his response to a disjunction between visual and textual representations occurring in the context of popular romance, and that, on reflection, he tightened his critique by offering a comment on the initial context in which so many of these romances appeared. Marlow is himself quick to point out that Mrs Fyne corresponds to the popular visual image of the New Woman. In this chapter he describes her dress, in white shirt, jacket, tie, and culottes—matching, in fact, an illustration for a New York Herald Magazine feature of 1912 on the "Joys of Women Walking."
I will now turn to TS3, the typescript held in the Beinecke Collection at Yale University. This text is almost certainly the final typescript before the type-setting and proof stage, where we find Conrad's ultimate polishing of the text, with its new focus for Mrs Fyne's character.
The atmosphere of that holiday cottage was—if I may put it so—brightly dull. Healthy faces, fair complexions, clear eyes, and never a frank smile in the whole lot, unless perhaps from the girl friend.
The girl-friend problem exercised me greatly.
How and where they got these pretty creatures to come and stay with them I can't imagine. I had at first the wild suspicion that they were obtained to amuse Fyne. But I soon discovered that he could hardly tell one from the other, though obviously their presence met with his solemn approval. These girls in fact came for Mrs Fyne. They treated her with admiring deference. She answered to some need of theirs. They sat at her feet. They were like disciples. It was very curious. Of Fyne they took but scanty notice. As to myself I was made to feel that I did not exist.
After tea we would sit down to chess and then Fyne's everlasting gravity became faintly tinged by an attenuated gleam of something inward which resembled sly satisfaction.
In TS3 Conrad clinches Mrs Fyne's role—he gives her greater powers of authority over the girls. There is a reversal of roles: she answered to some need of theirs. Mrs Fyne replaces, in Marlow's view, the authoritative role of the husband or indeed himself. This addition to the text is helpful in Conrad's deeper parody of Mrs Fyne's political position later in the text. When Flora later elopes with Mrs Fyne's brother, Mrs Fyne proves to be the most conventional of sexual moralists complaining that Flora is an "adventuress." Conrad here provides a commentary that supports the words of Grant Allen's heroine in The Woman Who Did (1895), who observes that "the education at Girton [College, Cambridge] made only a pretence at freedom. At heart, our girls were as enslaved to the conventions as any girls elsewhere. The whole object of the training was to see just how far you could manage to push a woman's education without the faintest danger of her emancipation."
Conrad's presentation of Mrs Fyne's "biblical" authority with the disciples at her feet reverses the patriarchal role. As she takes leadership of what looks like a Victorian reading group, she is given the role of a Mrs Pankhurst rather than a Carlylean figure. But more importantly, Marlow's authority as narrator is also undermined. Marlow's unnamed interlocuter challenges his more outrageous pronouncements about the nature of women: "Do you really believe what you have said?" Marlow's presentation of feminism in the novel is shown up to be unreliable and driven principally by anxiety for his own role as convenor of the narrative.
So, as Conrad revised his critique of romance, allowing for a wry perspective on the conventional marriage plot, he brought to bear on the text references to forms of fiction associated with a female readership, the romance, the New Woman novel, contemporary political references. But he also produced an astute reading of the representation of women in popular journals with their highly visual component. He shows up the limitations upon women of this homogenising effect of syndication, of a dissemination of repetitious images to a wider public than ever before. Even the critique of patriarchy itself is open to the media's conventionalising effects. The representation of the feminist solidifies into yet another popular convention.
With the publication of Chance, Conrad moved into a new phase of his career, but I would argue that he nevertheless sustained in his later novels the critique of serial publication established during Chance's revision from serial to book. Conrad's final texts all appear in contexts that promote conservative generic expectations and readership. Illustrations of the serial instalments offer misleading and highly sentimentalised representations of what in the text amounts to far more problematic, disjunctive moments of narration. For example, illustrations of Doña Rita (The Arrow of Gold) in Lloyd's Magazine are indistinguishable from the face of the girl widely used to advertise De Reszke cigarettes in periodicals of the period, belying that character's self-interrogations in the text. Instalments of The Rover appeared in 1923 in the monthly Pictorial Review (see Mott 1957, 362) where Conrad's written text seems to conform initially to the illustrations of a conventional romance figure. He describes the heroine, Arlette, entering the novel thus: "A young woman with a fichu round her neck and a striped white and red skirt, with black hair and a red mouth, appeared in an inner doorway." The image is reminiscent of Flora de Barral in Chance (who also possesses black hair and a red mouth). Yet Arlette also defeats expectations of female passivity associated with the idealised visual framing of her entrance. Later in the text we learn of her first-hand experiences of "The Terror" during the French Revolution, and she takes an active lead in the romance plot with Réal). Conrad uses Arlette, like Flora in the final version of Chance, to resist the syndicated repetitions of popular images of the romance heroine. The critique is never explicit, but we detect Conrad's implicit reference to the effects of representational homogeneity that we have seen emerge in his rewriting of Chance.
Following the brutal cutting of the serial version of Hardy's Jude the Obscure and that book's subsequent failure with contemporary audiences, the author famously stopped writing novels. We might speculate on what Hardy might have produced had he, like Conrad, had the opportunity to exploit the potential for a sceptical response to the processes and methodologies of popular marketing. While Chance still suffers from enduring critical assumptions about its "inferior" status as romance, I believe that the textual history of the novel makes it look less like a capitulation to market forces than an initiation of an astute and highly modernist response to them.
Source: Susan Jones, "Modernism and the Marketplace: The Case of Conrad's Chance," in College Literature,Vol. 34, No. 3, Summer 2007, pp. 101-19.
In this essay, Garret argues that from Ezra Pound's translations of medieval texts one can discern not only early ideals of modernist poetry, but also Pound's political leanings.
Ezra Pound's pre-World War I medieval translations are the ugly ducklings of contemporary Pound scholarship. At a time when Pound's work is undergoing unprecedented socio-cultural scrutiny, these works find themselves snubbed. To the extent they are even discussed by critics, the poems are assigned strictly aesthetic importance, and the bulk of scholarship on them is more than twenty years old. This is particularly true of Pound's most celebrated pre-war translation-"The Seafarer." Although it has long been regarded as one of Pound's major "personae," a poem that gives expression to themes of manly virtue and heroic individual endeavor which were dear to the young American expatriate, analyses of the work have always focused on issues of language. Arguing that "The Seafarer" consistently sacrifices sense to sound, critics have concentrated on Pound's efforts to bring the harsh, alliterative resources of Anglo-Saxon prosody into modern English poetry. They have emphasized how the poem helped "break the pentameter" and thereby provided the "first heave," as Pound would later reflect in Canto 81, in the modernist poetic revolution. In contrast to Pound's translations for Cathay (1915) and Homage to Sextus Propertius (1919), which have been rightly perceived as major statements about World War I and British imperialism respectively, "The Seafarer" has been considered apolitical. Other than identifying a "fiercely anti-bourgeois" undercurrent (Alexander, Poetic Achievement 76), critics have never tied it to contemporary political events or controversies, and the assumption that its subject matter exists apart from ideology continues to shape views of the work.
This, in my opinion, represents a significant oversight. When viewed together with medievalist commentary and political reflections published by Pound between 1911 and 1914, "The Seafarer" reveals itself to be not only deeply political but surprisingly socialist in its sympathies. Modernist scholars have always recognized that Pound's interest in medieval poetry was rooted in an appreciation of craft traditions hostile to
‟WHEN PROPERLY CONTEXTUALIZED, POUND'S MEDIEVALIST CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE NEW AGE OPEN A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON HIS POLITICS, REVEALING THAT HIS YOUTHFUL POLITICAL VIEWS WERE CONSIDERABLY MORE PROGRESSIVE, LEFT-LEANING, AND ANGLO-MEDIEVAL IN INSPIRATION THAN HAS BEEN REALIZED."
capitalism, but they have not otherwise identified a progressive ideological dimension to his concern with the medieval past. Indeed, they have tended to assume that this interest was principally conservative and aestheticist in nature and have argued that his pre-war politics were shaped almost solely by his engagement with the radical individualist and at times reactionary polemics of Dora Marsden and Wyndham Lewis. While I do not wish to dismiss the importance of Marsden and Lewis to Pound's political outlook or to suggest that Pound was not at times a reactionary, I do want to argue that there were other significant influences on Pound's views. When one examines his pre-war medieval and political writings in the context of Anglo-Saxon and nationalist discourses of the period, the great labor strikes of 1911-12, and above all progressive political discussion found in A.R. Orage's The New Age (1907-22)—the magazine which first published "The Seafarer" in 1911—one discovers that early twentieth-century Anglo-medieval radicals and socialists had an equal impact on his politics.
The New Age was the most important socialist magazine in Edwardian and Georgian England, an eclectic mix of politics, literature, and art that gave voice to a variety of anti-capitalist viewpoints, many of which were scathingly critical of the Liberal and Labor parties in Parliament. The magazine was also an enthusiastic supporter of rank-and-file labor unrest and a major exponent of Anglo-medieval radicalism, most notably a hybrid, anti-statist variant of socialism known as guild socialism. By publishing "The Seafarer" in this venue, where English historical pride and radical progressive politics commingled, Pound did far more than simply contribute to a recovery of interest in Anglo-Saxon prosody or establish, as some critics might have us believe, an alliance with conservative critics of capitalism; he affirmed his solidarity with striking English laborers, particularly what was understood to be their patriotic efforts to recover ancient Saxon liberties. In addition, by discussing in subsequent contributions to the magazine how the medieval past could provide a precedent for reforming contemporary poetics and politics, Pound gave literary and cultural support to the efforts of New Age editor A.R. Orage and others to apply the example of medieval guilds to a modern industrial economy. Although Pound would never self-identify as a guild socialist, he was intrigued by the guild labor model, especially insofar as it offered a means by which contemporary English workers might balance the claims of personal liberty with social responsibility, and he drew upon it in ways that highlight heretofore unrecognized medievalist socialist affinities in his work.
The most obvious affinity between Pound and New Age Anglo-medieval radicals, one already noted by a number of scholars, was a shared emphasis on the importance of medieval craft traditions to the reform of art and industry in Great Britain. Unlike their continental counterparts, most British socialists placed relatively little importance on the thought of Karl Marx. This was especially true of The New Age, where nineteenth-century and distinctly English medievalist critics of capitalism William Morris, John Ruskin, and Thomas Carlyle, the latter two considered "socialists malgréeux without knowing it" (Shaw-Sparrow 55), exercised far greater influence. As a consequence, the magazine regarded medievalist social criticism as fundamental to its mission and gave prominent space to its aesthetic-minded spokesmen, including architect A.J. Penty, author of The Restoration of the Gild System (1906) and a fierce critic of modern machine production, and art critic Huntly Carter, who was in contrast what Michael Saler has recently identified as a "medieval modernist," someone who sought to integrate modern industry and medieval values and use English medievalist discourses to defend modernist and avant-garde innovations in the arts (Saler 1-3). Pound's first contribution to The New Age, a twelve-part series of medieval poetic translations and scholarly reflections titled "I Gather the Limbs of Osiris," of which "The Seafarer" was the first installment, would have had appeal to both men and their allies in the magazine. Throughout the series, which appeared between November 1911 and February 1912, Pound sought not only to reawaken interest in the achievements of such medieval poets as Arnaut Daniel and Guido Cavalcanti, whose writings remained in his view touchstones of artistic accomplishment, but also to indicate ways their work might be, to those of a more modernist outlook, "of service to the living art" ("I Gather the Limbs of Osiris").
For most Pound critics, these affinities with Anglo-medieval radicals comprise the entirety of Pound's pre-war engagement with the politics of The New Age. They find it unimaginable that he could have found inspiration in any kind of progressive labor doctrine and characterize Pound's early tenure with the magazine as one of awkward accommodation. However, these scholars underestimate the extent to which Pound shared the larger aims and goals of this publication, something that becomes quite obvious when "The Seafarer" is examined in its original historical context. Nothing did more to establish Pound's medievalist credentials in The New Age than this poem, and it would remain an important point of reference for the magazine for years to come. Although New Age editor Orage did not always see eye-to-eye with Pound on matters of aesthetics and often criticized him for allying himself with literary movements of "foreign extraction . . . none of them native" ("Readers and Writers" 333), he was always unstinting in his praise of "The Seafarer." In August 1915, a time of tension between the two men, Orage described the translation as "without doubt one of the finest literary works of art produced in England in the last ten years" ("Readers and Writers" 332), and it cannot be overestimated to what extent the poem laid the foundation for Pound's long and fruitful friendship with his editor, a friendship that would persist until Orage's death in 1934. As will be seen, more so than any other work of literature published in the magazine before 1914, "The Seafarer" gave patriotic voice to the beliefs and values of Anglo-medieval socialists in The New Age.
The poem's progressive radicalism begins with its Anglo-Saxon subject matter. In radical and socialist circles of the time, Anglo-Saxons were closely associated with the working classes. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, a number of key political radicals in England, most notably Obadiah Hulme, began to revive the longstanding myth of the "Norman Yoke" in a new and aggressively populist manner. Unlike the political establishment of that era, which looked to the Glorious Revolution and Magna Carta—both aristocratic and parliamentary settlements—in defining English notions of liberty, Hulme and other radicals turned back to what historian Gerald Newman has described as "the nebulous and ill-documented golden age of the Saxon common man, the age before the coming of the Normans and the establishment of the feudal system" (184). By invoking this mythological history, these radicals hoped to "de-legitimate contemporary government and stimulate people to 'repossess' their stolen rights" (190). Such ideas were later embraced by William Cobbett, the Chartists, and other defenders of worker rights in the nineteenth century, leading to the development of a tradition in labor circles that Anglo-Saxons were the once glorious upholders of all their lost liberties.
Equally important to Pound's original readers would have been the translation's seafaring theme. As an island nation, England had long relied on its navy to protect its shores and its merchant sailors to foster prosperity, and its national identity was deeply rooted in images of sea adventure, perhaps never more so than during the Edwardian era. This was a period when maritime defense and commerce enjoyed newly acquired status and national economic importance. Despite the military exploits of Lord Nelson during the Napoleonic Wars and the growth of overseas trade during the long peace that followed, the nineteenth century had witnessed a relative decline in the prestige of England's navy and shipbuilding yards. Poorly trained officers and mutinous crews, frequently recruited through the brutal methods of the press-gang, appalled reformers, and in the 1850s and 1860s, French and American technological innovations in shipbuilding left the much larger English navy and merchant fleets looking decidedly out-of-date (Thomson 97-8; Pugh 84-5). However, by the time Germany began to challenge English naval supremacy in the opening decade of the twentieth century, the English navy had reasserted itself, becoming a source of national pride and the primary bulwark against a much-feared German invasion. The first battleship to use turbine propulsion, the English Dreadnought, immediately rendered every foreign battleship obsolete, and the public rallied behind an expensive naval shipbuilding program (Pugh 156). Merchant shipbuilding and marine engineering were similarly important to the nation's self-image. At a time when the country's iron, steel, coal, and textile industries were losing ground to foreign competition, England was a world leader in these nautical spheres. Besides being an innovator in engine design, the nation broke new ground in the development of refrigerator ships and oil tankers, and its shipyards produced approximately three-fifths of all sea-going vessels on the globe (Arthur J. Taylor 110-17). For the intensely patriotic readers of The New Age, no less than for other Englishmen, Pound's subject matter would have had undeniable appeal, especially insofar as it celebrated the labors of working-class Britons who made these industrial successes possible.
But all this is mere backdrop to the seaman's strike of June and July 1911, the key reason why a poem about an Anglo-Saxon sailor would have struck a responsive chord among Anglo-medieval radicals of the time. When historians discuss the great labor upheavals that shook Britain in the years just before World War I, they typically speak about the dockworker and railway men strikes of 1911 and the coal strikes of 1912, which involved spectacularly large numbers of men. However, when Pound first published "The Seafarer" in November 1911, readers of The New Age would have regarded the smaller seamen's strike as equally monumental. Not only did the seamen's strike take place first, acting as a match to a powder keg of labor discontent, but it was also widely perceived to be the opening salvo in a struggle to discredit Liberal paternalism and Labor Party parliamentarism. In his first comments about the strike, Orage declared, "If the proper alternative to State doles administered by a costly bureaucracy is to raise wages, the Seaman's Union have this week appeared in the role of successful statesmen" ("Notes of the Week" June 29, 1911, 193). In later remarks, after protests became more violent, Orage became even more stridently supportive of the seamen. Celebrating their "repudiation of the moderating counsels of their timid leaders, in whom the virus of Parliamentary decorum still lingers," he asserted, "We are happy to record the fact that while Parliament has been fiddling the sea-ports have been burning" ("Notes of the Week" July 6, 1911, 218). He firmly believed that the seaman's strike represented a prophetic moment in labor history.
Parliamentarism having hopelessly failed to raise wages or ameliorate conditions, workmen everywhere will be driven to resume their war on shareholders by the barbarous weapons of the strike, with its accompaniments of "peaceful" intimidation and police charges. By good or evil fortune, the first battle of the new campaign has been opened by the toughest and most desperate regiment of wage-slaves in existence. Should it result, as it has every appearance of resulting, in a victory for the men, their example will be followed by all the big unions in the Kingdom. We are at the end of the Liberal policy of opportunism and the Labour Party's policy of importunity. War has resumed.
("Notes of the Week" July 6, 1911, 218)
Giving even greater significance to these remarks was the fact that, with the partial exception of the dockworker strike, none of the labor outbursts that immediately followed were nearly as successful. Of the more sizeable railway men's revolt, Orage could only lament that "the most promising strike ever recorded in English history should be treacherously nipped in the bud by the men's own officials" ("Notes of the Week" September 7, 1911, 433). As a consequence of these disappointments, the seamen would long hold pride of place in The New Age's labor pantheon, only ceding this honor during the massive coal strike of 1912.
Pound would certainly have been aware of the incendiary nature of his subject, and he took several steps to ensure that his translation would be understood to be in part a commentary about the recent seaman's strike. Most obviously, he made the poem's heroic protagonist identifiably working class in character and circumstance. This is evident from the very beginning of the poem.
May I for my own self song's truth reckon,
Journey's jargon, how I in harsh days
Hardship endured oft.
Bitter breast-cares have I abided,
Known on my keel many a care's hold,
And dire sea-surge, and there I oft spent
Narrow nightwatch nigh the ship's head
While she tossed close to cliffs. Coldly afflicted,
My feet were by frost benumbed.
Chill its chains are; chafing sighs
Hew my heart round and hunger begot
Mere-weary mood . . .
("I Gather the Limbs of Osiris")
Like the striking seamen, described by Orage as "the toughest and most desperate regiment of wage-slaves in existence," the poem's weary speaker leads a life of grinding and perilous labor, stoically enduring hunger and cold while piloting a small ship at night amidst pounding storms. Other translators of the poem note the bitter cold and hardship, but in keeping with the original they make no mention of physical weariness or hunger, instead emphasizing the speaker's emotional sorrow and deprivation. Even the poem's rough-hewn rhythms and language, typically understood to be of purely formal significance, contribute to the impression that the speaker is a hardened laborer, not someone of more refined background and tastes. Phrases such as "bitter breast-cares" and "close to cliffs," with their insistent repetition of heavily accented "b" and "k" sounds, together with the poem's densely impacted syntax, give a rough eloquence to his speech that would have been understood to correspond with the toughness and dignity of contemporary workmen.
Pound further expressed tacit sympathy for the striking seamen by invoking class antagonisms not present in the original Anglo Saxon. In the original poem, the seafarer speaks of how the joys and kindnesses of "the Lord" inspire him more than his dead life on the sea. In Pound's version, he instead comments, "My lord deems to me this dead life", a dramatic alteration of the poem's meaning which transforms God into a mere mortal and assigns responsibility for the seafarer's hardships to this now culpable and heartless authority. Even more cutting are the speaker's attacks on the rich. A quarter of the way into the translation, he establishes a sharp contrast between the "needy" and "wealthy." "Not any protector," he asserts:
May make merry man faring needy.
This he little believes, who aye in winsome life
Abides amid burghers some heavy business,
Wealthy and wine-flushed, how I weary oft
Must bide above brine.
Translators both before and after Pound invariably render what he translates as "needy" as either "cheerless" or "despairing"; they never suggest that the speaker is referring to anything other than emotional deprivation. Similarly, translators never refer to the "wealthy" or individuals engaged in "heavy business." Instead, they merely speak about proud and wine-flushed city dwellers. These strategic deviations from the poem's original meaning, together with such uniquely Poundian interpolations as "arrogance of all earthen riches" later in the translation, give a startlingly contemporary significance to "The Seafarer." No longer is the speaker merely contrasting his difficult labors with those of soft-living city folk. Instead he is making a bitterly pointed comment about economic and class inequalities in contemporary England. The speaker risks his life on the ocean while wealthy businessmen are blithely unaware of his toils. In addition, he notably has little faith that any "protector" could make a needy laborer such as himself "merry," a reflection of the fact that at the beginning of the twentieth century the working classes no longer trusted the landed aristocracy or even Liberal reformists to safeguard their welfare.
This disdain for protectors is especially important because it helps further explain the appeal of this poem to Anglo-medieval radicals and socialists. It is often assumed that socialism has always been synonymous with state control of industry and social welfare. This, however, was not the case in The New Age, where, as has been seen, Parliament was frequently viewed with scorn. Unlike the Fabian Society, which looked to the House of Commons to redress economic and social ills, most socialists in the magazine viewed the state with suspicion and regarded social welfare reform with horror. Orage was typical in this respect. Although he wanted the state to rein in the worst abuses of monopoly capitalism, he did not wish to entrust government with vast new powers. In his view, most reformers tended to treat workmen as mere abstractions, not fully autonomous individuals. "The houses, the conveniences, the amenities, the traveling facilities, the conditions of labour, the religion, the morality, the very streets and roads provided by our professed philanthropists," he complained, "are intended for that abstraction, the people, but they are one and all abhorrent to the individual" ("Unedited Opinions. Contempt for Man" 203). Even worse, these Liberal reformers did not listen to or trust workmen to look after their own interests. Lamenting the gulf between the "mechanical" proceedings of Parliament and the "personal" wishes of laborers ("Notes of the Week" July 27, 1911, 289), Orage excoriated almost every major reform proposal of his age, none more so than a Liberal Party-sponsored National Insurance Bill which proposed that state revenues and compulsory contributions from employers and employees be used to create a nationally distributed insurance fund to protect workers against sickness and certain forms of unemployment. Orage believed that this bill would only be the first step in the imposition of "barrack and uniform conditions for everybody" ("Unedited Opinions. Contempt for Man" 203). In his opinion, by encouraging workers to forsake the sometimes "onerous responsibilities that membership of a trade union involves" ("Notes of the Week" May 18, 1911, 50) for a less demanding state-administered insurance system financed by compulsory deductions from wages, the proposed legislation was the "pioneer of slavery." "There is no doubt whatever," he asserted, "that if the working classes are willing to allow officials to spend 4d. a week for them they will expected before long to submit to a much greater tutelage" ("Notes of the Week" August 17, 1911, 362).
When read in light of such comments, the spirited independence and self-reliance of Pound's seafarer, who claims to sing about his seagoing hardships solely for his "own self," can be understood to speak for a view of labor in the magazine that stood opposed to all forms of state paternalism. Particularly important in this respect are those parts of the poem that draw out the moody, impetuous nature of the speaker. As Pound's translation makes powerfully evident, the speaker is not merely a type or representative of a sea laborer; he is an individual with a rich emotional and spiritual life in its own right. The following passage is characteristic.
So that but now my heart burst from my breastlock,
My mood 'mid the mere-flood,
Over the whale's acre, would wander wide.
These lines portray someone whose heart is so bursting with emotion it can be contained by only vast stretches of ocean, thereby giving support to Orage's view that laborers should under no circumstances be treated as bloodless, cardboard abstractions. Even more significant is the speaker's headstrong, defiant character. As Pound is at pains to emphasize throughout the translation, his protagonist is an individual whose native Saxon love of liberty is too strong to be restrained by anyone, least of all any authority figure. "Not though he be given his good," declares the speaker, he "shall have his sorrow for sea-fare / Whatever his lord will." In the original poem, the seafarer speaks fearfully in these lines about what "the Lord" or "Almighty God" will ordain for him during his travels. In Pound's rendition, this pious and humble statement becomes instead a brazen assertion of independence. Even if his lord gave him proper recompense for his service, the speaker claims he would do exactly as he pleases. Such declarations would have had a twofold political significance for Pound's original readers. By celebrating the uncompromising self-sufficiency of an Anglo-Saxon sailor, a figure associated with labor freedom in The New Age, Pound denied that social welfare legislation would, as Orage feared, succeed in "'break[ing] the proud spirit of the poor"' ("Notes of the Week" May 18, 1911, 50). He also allied himself with pronouncements in The New Age that there was "a new spirit" permeating "industrial workers," a "sternness of attitude and mind . . . that should warn the governing and employing classes [against] merely juggling with wages and hours" (Norman 389).
Giving, however, perhaps the greatest excitement to original readers of "The Seafarer" would have been the poem's radical patriotism. Despite being the very embodiment of the mythical, freedom-loving Anglo-Saxon common man, Pound's seafarer yearns for belonging. In addition to grieving the disappearance of benevolent statesmen who might have looked after his welfare ("There come now no kings nor Caesars / Nor gold giving lords like those gone"), he expresses sorrow early in the poem that he is a "wretched outcast / Deprived of [his] kinsmen." This lament for lost community and personal ties, sadly compounded by the failures of a corrupt feudal system that has betrayed its original ideals, reaches a peak towards the end of the translation, when the speaker asserts the need for man to
Frame on the fair earth 'gainst foes his malice,
Daring ado, . . .
So that all men shall honour him after
And his laud beyond them remain mid the English,
Aye, for ever, a lasting life's-blast,
Delight mid the doughty.
It has long been known that Pound purposely eliminated half of a line in this passage making reference to "devils" and deliberately mistranslated a word meaning "angels" as "English." However, the effect of these changes is not simply, as is commonly assumed, to make a Christian poem heroically secular. When read in light of earlier emendations and labor and nationalist discourses of the period, it becomes clear that the proposed "malice" and "daring ado" is militant and nationalistic in character. Like medieval English poet William Langland, who The New Age championed over Chaucer because he depicted both "the bare and barren existence of the hard-worked and ill-fed poor" and "the cruelty, rapacity, and vices of the rich" (Gilbert 85), Pound's Anglo-Saxon seafarer directs his malice towards the wealthy, suggesting that the "foes" he speaks about in the above passage are not foreigners, about whom the translation makes no mention, but rather the lords and businessmen he criticizes earlier in the poem. What is more, Pound's deliberately anachronistic reference to how Saxon deeds of glory will "remain mid the English" is not just a pointed assertion that the English nation rests on a Saxon as opposed to Norman foundation. It is also a reminder of the recent seaman's strike, which was widely understood in The New Age to be a patriotic attempt by laborers in England's most successful branch of industry to recover ancient Saxon liberties. Like the seamen, who brought new honor to the nation through their daring actions, Pound's seafarer seeks lasting glory and meaning in his life through bold national sacrifice.
"The Seafarer" undoubtedly offers the most striking evidence of Pound's pre-war interest in Anglo-medieval radicalism, but it is by no means the only, or even the most pointed, proof of such concern. Subsequent contributions to The New Age provide rich confirmation of Pound's unorthodox socialist sympathies. Fourteen months later, in January 1913, Pound expressed unambiguous support for the great miner's strike of 1912. In a piece that was otherwise highly critical of England, comparing London to the "Rome of the decadence" and singling out for scorn the nation's "idle rich" and "idle poor," Pound spoke glowingly of the worker unrest that was unsettling the country.
If anything were calculated to give me faith in the future of England and a belief in her present strength, it was your coal strike—which your papers misrepresented. This thing will be written in his history when the future produces a Burckhardt. A million men going out of their work and keeping perfect order . . . This thing is stupendous.
("Through Alien Eyes")
In Pound's view, the discipline and self-possession of the miners, slanderously misrepresented by the English press, was salutary, and unless the nation created "a government based on, and representative of, the real strength of the nation—i.e., the producers, the million men who struck and the rest of their sort and caliber," England would be unable to face the challenges of the new century ("Through Alien Eyes"). In making a case for such a sweeping reorganization of government, he pointed with disdain to Parliament, which had flattered itself, in the aftermath of the strike, that labor had been "broken for the next thirty years." In his opinion, the well-to-do men in the House of Commons, whether Liberal or Conservative, were—in contrast to the miners—grossly ignorant of what it took to run the nation. Comparing their speeches to the empty "lucubrations of [a] debating club," he claimed that the only talk in the chamber that had the least bit of merit was based on first-hand knowledge of industrial production, labor, and design. Of his own observations of parliamentary debate, he commented, "I [have only] heard two things that sounded like sense—one from a man who knew something about the inside of a coal mine, and, later, another argument from a man who knew something about marine engines." In short, Pound believed, as he inimitably phrased it in his article, that "the real division of the House," indeed of the nation, was "somewhere about the gangway, rather than a matter of left and right," that only when authority was vested directly in miners, seamen, and other laborers, as opposed to chattering ideologues and politicians, would the nation be in capable hands ("Through Alien Eyes").
Aside from their obvious pro-labor slant, one of the most crucial things to note about these comments is the stress they place on "order." The strain of modernism that Pound has most persuasively been linked to in the pre-war years is, following Michael Levenson's lead, characterized not only as individualist but also "anti-traditional" and "defian[t] of social involvement" (47,151). Levenson argues that it was not until the advent of World War I that Pound and other early modernists expressed any misgivings about radical libertarianism or the liberating prospects of "general social disarray" (140). Certainly it is easy to mistake Pound's enthusiastic support of labor strikes and open disdain for parliamentary democracy as evidence of an anarchistic desire to rend the social fabric of England. One only has to look at Wyndham Lewis's BLAST or some of Pound's more intemperate contributions to Dora Mars-den's The Egoist to see that he sometimes relished the possibility of a violent overthrow of authority in Great Britain. But I would argue that such writings, however accurately they may have reflected Pound's mood at the time they were written, give an incomplete picture of his pre-war politics. When one devotes equal attention to his medievalist writings, which remained a major focus of his energies during the period, a more balanced ideological portrait emerges. Pound's many contributions to The New Age reveal that, for all his individualist iconoclasm and anti-establishment zeal—traits frequently shared, it should be noted, by Anglo-medieval radicals—he was, if not a medievalist socialist per se, a traditionalist and communitarian, someone deeply concerned with social order, civic responsibility, and institution building.
Like most contributors to The New Age, Pound believed that tradition and historical precedent could give much needed direction and restraint to the often dangerous process of political reform. During the magazine's first years of publication, George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells had been widely admired by socialist intellectuals in The New Age for their attempts to imagine what individuals might become if they could evolve morally and intellectually beyond their current state. Like Nietzsche before them, they placed hope for social renewal in the overthrow of supposedly antiquated notions of good and evil and the development of a new race of supermen who would cast a cold eye on longstanding social arrangements. Pound was part of a widespread reaction in the magazine against such views. Discussing his reasons for translating "The Seafarer" and other medieval poems, Pound claimed that such masterpieces, far from having lost their relevance, provided "the permanent basis of psychology and metaphysics" ("I Gather"). Later, in a series of articles titled "Patria Mia" published in Fall 1912, he was even more explicit about why the medieval past was an indispensable resource for socialist reformers. "One wants to find out what sort of things endure, and what sort of things are transient; what sort of things recur, what propagandas profit a man or his race; to learn upon what are the forces, constructive and dispersive, of social order, move." As these comments demonstrate, Pound believed socialists and other radicals always had to be cognizant of what propagandas had succeeded and failed in earlier ages if they wanted their own propagandas to be "constructive" rather than "dispersive" of social order. In addition, they reveal that he shared with Orage the view that man was "a fixed species" and that all "talk and aspiration after supermanhood proceed[ed] from the original error of misconceiving man's nature and refusing to admit its limitations" ("Unedited Opinions. The Government of the Mind" 299).
Like Orage and other Anglo-medieval radicals, Pound also placed great importance on community and civic responsibility. Orage was a fierce proponent of free speech and individual liberty, giving space in his magazine to a wide variety of different political viewpoints, but he was no doctrinaire libertarian. In his view, liberty as an abstract ideal meant only "free play for the most stupid" ("Unedited Opinions. Down with the Tricolour" 489). Although he sometimes took gleeful pleasure in the era's disruptive labor strikes, he remained in calmer moments fearful that they might lead not to the elimination of "private property, rent and interest," but rather to "civil anarchy" or new forms of tyranny ("Notes of the Week" August 24, 1911, 386). Orage especially worried that syndicalism, the French-derived term used to describe worker efforts to seize control of the economy through a general strike, would end in "the fortification of industry against citizenship" ("Notes of the Week" June 27, 1912, 195). There was even a small but influential school of thought in his magazine, inspired by such conservative thinkers as Edmund Burke and Benjamin Disraeli, which regarded political individualism as the great enemy of civic good. Its most important spokesman, J.M. Kennedy, The New Age's foreign affairs columnist and a professed Tory democrat, was an arch defender of "hierarchy," and he argued that "individualistic principles [had] invariably been supported by political parties which made a point of looking after industrial interests" (341). Pound shared many of these same concerns about the excesses of individualism. Although he argued in "I Gather the Limbs of Osiris" that "truth [was] the individual," that it was every artist's business to give expression to his own inimitable perception of the world, he also claimed that it was only through "technique," which rested on an understanding of "tradition, of centuries of . . . agreement, of association," that poets could accurately express themselves. He even equated technique with "protection of the public," regarding it as "the sign manual by which [the public] distinguishe[d] between the serious artist and the disagreeable young person expressing its haedinous egotism." In later commentary, Pound also expressed an interest in what he described as "the equitable social order" ("The Approach to Paris"), praising medieval and early Renaissance Europe's dream of restoring the Roman "imperium." Although he admitted that the dream "came to no sort of civic reality," he argued that it nevertheless had its value. "It set a model for emulation, a model of orderly procedure, and it was used as a spur through every awakening from the eighth century to the sixteenth" ("Patria Mia"). In sum, Pound identified his own revolutionary efforts, rooted in the retrieval of medieval poetic techniques, with medieval Europe's comparable efforts to construct a new, more just society through "orderly" recovery of the lost civic, cultural, and political glories of the classical past.
Pound's belief that the gangway or work-place, not the political chamber, was the true basis of authority in England also requires additional comment. It is among the earliest indications that Pound shared The New Age's interest in reviving the guild labor model. Beginning in 1911, The New Age gave renewed attention to A.J. Penty's ideas about returning England to a guild-based economy. However, it did so in light of the period's great labor upheavals and with a determined intention to resist Penty's personal antipathy for modern industry and machine production. The impulse behind this re-examination of Penty's thought, which would lead Orage and others in his magazine to theorize the basis of guild socialism during the next several years, was rooted in the assumption, best stated by Orage himself, that the "right to an equal share in the responsibility of management" was the "only concession" capitalists could offer workers that would solve the problem of labor unrest ("Notes of the Week" January 18, 1912, 267). Besides giving the men the recognition they craved, such a concession, Orage believed, would foster greater responsibility among laborers and build naturally on native English traditions of labor organization. "The unions," he declared,
thus admitted and recognised in the conduct of their industries, become—what they are not now—responsible bodies, approximating in spirit to the ancient gilds. It should never be forgotten that the gild system was a genuine Saxon invention, as native to our genius as our language. The true line of development of our trade unions is, therefore, most certainly in the direction of the restoration of the essential features of the gild system—the responsibility for skilled work, the discipline of its members, the disposition of its collective forces, and the joint control with their clients (employers in this instance) of the whole range of the industry.
("Notes of the Week" January 18, 1912, 267)
While laborers currently lacked any incentive to maintain social peace or corporate loyalty, the concept of joint partnership, Orage argued, would give them a powerful reason to desist from striking and to assume accountability for the skilled work and proper governance of their respective industries. More importantly, transforming unions into responsible, self-governing bodies exercising authority over discipline and working conditions would accord with England's free Saxon heritage. Guilds were "a genuine Saxon invention," native to the genius of the English people, and would better suit England's proud laborers than a system that placed primary responsibility and control over industry in the hands of either corrupt capitalists or feckless national legislators.
Although Pound did not share Orage's optimism on the subject nor look to England's Saxon past for sanction, he did believe the guild model represented a possible solution to the labor troubles of the day and that medieval history provided some hope that workers might acquire not simply joint partnership but actual ownership and control of particular industries. This is perhaps most clearly expressed in a section of "Patria Mia" published in October 1912.
[A]ny body of a few thousand of men who really wish independence, liberty with responsibility, can achieve it under any system—under any feudalism . . . What worked once on the plane of arms will work very well on the plane of money. We see about us plenty of the old feudal equations transposed in similar fashion . . . I don't say that the burghers of free cities found life easier than did vassals. I don't say that if men owned the factories and employed their commercial agents they would get much better wages—and certainly they would not get them at the start. I don't say that the transfer of property would be easy. But I do say that it is a possible solution. And I have discussed it with at least one very intelligent and successful owner of factories; and, according to him, the only difficulty would lie in the men's unwillingness to take the risk.
As this passage makes evident, Pound clearly believed that the example of the medieval past, especially the rise of free cities made up of former feudal vassals, confirmed that modern English workers could own and run factories themselves. As long as they were willing to shoulder the expanded duties of ownership and assume the uncertain financial risks and rewards of management, they might establish, like their feudal forbears, the grounds for a bold new social order, one that combined, as Pound so aptly phrased it, "liberty with responsibility."
This last phrase is of paramount importance. Despite speaking at times as if he were a syndicalist, Pound was no more prepared than Orage to tolerate the fortification of industry against citizenship, and critics who attempt to tie Pound to this revolutionary labor doctrine take him far too much at his own word. The model of labor organization he embraced was much closer to that of his editor than French syndicalist theoretician and exponent of violence Georges Sorel. This becomes evident in an article Pound wrote praising long-time New Age contributor Allen Upward in April 1914. Composed at a time when Pound's energies were turned far more to The Egoist and BLAST than to The New Age, this piece demonstrates that, though Pound never had much interest in the details of guild socialist doctrine, he nevertheless maintained a strong allegiance to the guild ideal throughout the pre-war period. Towards the end of his article, Pound offered a series of conclusions that could be drawn from an analysis of Upward's work.
- That a nation is civilised in so far as it recognises the special faculties of the individual, and makes use thereof. You do not weigh coals with the assayer's balance.
- Corollary. Syndicalism. A social order is well balanced when the community recognises the special aptitudes of groups of men and applies them.
- That Mr. Upward's propaganda is for a syndicat of intelligence; of thinkers and authors and artists.
- That such a guild is perfectly in accord with Syndicalist doctrines. That it would take its place with the guilds of more highly skilled craftsmen.
("Allen Upward Serious")
Although Pound speaks here rather naively as if he were an advocate of syndicalism, the claims he makes on behalf of this labor doctrine are starkly out of key with those of its advocates. Whereas Sorel and other syndicalist proponents of the general strike promoted recklessness and violence as ends in themselves and sought to exacerbate tensions between social classes, Pound, like Orage and other guild socialists, sought a social order that would be "civilised" and "well balanced." In addition, while most syndicalists anticipated the rise of autonomous syndicats or unions beholden to no central authority, Pound, in keeping with The New Age's efforts at the time to promote state-mediated partnerships between guilds and their citizen clients, speaks of the need for nation and community to "recognize" and "make use" of the distinctive talents of different social groups.
Perhaps the most compelling evidence of Pound's enthusiasm for the guild model is his call for the creation of a syndicat of "thinkers, authors, and artists" that would "take its place with the guilds of more highly skilled craftsmen." No longer simply voicing his opinion about what would be best for the working classes, Pound here shows a remarkable willingness to subsume his own ambitions under a modern guild system inspired by their example. The appeal for him would have been twofold. First, this was a system that promised to respect and honor "the special faculties of the individual." Unlike capitalism and parliamentary democracy, which gave authority to men who often had little knowledge or understanding of vital national trades, a guild system promised to empower England's producers, including its artists and intellectuals. One of the recurring complaints of Orage and other contributors to The New Age was that publishers and other capitalist middlemen, such as merchants, bankers, and accountants, wielded too much control over the arts. "What a large percentage of dunces these businesses contain," exclaimed Orage.
A trade union that had no more skilled men in its ranks than are contained, let us say, in the ranks of publishers would find itself unemployed in a week. And serve it right, too. Society has the duty imposed on it of seeing that men are put to jobs for which their gifts fit them. But these professional rings are in league to defeat society's good intentions.
("Unedited Opinions. On the Incompetence of Professionals" 390)
In promoting the creation of an artist's syndicat or guild, Pound was placing his hopes in a system that he believed would take proper advantage of his unique gifts and talents. Second, Pound would have been attracted to the guild ideal because of guilds' traditional commitment to upholding the highest standards of craft and production. In an ongoing series of anonymously penned articles titled "Towards National Guilds," this point was repeatedly emphasized by The New Age.
That guilds of workmen entrusted with the responsibility of national industry and receiving the public consideration (which is status) dependent upon it, would be satisfied with the current standards is against sense and against history. The history of the old Guilds proves that the restrictions on shoddy production were as severe as they were strictly kept.
(National Guildsmen 151)
By seeking to affiliate himself with other artists and skilled craftsmen in a larger guild-based system, Pound was not only trying to give institutional backing to his belief that technique and craft served to protect the public interest; he was also attempting to support a system that would expose as criminal what he described elsewhere in his article as "the type of writer produced by present conditions, who keeps in the public eye by a continuous output of inferior work" ("Allen Upward Serious").
When properly contextualized, Pound's medievalist contributions to The New Age open a new perspective on his politics, revealing that his youthful political views were considerably more progressive, left-leaning, and Anglo-medieval in inspiration than has been realized. Not only do they disclose that his sometimes fierce individualism was tempered by an interest in working-class labor organization and matters of community and social order, but we recognize that aspects of his politics which might reasonably be regarded as anti-democratic were, in fact, compatible with a liberatory socialist program, one that combined "liberty with responsibility." Although Pound certainly disdained state socialism and parliamentary democracy, prized individual liberty, and looked to the past for a better model of government, he frequently did so in the service of a modern labor politics that sought to return the country to its producers. Pound's headstrong, defiant seafarer was at once a representation of the mythical Anglo-Saxon common man, whose liberties radical socialists hoped to recover, and a timely celebration of the striking seamen, who had given warning to the ruling classes that workmen would no longer be pandered to or trifled with. Pound's support of the striking miners and interest in adopting a guild model of government were similarly progressive, providing evidence of a desire to give greater power and responsibility to England's many underpaid and underappreciated laborers.
All this in turn has important implications for how we regard Pound's later poetry and politics. We can now see that the sometimes contradictory impulses that govern The Cantos—in particular their efforts to balance the defiant, individualist energies of a Sigismundo Malatesta with the traditional, community-minded imperatives of a Kung, to reconcile linguistic discontinuity and order—have their roots in Pound's pre-war engagement with Anglo-medievalist radicals in The New Age. We can also better comprehend how Pound's early progressive views might eventually lead to a fascistic embrace of dictatorial rule. Given the precariousness of a politics rooted in heroic endeavor, impatient with Liberal democratic legislation, and intended both to empower the individual and enforce social responsibility, it would take only a slight shift in priorities for Pound to embrace a charismatic leader promising to act as a mediator and policeman for a nation's many warring elements. Finally, Pound's writings for The New Age powerfully remind us that Pound was once an ardent Anglophile and likely remained one in key respects for his entire life. When Pound described England as an "old bitch, gone in the teeth" in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley in 1919 and departed the country the following year, he did not betray the England celebrated in "The Seafarer," in which text he claimed to discover the "English national chemical" ("Patria Mia"). Instead he turned his back on a nation that he believed had betrayed its free Saxon heritage and the promise of the great labor strikes of 1911-12. "The Seafarer" in all its Englishness would remain a touchstone for Pound for years to come, and its line, "Lordly men, are to earth o'ergiven," would serve as a touching epitaph in the Pisan Cantos for Pound's many lost comrades from that era, not least A.R. Orage, editor of The New Age and the man who introduced the young poet to a tradition of Anglo-medieval radicalism which would cast a long shadow on his poetry and thought.
Source: Lee Garver, "Seafarer Socialism: Pound, The New Age, and Anglo-Medieval Radicalism," in Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 29, No. 4, Summer 2006, pp. 1-21.
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Rader, Dean, "Wallace Stevens, Octavio Paz, and the Poetry of Social Engagement," in Wallace Stevens Journal, Vol. 21, No. 2, Fall 1997.
Ransom, John Crowe, The New Criticism, New Directions Press, 1939.
Richardson, Joan, Wallace Stevens, Beech Tree Books, 1986.
Bradbury, Malcolm, and James McFarlane, Modernism: A Guide to European Literature 1890-1930, Penguin, 1991.
This anthology provides more than two dozen essays by the most eminent critics of Modernism. Topics range from the artistic scenes in various cities to the formal characteristics of modernist poetry to discussions of some of the smaller movements within Modernism.
Charters, Jimmie, This Must Be the Place, Herbert Joseph, 1932.
Jimmie Charters—"Jimmie the Barman"—tended bar at the Dingo in the Paris neighborhood of Montparnasse, a notorious haunt for such modernist writers as Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. The book provides a portrait of these writers in their leisure hours, written by a man with very little interest in their art but a great appreciation for their personalities.
Douglas, Ann, Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1995.
The artistic scene in New York in the 1920s was a "mongrelized" blend of black and white, urban and rural, male and female, according to Ann Douglas, who suggests that there is a need to understand the important contribution that marginalized groups made to American Modernism. In her book, she portrays the rise of New York City to cultural preeminence and balances the stories of traditional modernist heroes such as Ernest Hemingway with discussions of Harlem Renaissance figures such as Langston Hughes.
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This ideology emerged clearly within the Church c. 1900 and sought a revolutionary transmutation of Catholic doctrine through the application of naturalistic evolutionary philosophy and arbitrary historical criticism. It was condemned by the decree lamentabili and the encyclical, pascendi, and definitively ended by the oath against Modernism.
The roots of Modernism are extremely complex. Four factors may be singled out as the principal occasions for its rise: (1) in philosophy, the prevalence among Catholics of a shallow eclecticism combined with the strong influence exerted by neo-kantianism Pragmatism, and the disciples of F. D. E. schleiermacher; (2) in theology, a growing dissatisfaction with a too static neoscholasticism; (3) in the sciences, the development of evolutionary biological theory and the growth of historical method; and (4) at least of equal importance, the not yet assimilated changing relationship between the Church and the sociopolitical order.
Philosophy and Theology. During most of the 19th century an eclecticism under the patronage of thinkers such as descartes, leibniz, and rosmini-serbati prevailed in Catholic circles. It was neither profound nor systematic. After the encyclical of aeterni patris (1879) neoscholasticism began to exercise greater influence from its centers in Rome, Louvain, and Germany. Many Catholic writers c. 1900, however, never experienced this influence. Furthermore, the categories of neoscholasticism began to appear inadequate to contain the rich reality suggested by the new work in Sacred Scripture and history, and by a philosophy with an accent on the aspect of immanence.
ecclesiology had been scarcely influenced by the great mystical and organic insights of J. A. mÖhler and the Tübingen Catholic school. The functions of authority and hierarchical power tended to hold the central perspective in the theological manuals. The work of new man on the development of dogma (1845) had opened new vistas, but its influence on scholastic theology was negligible.
Contemporary thought had begun to challenge scholastic positions, both in Catholicism and in Protestantism. About 1800 Schleiermacher developed his theory of experience (the feeling of dependence) as the heart of religion. His later disciples eliminated, perhaps more than Schleiermacher intended, the element of intelligence. Religion was portrayed as a sentiment, an experience beyond the critique of intellectual concepts. In the Catholic tradition, Möhler, who had steeped himself in the Bible and the Fathers, stressed that the living organism of the Church cannot be fully understood unless it is vitally lived. Newman worked out his own theory of experience as contrasted with notional knowledge, a fact that augured the trend toward a greater emphasis on spiritual anthropology. By 1893 blondel in his L'Action presented a fully rounded metaphysic of action in which man's totality, and not exclusively his intellect, played a vital role in the approach to God and in the understanding of tradition. Möhler, Newman, and Blondel to an extent resembled the Modernists in the questions that interested them, but not in their solutions.
In the closing decades of the 19th century the emphasis on growth and development in religion received influential support from Neo-Hegelians, such as John and Edward Caird in Britain, and from neoidealists, such as Rudolf Eucken in Germany with his philosophy of activism. In England the pragmatists, under the influence of William james, struggled against Neo-Hegelianism. Yet the two streams of pragmatism and Neo-Hegelianism tended to blend into a composite theory of a radical evolution of dogma and of a pragmatic norm for finding religious truth, i.e., its fruitful life-value and permanence. Lastly, Neo-Kantianism was still influential in its separation of thought from reality, and it joined evolutionary and pragmatic theory in questioning the stability and reality of dogma (see hegelianism and neo-hegelianism; idealism).
Natural Science and History. The general idea of development was caught up and quickened by the publication of darwin's The Origin of Species (1859). The same notion began to emerge with regard to the Bible through the work in biblical archeology in the Middle East around 1850. The scientific development of historical method during the 18th and 19th centuries, especially in Germany, began to leave its mark on the Church toward 1900, particularly through J. J. I. von dÖllinger and Lord acton. Induction and empirical work lined up against the more deductive approach of the scholastics. Subsequent to Döllinger, the split grew between historian and theologian.
Around 1870 the great movement of biblical exegesis was set in motion by German liberal scholars. New and often valid insights concerning the formation of the Pentateuch were glimpsed in the light of J. wellhausen. The influence of the New Testament work of holtzmann, the culminating point of liberal exegesis, began to be felt in Catholic circles. The establishment of Catholic institutes in France (1875) and the contributions of Catholic Scripture scholars in Germany and Belgium around the same period marked the beginning of renewed exegetical work in the Church. duchesne began his important historical studies in 1877; and the first work of his pupil, loisy, was on the history of the Old Testament canon (1890). In general, Catholic exegetes lagged behind liberal Protestant scholarship, although many of them were unaware of it. Apathy had been created by a lack of historical sense and by an excessive reliance on deductive method. There had also developed a general fear of the new critical methods that had been used so destructively, as in J. E. renan's Vie de Jésus (1863). Further, with some exception in Germany and Belgium, where Catholic faculties received state support, the Church-State struggles had greatly harmed the opportunities for Catholic scholarship. The desire to catch up brought with it the risk of hasty conclusion and the danger of intellectual indigestion.
Culture and Politics. The final stage of the Church's relationship to political society was discerned by relatively few of the participants in the bitter struggle between Church and State in the 18th and 19th centuries. The immediate outcome around the time of Vatican Council I (1870) was the hardening of positions into two camps, with antireligious and anticlerical groups opposing Catholics who were religiously and politically conservative and who supported an extremely simplified view of ultramontanism. Liberal Catholic thought had in general been ineffectual. The Church-State struggles had contributed to the destruction of the intellectual structures of the Church, especially in France. The intellectual life of the seminaries had been hampered, although piety prospered. As a reaction to these struggles, greater centralization of Church authority in Rome gradually increased. Against this background, the decrees of Vatican Council I on papal infallibility were given a rigid and overriding interpretation by conservative Catholic spokesmen, in the tradition of Louis veuillot in France and W. G. ward in England.
In France political and religious conservatism supported monarchism and projected the image of a Church attached to the old order. The Dreyfus affair revealed anti-Semitic and other unjust attitudes among some Catholic conservatives. Many of their leaders rallied around Charles maurras and action franÇaise. At the same time the Sillon under the direction of Marc sangnier emerged as the liberal, democratic counterpart of Action Française. Thus the most outspoken in the Church in France were radically split in their political and religious thinking.
In Germany, somewhat less touched by political reactionism than France, reformkatholizismus, especially as represented by F. X. kraus and H. schell, began during the 1890s to urge reforms in the Latin type of Catholicism and "Romanism." Curial centralization and excessive use of papal power were criticized. It was urged that a "religious Catholicism" be substituted for an external and political one. Discussions centered to a large extent on Church discipline and scholarly freedom. In 1902 Hochland, a periodical whose liberal aim was to bring the Church out of its cultural ghetto, began publication.
In Italy, because of the loss of papal temporal power and the unification of the peninsula, many young priests envisioned a totally new relationship between Church and State. There was a growing indifference toward the clear-cut philosophies that formed the backdrop of the old conflicts. Some Catholics began to favor an idealistic philosophy that regarded the Church as merely a powerful cultural force, a totally variable expression of a deeper religious aspiration. At the same time catholic action groups began forming to inject Catholic social influence into the mainstream of national life. Simultaneously, however, Catholics were forbidden to take part in the political life of a government traditionally opposed to the spirit and demands of the Church. In social thought and action there arose a tension among many young Catholics concerning subordination to bishops and Church discipline in general.
In England, both numerically and intellectually, the Church was only beginning to become a social influence. Not until 1895 were Catholics permitted to attend the great universities.
In the midst of this complex ebb and flow of philosophies and cultural pressures, Modernism appeared as an abortive and self-destructive attempt at adaptation and rejuvenation. Thinkers, for the most part ill-prepared philosophically, desperately grasped for and tried to force on the Church theories not sufficiently analyzed and purified. The outcome was a necessary reaction of the magisterium to these indigestible syncretisms.
Modernism began as a spontaneous rather than as an organized phenomenon. Its four centers of influence were France, England, Italy, and Germany.
France. In 1897 Louis A. sabatier, a French Protestant, presented with force and clarity many of the ideas of Schleiermacher and Albrecht ritschl in L'Esquisse d'une philosophie de la religion d'après la psychologie et l'histoire, a work that was to have great influence on Modernist thinking. In 1899 M. hÉbert published his Souvenirs d'Assise in which he began his denial of personality in God and became the herald-philosopher of Modernism within the Church.
Loisy had been working on the frontiers of the new criticism, especially in the Old Testament, from 1890 to about 1900, and aroused suspicions. (During this period the liberal but solid positions of M. J. lagrange were, to a lesser extent, subject to similar suspicions in conservative quarters.) In 1893 Loisy lost his position at the Institut Catholique in Paris and gradually moved toward work on the New Testament. In 1900 he published an article strongly criticizing the notion of inspiration as presented in the encyclical providentissimus deus (1893). Then he published two books, L'Évangile et L'Église (1902) and Autour d'un petit livre (1903), which then started a violent public controversy.
Through a selection of eschatological texts in the Synoptic Gospels, Loisy presented the essence of Christ's preaching as a literal teaching of an imminent coming of a physical, visible end-of-the-world kingdom. This theory resembled closely that of the liberal Protestant exegete, Johannes Weiss, which appeared in 1892. Loisy concluded: "Jesus announced the Kingdom and it is the Church which came." Terming his work a defense against A. von harnack's rejection of doctrinal development, Loisy attempted to justify the appearance of a Church, which was never in the mind of Christ, and an evolution of its dogma, which would be genuine development. Blondel attacked this outlook, while advancing his own theory of vital tradition in action as an avenue of approach to the understanding of the Gospels. F. von hÜgel defended Loisy's right as a Catholic to present such a theory. Loisy's writings caused great anguish among the intellectuals and young clergy in France and Italy. The two works were among the five of Loisy's books placed on the Index in 1903. In 1904, after some ambiguous retractations, Loisy made his submission, an act that rankled him afterward.
E. le roy, a Catholic layman and disciple of bergson, rejected in an extreme way the intellectual content of dogma in the article, "Qu’est-ce qu’un dogme?"(1905). He asserted that since dogma was formulated in relative terms, it could not aim at an absolute intellectual assent. Rather, it negatively safeguarded against error and it positively prescribed a rule of practical conduct, a personal stance of action in the face of supernatural reality. Thus the dogma of God as Father is to be assimilated not intellectually, but through filial action toward Him as Father. In 1902 and 1906 Abbé houtin published studies that were extremely critical of recent Catholic exegetical work and favored the most extreme positions.
Abbé turmel, a historian of dogma who had lost the faith as early as 1886 but wanted to remain in the Church, began c. 1900 to publish numerous pseudonymous articles attacking Catholic dogma. Meanwhile the French Protestant, Paul sabatier, took a leading part in propaganda for the movement.
Abbé laberthonniÈre, many of whose writings were later condemned, and Blondel, with his philosophy of action, were leaders in the contemporary movement of liberal Catholic philosophical thought; but from the beginning they reacted against Modernist aims and cannot be considered part of that movement. Similarly Archbishop mignot, who was in contact with Loisy and favored a more liberal attitude toward scholarly work within the Church, was gradually dismayed by the more extreme exegetical positions and by the tendency toward philosophical immanentism.
England. George tyrrell, who had privately distributed certain works, was dismissed from the Society of Jesus (1906) for refusing to retract the ideas in his anonymous "Letter to a Professor of Anthropology," which was published in Italy without his permission. In this work he greatly minimized the function of Church dogma. Privately outlining a blueprint of the Church of the future, he became more and more caught up in controversy. He attacked papal infallibility, ultramontane and otherwise, and the ecumenicity of Vatican Council I. Until his death (1909), he kept developing a theory of the relation of revelation to dogma. Revelation, as the self-manifestation of the divine in our inward life, was presented as an experience, first of the Apostolic Church, which was normative, and then of every Christian. Revelation, when communicated biblically, he called dogma or prophetic truth, an imaginative and prophetic presentment of divine reality. Prophetic truth was the living shadow of this reality. Later formulations he termed "theology" or "secondary dogmas." These metaphysically conceptualized the original prophetic communication. They were merely protective or illustrative formulas for prophetic truth, could be later contradicted or discarded, and in general were useful but totally relative formulas. Revealed truth (res ) was still contained in the formula (enuntiabile ), but since the prophetic imagery was now transferred to scientific language, no absolute value guaranteed to be true could be assigned to the formula. Conciliar pronouncements were to be accepted only through the subsequent acceptance of the entire Church. Having drastically reduced the intellectual element in the original experience, Tyrrell worked out the rest of his system rather consistently, but through a confusing rhetoric. He never sufficiently accounted for the fact that conciliar formulas themselves have their axes in the Absolute. At the end of his life he espoused the theory of an error by Christ as to the time of the Parousia. Tyrrell never held the doctrine of exclusive immanence as condemned by Pascendi. Many of his positions, however, were an evident object of the encyclical's attack.
Von Hügel, Tyrrell's friend, while rejecting the new immanentist philosophical approach, was the leader of a crusade for the untrammeled rights of the exegete. These rights, he insisted, were being infringed upon by Roman authority. Conferring with various high-ranking ecclesiastics in and out of Rome and maintaining a vast correspondence with the leaders of the new thought, he endeavored to give some coherence and organization to the movement. Maude petre supported the ideas of Tyrrell and published his life in 1912.
Italy. In Italy the movement had more of a social flavor. Discussion of political and social theory, however, continually drifted back and forth across the terrain of religion and theology. The Italian priest, R. murri, supported christian democracy and founded the Lega democratica nazionale. This movement, intended to be independent of the hierarchy, urged reform of the Church's institutional and social structure. Although he was anticlerical in tone, Murri worked out his ideas from a scholastic basis. Later he moved toward an idealism somewhat reminiscent of B. croce and G. gentile, though he was attacked by them for the equivocation in his position.
In the exegetical and theological fields Salvatore Minocchi, a priest, founded the review Studi religiosi in 1901 as a forum for the new thought. He was strongly influenced by Loisy in the exegetical area, and later by Tyrrell in the interpretation of dogma. Another priest, Ernesto buonaiuti, early enamored of Blondel's philosophy of action, became fascinated with immanentism and moved toward a form of social messianism. He emerged as the leading Italian Modernist but was eager to remain within the Church for the working out of his ideas.
More on the edge of Modernism and ultimately loyal to the Church were the layman Fogazzaro, whose novel Il Santo (1905) became the literary symbol of the movement, and the Barnabite priest, Giovanni Semeria, who worked in religious and biblical criticism. In 1907 the journal Rinnovamento became an important organ for liberal political and religious opinion.
Germany. In Germany the review Zwanzigste Jahrhundert, which was founded in 1901 at Munich by F. Klasen and continued by Thaddäus Engert, became an organ for Reformkatholizismus. Like the Krausgesellschaft founded in Munich in 1904, Reformkatholizismus carried out a program of anti-Roman and antischolastic sentiment. It attacked political ultramontanism and insisted on freedom in scientific religious work and on the abolition of the Index. It did not totally overlap Modernism but remained principally on the level of practical Church discipline. The Bavarian priest, K. Gebert, however, in 1905 proposed a Kantian and immanentist approach not unlike that reproved by Pascendi. Engert, also a priest, demanded the abandonment of the notion of biblical inerrancy and the complete revision of the concept of inspiration. Yet it was not until after the condemnations of Pascendi that Engert and Josef Schnitzer of the University of Munich, who was a supporter of Loisy, emerged as the leaders of a small Modernist extreme. In Germany, Modernism was more localized than in France and Italy and brought forth less extreme theological positions than in any of the other major countries involved.
Action by Church Authorities. Leo XIII, whose liberal policy was accompanied by serious reserves over the new thought but who hesitated to take strong action, was succeeded (Aug. 4, 1903) by pius x, who decided that firm action was mandatory. He approved the decree of the Holy Office placing five works of Loisy on the Index (Dec. 17, 1903). His encyclical Il fermo proposito (June 11, 1905) encouraged Catholic Action but insisted that it must be subordinate to ecclesiastical officials. The encyclical Pieni l'animo (July 28, 1906) warned of insubordination among the Italian clergy and declared priests who became members of the Lega democratica nazionale suspended. The same year Fogazzaro's Il Santo and two works of Laberthonnière were placed on the Index, and Tyrrell was dismissed from the Jesuits. Murri was suspended April 15, 1907. On July 3, 1907, the Holy Office's decree lamentabili condemned 65 propositions in the area of criticism and dogma. On July 26, Le Roy's Dogme et critique was put on the Index. (During August, Fogazzaro, Murri, Buonaiuti, von Hügel, and others met in northern Italy to limit the terms of their submission.)
The encyclical pascendi (Sept. 8, 1907) presented a global blueprint of the whole Modernist program. It condemned theory on dogma and biblical criticism, which had an agnostic, immanentist-evolutionary, and anti-intellectualist basis. Constructed from ideas found in the work of various Modernists, it reproved a system, to every detail of which not all the Modernists subscribed. Yet, as Gentile and Petre, the subsequent champion of Modernism, admitted, Pascendi seized the movement in its totality. At the same time, immanentism, Neo-Hegelianism, and agnosticism were the terminal point rather than the point of departure for many Modernist thinkers. Pascendi in its picture of Modernism not only described the situation of some Modernists but also was an accurate prophecy of the final position of others.
Pius X decreed in the motu proprio Praestantia scripturae (Nov. 18, 1907) that all were bound in conscience to submit to the decrees of the pontifical biblical commission, both past and future, in the same way as to the doctrinal decrees issued by the Sacred Congregations and approved by the pope. (Since 1905 the Biblical Commission had issued a series of generally conservative prudential norms with regard to scriptural interpretation.)
Some loosely organized opposition had developed among the group associated with Rinnovamento, but writers and supporters of the review were made subject to excommunication at the end of 1907. Tyrrell (October 1907) and Schnitzer (February 1908) were excommunicated for their opposition to the encyclical. Minocchi was suspended and Loisy excommunicated in 1908. Subsequently Loisy developed his doctrine of the religion of humanity built on a vague agnostic basis. With Tyrrell's death (1909) the heart went out of the movement, though small pockets of resistance remained. The oath against Modernism (Sept. 1, 1910) to be taken by professors and pastors of souls marked the end of the crisis (see modernism, oath against). Petre, deprived of the Sacraments in her own diocese though never singled out for formal excommunication by name, and Buonaiuti, finally excommunicated by name in 1926, continued as champions of Modernism. Le Roy, Semeria, and von Hügel, previously more or less on the margin of Modernism, remained faithful to the Church. Engert became a Protestant. Houtin rejected the whole Modernist plan and became agnostic. Murri, with reservations on his political and social positions, was received back only in 1943.
Aftermath. After Pascendi, there followed a period of unmasking Modernism that caused great anguish. Many thought incorrectly that Newman and Blondel had been condemned. The committees of vigilance set up by the encyclical were used as a specious support by simplist conservative groups to justify sweeping condemnations. Thinking and nuance were rejected in favor of polemics. Modernism became a slogan to be applied to whatever was disliked in liberal Catholic thought, theology, literature, and politics. At the center of this campaign was the association, sodalitium pianum, directed by Monsignor benigni in Italy. A secret code, the counterpart of Modernist anonymity, protected collaborators in various countries. The attacks of Action Française (whose condemnation in 1914, four years after the condemnation of Sillon, was made public only in 1926), and the intransigence of writers, such as Emmanuel Barbier and J. Fontaine, brought into popularity a counterlabel, integralism. At the beatification of Pius X in 1950, evidence was presented that showed that he did not give his support to a great deal of this campaign, but held his hand for fear of encouraging the Modernists. Benedict XV, in his inaugural encyclical Ad beatissimi Apostolorum (Nov. 1, 1914) warned against excessive accusations. This, together with the eruption of World War I, ended this phase in the aftermath of the Modernist crisis.
Some have defined Modernism as an attempt to retain the form while dropping the content of dogma. Some Modernists, however, desired to drop also the form. If Modernism is defined very broadly, then only its extreme form was condemned. Any definition of Modernism must be drawn mainly from Pascendi, the most solemn Church condemnation. The loose application of the term "Modernism" to the development of theological thinking is widely admitted to be an abuse. Further, faint similarities of a position to statements in Pascendi can be judged fully Modernistic only if they are related also to the essential points of condemnation in the encyclical. Pascendi stated that it was directly attacking agnostic, immanentist, and evolutionary-naturalistic doctrine.
The following definition is suggested. Modernism was an ideological orientation, tendency, or movement within the Catholic Church, clearly emerging during the waning years of the 19th century and rapidly dying out around 1910 after official condemnation. Only loosely and sporadically organized, it was characterized by a tone antagonistic to all ecclesiastical authority, and by a belief in an adaptation of the Church to what was considered sound in modern thought even at the expense of radically changing the Church's essence. At its roots, grounded beyond liberal Catholic positions on biblical criticism and theology, lay a triple thesis: (1) a denial of the supernatural as an object of certain knowledge (in the totally symbolic nonobjective approach to the content of dogma, which is also related to a type of agnosticism in natural theology); (2) an exclusive immanence of the Divine and of revelation ("vital immanence") reducing the Church to a simple social civilizing phenomenon; (3) a total emancipation of scientific research from Church dogma, which would allow the continued assertion of faith in dogma with its contradiction on the historical level, as understood in certain presentations of the "Christ of faith, Christ of history," "Church of faith, Church of history" distinctions (see doctrine, development of.)
The difficulty in assessing the influence of Modernist thinkers on the later Church arises from the fact that these men also fed on and assimilated many legitimate tendencies that were arising in the contemporary Church, such as the idea of faith as a personal encounter, the increased appreciation of religious experience and spiritual anthropology, the deeper probing of the relation between psychology and religion, the return to the traditional emphasis on the sense of mystery, the renewed realization of the pastoral function of theology, the less mechanical assessment of the role of authority, the growth in insight into the development of dogma, the underlining of the organic nature of the Church and the importance of the laity, a greater respect for scriptural scholarship and natural science, a newer framework of Church-State relations, and a call to leave a cultural ghetto. Many of these insights, however, were already found in the works of scholars, such as Möhler, Newman, Blondel, and other orthodox thinkers, who, previous to the rise of Modernism, had begun to investigate these questions. With the return to the spirit of genuine thomism the stage would have been set, it seems, for their fruitful development. It is difficult to see how certain values said to arise from Modernism were not actually hampered in their development within the Church by Modernism's very appearance and by the strong medicine deemed necessary to eradicate it.
Nevertheless, through its excess Modernism did point out certain areas that called for investigation within a sound theological framework, as in the insights mentioned above. Certain authors, such as De grandmaison, Lagrange, and lebreton, continued their scholarly contributions. The exaggerated spread of suspicions, however, that followed the condemnation of Modernism probably caused many scholars to avoid delicate subjects. Only after World War II did a trend emerge toward a renewed consideration of subjects that had been so destructively and abortively handled by the Modernists.
The Modernist crisis retarded Catholic scholarship and strengthened Catholic discipline, but its capital effect was decisive victory over a subtle and mortal enemy, a victory that preserved the essential life of the Church.
Bibliography: v. a. yzermans, All Things in Christ (Westminster, Md. 1954), has documents of Pius X in Eng. j. riviÈre, Le Modernisme dans l'Église (Paris 1929); Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 10.2:2009–47. a. d'alÈs et al., Dictionnaire apologétique de la foi catholique, ed. a. d'alÈs, 4 v. (Paris 1911–22; Table analytique 1931) 3:591–695. a. r. vidler, The Modernist Movement in the Roman Church (Cambridge, Eng.1934). j. brugerette, Le Prêtre français et la société contemporiane, 3 v. (Paris 1933–38) 3:125–345. g. martini, Cattolicesimo e storicismo (Naples 1951). l. v. coutinho, Tradition et histoire dans la controversy moderniste (Rome 1954). r. marlÉ ed., Au coeur de la crise moderniste (Paris 1960). p. scoppola, Crisi moderniste e rinnovamento cattolico in Italia (Bologna 1961). É. poulat, Histoire, dogme et critique dans la crise moderniste (Paris 1962). m. de la bedoyÈre, The Life of Baron von Hügel (New York 1952). a. dansette, Religious History of Modern France, tr. j. dingle, 2 v. (New York 1961), v. 2. a. dru, The Contribution of German Catholicism (New York 1963). r. rouquette, "Bilan du Modernisme," Études 289 (1956) 321–343. h. daniel-rops, L'Église des révolutions: Un Combat pour Dieu (Histoire de l'Église du Christ 6.2; Paris 1963).
[j. j. heaney]
It is helpful to distinguish between “modernism” and that which is “modern.” What is known as “modern” is that which is in step with the times, or not so far out of step as to have vanished from cultural memory. A list of what is “modern” would surely include automobiles and paved roads, photography, electric lights, travel by rail and by air, mass transit and mass production, the telegraph and telephone and television, motion pictures, recorded sound, and so on, whereas a butter churn or reading by candlelight would not qualify.
Most of what is known as “modern” today had its beginnings in one brief historical period of Western culture. Although there is some dispute over exact dates, the “modern” period is generally held to extend from the third quarter of the nineteenth century to the beginning of World War II. During this timeframe there were overwhelming changes in American lifestyles. From the landing at Plymouth Rock until the 1920s, for instance, a majority of Americans had taken their living in one form or another from the land. By 1920 this had changed as American society became more industrialized and moved away from agrarian culture, changing into a mercantile and commercial society, not to mention a metropolitan one. The 1920 census reported that for the first time in history, more Americans were living in urban environments than were living beyond them. The census suggested as well that a new strata of society was well along in its making. A “modern” middle class was developing as people left the land and came to work in the industries of major metropolitan areas, and this was an important modification economically because they were one and all consumers. The majority of Americans were earning their livings from some form of mass manufacture, and their buying power was likely to increase because higher wages were available to those able to acquire the greatest industrial skills. This, in turn, provided the chance to rise out of the circumstances in which one was born, not just for a few, but for the majority. Never before had a promise of upward mobility been so widely extended. Never had the American Dream seemed so American.
But it was coming at a price. Urban life was isolating. Factory work was unfulfilling. Nothing seemed sacred anymore. The result was a greater level of unhappiness.
The term modernism refers to the responses to this period of turbulence and change. T. S. Eliot's essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919), for instance, articulated the central challenges for those setting foot in the modern era. Eliot warned the poets of his generation they would have to put aside traditional poetic forms and long-standing poetic techniques. Modern life was so far removed from what earlier generations had experienced, poets would have to abstract what was best from the past, then find new forms of their own making in which to articulate what it now meant to be human. Most immediately, Eliot was calling for a break with the nineteenth-century notion of metrics and rhyme. Still, the implications of his call are far-reaching, for “Tradition and the Individual Talent” also served as a challenge to verities about human experience that dated back to the seventeenth century, or, more specifically, to the Age of Enlightenment, when thinkers such as René Descartes (1596–1650) broke with the mysticism and superstition of the Dark and Middle Ages and held out the possibility that human reason could, over time, gain a full understanding of our world and our lives. Foregrounding the human capacity for reason—particularly the human capacity for inductive and deductive thought—the Age of Enlightenment posited a world that was subject to a matrix of fixed principles, many of which remain the core of the sciences today. If there were fixed principles to be found at the core of the sciences, it stood to reason that this was also true of all of human experience. Surely life was comprehensible if only we could grasp the causal relationships at its center, properly sequence related events, and so on.
But what if the world was not “fixed”? The modernists were suspicious. What if it was fluid, contiguous, ever-changing, always a step or two ahead of what anyone might grasp? What if we were losing our way? What if this overriding faith in ourselves had left us now with nothing to believe in? These were the questions modernist writers were posing in their novels, particularly Marcel Proust (1871–1922), James Joyce (1882–1941), and Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) in Europe, as well as Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), William Faulkner (1897–1962), and F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940) in the United States. None of these novelists rejected out of hand what Enlightenment thought had achieved. The periodic tables developed in the 1890s were valuable; clearly there were ways in which the world was fixed and stable. What modern experience was proving was just that being alive was a more intricate matter than the Enlightenment had allowed, the powers of science be hanged; to draw from the Irish poet William Butler Yeats's famous “The Second Coming” (1920):
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
mere anarchy is loosed upon the world …
The greatest novels of the modernist period are concerned with remembrance and reconstruction. Work as otherwise diverse as Proust's Á la recherche du temps perdu (1913–1927), Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms (1929), and Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925) all deal with protagonists who are trying to organize the confusion of their pasts into a coherent, viable text. They are doing their best to take fragments of experience and place them in a meaningful, causal sequence. That they can only make sense of their lives through a process sure to falsify or otherwise misrepresent some of what actually happened is a “given,” but, for the modernist novel, that is the best one can do. Everything is approximate. Everything is relative. Meaning is in a constant state of flux, so, to make meaning out of our experience is to reconfigure life into forms simple enough to make sense of.
Proust's novel is best known in English by its earliest translated title, Remembrance of Things Past, but “In Search of Lost Time” is a closer approximation to what Proust seems to have had in mind. Both titles, though, speak to the modernist experience, a concern with organizing experience into spatial, temporal patterns so that they might be understood and appreciated. This is literally the case in Woolf's To the Lighthouse (1927), in which one of her protagonists, Lily Brisco, discovers that the ocean scene she means to paint is so mutable it alters before she can fix it on her canvas. To complicate matters, her perspective is mutable as well, she discovers. One can apprehend the scene, but never quite comprehend it before it changes, or, a more daunting thought still, before Lily changes herself.
For such modernists, this is true not just in art but in all of life. The human mind is no match for a world so contiguous and contradictory, so replete with fleeting images, sounds, and sensations. In an attempt to affix meaning, we actually make meaning. We are constantly recapitulating our experiences, making them simpler than we know them to be, forever fitting them into patterns of our own very personal design.
When Henry Ford (1863–1947) introduced the $5, 8-hour workday in 1914 for the workers on his assembly line in Michigan, he was recognizing the changes taking place in the social fabric of the country. This was to be an era of mass production, one in which more goods would be made available to more people than had ever been known throughout human history. But mass production meant that the aesthetics of what was desired would have to be carefully adjusted. For one thing, standardization of a product would have to be accepted in the marketplace as a virtue. Ford recognized that mass production was dependent upon mass consumption bringing about “mass taste.” Modern business practice would have to create a consumer with predictable spending habits; it would have to find ways to compensate those it employed and socialize them to both the boredom and rigors of “routinized” labor, and a delicate balance would have to be struck between the nation-state, large capital, and labor organizations.
Modernist architects such as the Dutch Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) and the French Le Corbusier (1887–1965) realized that creating living and working space in the cities of their day meant accommodating the need for flexibility and easy modification. Architecture had to be responsive to an incredible variety of diverse experiences and ever-changing catalysts. But this would have to be balanced against a host of conflicting demands. Architects were being called upon by a powerful capitalist agenda to design in ways that signaled permanence, that were highly functional. If the freedoms and opportunities of urban living often made life seem formless, even chaotic, it was up to them to find new forms that might bring order to bear. The more fragmented and fractured and unstable life came to seem, the more they would have to design with an eye toward historical continuity and collective memory.
The French painter Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) rocked the art world in 1913 when his painting Nude Descending a Staircase was displayed at the Armory Show in New York City. One saw neither a nude nor a staircase, but rather a dizzying series of fragments, one atop the other, suggesting body parts in sequential motion—yet, somehow, in no particular order. Other painters such as Georges Braque (1882–1963), Paul Klee (1879–1940), and Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) were working in a similar vein, defying convention, thwarting long-standing aesthetics of artistic representation. It would be a mistake to equate this with a rejection of the past, however. Much of this modernist avant garde actually owed a significant debt to “primitive” work from Egypt, Sumeria, China, and, in Picasso's case, to African art in general. Was it meaningful to speak any longer of divisions between the modern and the ancient, the East and the West, the avant garde and primitive?
Surely it is not coincidental that at much the same time Albert Einstein (1879–1955) was challenging Euclidian geometry, James Joyce was challenging how a novel should be written with his dizzying tour de force Finnegans Wake (1939). Neither is it coincidental that in this same period, Béla Bartók (1881–1945), Alban Berg (1885–1935), and Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951) were creating atonal musical scores that were calling into question precisely what “music” was in general, and a “modern” music in particular. Nor is it coincidental that in this same period economists such as John Maynard Keynes were creating new economic models to fit the peculiar demands brought about in the modern era as compromises were being struck between fixity and stability on the one hand, and the flux of global capitalism on the other.
All found themselves facing the overriding question of modernism itself: How does one respond to an era so unlike any other in the history of all humankind?
SEE ALSO Alienation; Alienation-Anomie; Architecture; Colonialism; Critical Theory; Culture; Decolonization; Development; Keynes, John Maynard; Literature; Metropolis; Modernity; Modernization; Postcolonialism; Postmodernism; Relativism; Technological Progress, Economic Growth; Urbanization; Visual Arts; Work Day
Calinescu, Matei. 1987. Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Eliot, T. S.  1950. Tradition and the Individual Talent. Selected Essays. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
Fussell, Paul. 1975. The Gender of Modernity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Harvey, David. 1990. The Condition of Postmodernity. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell.
Kern, Stephen. 1983. The Culture of Time and Space, 1880–1918. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Nicholls, Peter. 1995. Modernisms: A Literary Guide. London: Macmillan.
MODERNITY . Many factors working together have generated interest in modernity and religion. Among these are an increasing consciousness of the many human societies that now exist, an awareness of previous societies recorded in history, and a recognition of the overwhelming variety of cultures associated with them. The constellation of cultural characteristics associated with the modern period is very different from that normally associated with an isolated tribal culture, a medieval peasant society, or a transitional society of the early modern period. To talk of religion is to identify a particular set of cultural attitudes and activities that point to the deep sources of power in a culture, how humans relate to that power, and the corresponding, codified beliefs and behaviors surrounding it. Each concept is highly complex; to discuss the relationship between them compounds the challenge.
For some time it has been a sophisticated convention to assume that the progressive extension of scientific knowledge sparked the emergence of dynamic Western societies and the extension of their influence. The subsequent triumph of reason and rational behavior over ways of thought and patterns of action associated with traditional cultures was more or less taken for granted. Thus it seemed logical to expect that religious beliefs and behaviors would be forced to the periphery of societies that were becoming modern. By extension it seemed conceivable that religion would disappear altogether. Yet in fact, evidence has suggested that religion, far from disappearing or losing influence, has a prominent place in modern societies. Indeed, religions play many different roles in modern societies, and these societies in turn play back upon religion a wide variety of effects. The term modernity refers to the cultural conditions that set the terms for all thought and action in a particular culture. Religious beliefs and behavior cannot be unaffected, even when those who espouse some religion consider themselves untouched by their cultural location. Just as religion remains a cultural reality in modernity, so there can be no escape from modernity, even through a wholehearted appropriation of a comprehensive religious tradition.
Modern, modernism, modernization, modernity, and related terms, taken alone, qualified, or compounded, are used every day in the popular media as well as in specialized journals and technical exchanges. The ubiquity of these terms is due in part to the shifting sets of meaning they carry. To clarify the current discussion, I propose certain distinctions between these terms.
First, modern is a correlative term; it implies what is new as opposed to what is ancient, what is innovative as opposed to what is traditional or handed down. However, what is judged modern at a particular time and place in a culture will not necessarily be defined as such either in the future or in some other context. Students of religion, especially, who by definition are interested in cultural patterns viewed in a longterm framework, must not fail to put in perspective changing perceptions of what is "new" and what is "old." Since a judgment about what is modern is a matter of the perspective of the observer, phenomena that appear similar may in fact vary considerably depending on their context. Thus, "modern architecture" of the mid-twentieth century now has a distinctly dated look. Similarly, nineteenth-century symphonic music must have seemed "modern" to those brought up on the baroque, but outmoded to those brought up on Stravinsky and Hindemith.
Second, the terms modernism and modernization represent, respectively, cultural and social attitudes or programs dedicated to supporting what is perceived as modern. Modernism entails a kind of explicit and self-conscious commitment to the modern in intellectual and cultural spheres. It involves a commitment to support the tenets of the "new" in the face of critics, opponents, and detractors. In this it parallels the commitment to modernization, a programmatic remaking of the political and economic aspects of society in support of the "new." This distinction implies that it is more appropriate to speak of modernism in nineteenth-century French Roman Catholicism, or in twentieth-century American Protestantism, or even among those who espouse contemporary versions of ancient Indian traditions, than it is to refer to the "modernization" of a religious tradition. Conversely, it is appropriate to refer to the modernization of a factory plant or its organization of production, or of a tax structure. Modernism would normally not be a useful designation with respect to such matters—unless we speak about factory architecture in the one case or art objects as shelters under the tax code in the other.
Thus it is inappropriate to refer to the "modernization" of a religion unless we mean as part of a self-conscious, perhaps largely social and political, program. On the other hand, modernism in this context implies a commitment (and usually a cultural program in addition) to render religion compatible with more general commitments in other areas. But is modernism divisible? Attitudes toward art, music, drama, religion, and so forth usually hang together and form a powerful set of interactive commitments. Indeed, such a set of cultural ideals may be related to economic and political change as designated by modernization. The conviction that cultural modernism is often associated with programs for social modernization frequently evolves into a more general belief that secularization is relentlessly supplanting the old with the new. In its extreme form this argument concludes that a process of secularization makes claims upon those involved with it that exhibit a religious character, or that seem like religion in that they are ultimate, unqualified, and beyond review.
Only at this point does the term modernity enter our discussion. It explicitly identifies an openness and a commitment to the new as opposed to the old. Our move to the term modernity brings us to the consciousness of cultural change. Yet a further move attributes a congruence to the many aspects of a modern culture that makes them appear to be the expression of an entity powerful and coherent in its own right. This third step effectively serves to reify the term modernity. To take this step will generally promote confusion in our thinking. It is not helpful to use the term modernity as if it referred to a spiritual medium in contemporary life that necessarily rivals religious traditions. It is much more helpful to use it in a prereified or nonreified way as a means of recognizing that cultural change and awareness of that change are pervasive in contemporary societies. What depends upon this distinction between reified and nonreified uses of modernity ?
One unfortunate consequence of reifying the term modernity is that it settles by definition an issue that ought to remain under discussion. To conceive of modernity as a spiritual medium that envelops and interconnects all particular instances of commitment to the modern, whether through modernism or modernization, is to posit an implicitly religious phenomenon, for it assumes that modernity plays the cultural role or roles characteristic of religion. As a consequence, modernity is seen as a rival to traditional or "authentic" religion. An important implication of this view is that religion in a modern society is regarded dichotomously. Either an individual or group is thought to be "for" modernity (and thus against traditional religious commitments) or "for" traditional religion (and thus antipathetic toward modernity in any and all forms). In its most intense version, this dichotomy is characteristic of every period of cultural change known to us and especially of the period we know as the modern one. Under conditions of social and cultural change, and of modernity in particular, one of many responses will be an attempt to reaffirm traditional cultural forms, albeit in highly selective and often strident versions.
Cultural Change and Modernity
It is important to explore, at least briefly, the distinction between cultural change and modernism. Stated exactly, the latter is a special case of the former. Cultural change has been a given in human societies throughout every period of which we have knowledge. There have been some periods of more, and others of less, intensive social and cultural change; but certainly no society we know anything about has been altogether free of cultural change. Records of ancient societies and cultures do not permit refined distinctions, but access to more recent historic examples allows some generalizations. Certainly it is possible to identify characteristic religious responses to periods of intensive cultural change. One is the development of the dichotomous view of the world upon which we have already remarked—"civilized" versus "barbarian," "believers" versus "heretics," and so forth. Another response has been the enhancement of orthodoxy, orthopraxy, or tradition in both ancient and recent examples of interaction between cultures as well as within a single culture. A third is the frequently recurring millenarian or apocalyptic response to cultural change. Here change is experienced as so threatening and intense that it is believed a "big change" will necessarily occur.
Cast in this framework, modernity, too, is a special category of social and cultural change. It is, to be precise, social and cultural change embraced self-consciously in the contemporary world. Some characteristic attitudes toward religion mark modernity, but they tend to be special cases of the more general attitudes toward change and not exclusively related to religion. For example, modernity includes a systematic commitment to rationality, that is, a conviction that logically consistent and universalizable principles ought to be the basis for change. Again, modernity tends to undervalue the role of symbols and the subconscious. A third and related attitude is that human life is highly malleable. This set, and the preceding enumeration, is certainly not a full set and is surely a special case of attitudes to social and cultural change. But it is also a special case, because it is self-conscious, of conceivable responses to that larger and more universal phenomenon of social change. Hostility on the part of religious traditions to the modern, especially when cast as a rejection of modernity, is itself as much a characteristic response to social change as its opposite, the enthusiastic acceptance of change by a confirmed modernist. An explicit and positive attitude toward social change is no more directly related to the experience of change than is a negative response. Both are typical attitudes of individuals and groups throughout history who have been religiously sensitive to social and cultural change.
If modernity is not reified as a spiritual entity, and if modernism is recognized as a special and self-conscious case of positive response to social and cultural changes, our proper subject is how religion appears to respond and vary under the conditions of self-conscious social and cultural change in the contemporary world. If we distinguish the fact of cultural change from a postulated, spiritualized, and thus reified modernity as the controlling commitment, we are then in a position to review what seems to happen to religion under the conditions of prolonged change—or at least what has happened in social contexts that have been so characterized. Specifically, in an era that is conscious of the new, are there characteristic changes in religion, especially in relationship to the modern?
The Impact of Modernity on Religion
If we take modernity in this descriptive sense, the decisive commitment to modernization socially and to modernism culturally is first to be observed as a coherent process in the United States. It may be thought that revolutionary France in the last decades of the eighteenth century or Japan in the late twentieth century represent more thoroughgoing examples of commitment to the "modern." Certainly, for brief periods other societies may well have manifested an intense and thoroughgoing commitment to change. But over time, at least to date, American society has set about more thoroughly than other societies to overcome traditional ways and self-consciously to replace them with new ones. It is here that the best exhibits are available, and exhibits over time, of the kinds of cultural changes attendant upon the systematic modernization of society. Further, the actual changes we can observe in religion seem to be remarkably heterogeneous, that is, the changes by no means run in one direction only. How can we best summarize what happens to religion under conditions of modernity?
One useful distinction at this point is between responses to modernity that are explicitly keyed to the whole scope of a religious tradition, and those effects that represent the taking on of a coloration from modern society or that are evidence for generalized, nonspecific influence of modernity. It is preferable to consider the latter kind first, since these effects are ubiquitous; this will enable us in turn to review without confusion explicit religious responses to modern life.
Bureaucratization and rationalization
Some of the changes to be observed in religion relating to the modern world clearly derive from the permeation of religious institutions by techniques and procedures developed in other sectors of the society. For example, European-derived (and certainly American-begun) church traditions have adopted much from the business world. These techniques or procedures are inevitably centralizing. This is apparent, for example, in communications: telephone calls have taken the place of pastoral letters, written reports preempt personal visits, revivals and healing services are often televised rather than held locally. Other consequential changes have to do with the liquidity of wealth; even as successful a promoter as the evangelical John Wesley could not have imagined the means available to the contemporary Methodist (or Roman Catholic) church to generate financial resources and shift their allocations throughout a worldwide, well-organized structure.
Adoption of these kinds of management technique potentially strengthens the hands of central religious leaders. But the same modern society also extends to laity the knowledge and ability to challenge such a transfer of power to central authorities. Countervailing trends, then, are at work, leading both to enhanced localism in the parishes and to the creation of extraecclesial religious organizations. Like centralized religious organizations, the latter make use of techniques widely used in the modern world (media appeals, direct mail campaigns) to raise and dispense funds and to exercise influence. These techniques often are used independently of, if not against, more established ecclesiastical authorities whose power is thus countered.
Other kinds of changes characteristic of the modern world also permeate religious behavior. Many have to do with the high degree of rationality required to function in societies of the scale and complexity characteristic of the contemporary world. One example of this concerns the ordering of time. In the past, traditional religions imposed, or at least sanctioned, a structuring of time to include myriad festivals and feasts. In our society such patterns are in tension with broad social (and especially economic) objectives, so they no longer carry much weight. Thus we can observe certain new constraints or limitations on traditional religion as it impinges on the modern public world. Correspondingly, however, the relevance and influence of religious traditions in the realm of private time and space receive greater emphasis.
These are examples of what we might term the "coloration" through which "new" or modern societies influence all kinds of religious behaviors and beliefs in very basic ways. This "coloration" is thoroughly comparable to the codification of religions in the idioms and through the symbols of particular periods and societies, whether nomadic, pastoral, or urban. The degree of penetration by context is different in the contemporary world in some respects, but it is not a different kind of penetration. Thus religion is generally affected in the modern era but not solely in terms of conscious response to social and cultural change as represented in modernity.
Religious responses to modernity
There is, however, a contrast between this coloration or permeation of religious traditions and much more explicit religious responses to social change as represented in modern society. Especially as exhibited in American society, these responses may be seen to fall into five categories.
- One kind of response is the advocacy of new religious ideas or the claim to new insights into ancient religious traditions. This frequently entails embracing the "new" in the name of correctly understanding the old. One dramatic example of this response in North America is the Oneida Community of the nineteenth century. Its founder, John Humphrey Noyes, believed that the spiritual sources for the new modern common life of his community flowed from early Christianity, whose tenets the community claimed to fulfill. Another interesting case is that of Christian Science. Its founder, Mary Baker Eddy, believed that she had correctly interpreted Jesus' teaching, indeed the essential message of early Christianity, which she thought to yield "modern" insights into healing. Many contemporary religiously innovative groups find their sources not so much in Western traditions as in Eastern lore and ritual. (In these cases, too, the connection with healing is often pronounced.)
- Another response is self-conscious accommodation of religious traditions to modern society, often in very explicit terms. Indeed, here the term modernist is frequently used pejoratively with respect to religion. Into this category fall such well-known adaptations as Protestant liberalism (with European as well as New World versions), the Jewish Reform tradition (which of course had its origins in accommodation to modern European culture at the time of the Emancipation), and Roman Catholic Americanism in the late nineteenth century (a largely indigenous movement).
- A third pattern of response is the determined attempt to preserve the continuing tradition, albeit self-consciously within limits posed by the new framework. In many respects this strategy undergirds various churchly responses of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to modern societies, ranging from the proliferation of mainstream Protestant denominations to the careful and restrained Roman Catholic updating of tradition that became highly visible as a result of the Second Vatican Council and to the self-conscious but limited case of the isolated Mercersburg Movement of antebellum nineteenth-century America.
- A still different pattern, infrequently recognized as equally a response to modernity, is the strident reassertion of a presumed tradition in a condensed, purified, or even reductionist form. The strands of "fundamentalism" in most of the major religious traditions of the globe are to be interpreted in this light. In this perspective, fundamentalisms, as the simultaneous reduction and enhancement of particular traditions, are no less than modernisms determined by the modern culture that they so stridently reject. Here also American society provides the most fully developed instances of fundamentalism, specifically within denominations with a self-consciously British heritage and especially among Presbyterians and Baptists.
- A final pattern in the religious response to social change in the modern world is the generation of wholly new traditions. This entails celebration of the modern in often bizarre and idiosyncratic ways, although it may also take the form of recovering pagan traditions or exploiting exotic or esoteric beliefs. These new religions are explicit attempts to reject old traditions rather than to accommodate them. But in the larger sense they are also a response to the intense social and cultural changes experienced by people living in the modern era.
This fivefold pattern is, to be sure, an arbitrary division, for the lines between these five types are always shifting. But it serves to point out that the explicit relationships between modern cultures and religions are not single or of one kind only. They vary greatly. Indeed, the relationships are so plural that respective religious movements responding to perceptions of modernity in different ways may in fact be directly opposed to each other. The classical confrontation between liberalism (or modernism) and fundamentalism in American culture is a prime exhibit of this antagonism between essentially related, though very different, responses to a common cultural experience.
Modernity has proven to affect religion in heterogeneous ways, both explicit and implicit. The various explicit religious responses range from a strong and strident reassertion of traditions, frequently on a reduced basis, to outright and uncritical celebration of cultural change. In this the term modernity most usefully refers to the kind of intense social, and hence cultural, change that especially characterizes Europe and America, of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but that has extended to other cultural areas a well. This period is not unique, however, for in earlier periods something like the same pattern of a range of religious responses to social change has been evident. Religious life within the Roman Empire may be a useful parallel. With respect to the second kind of response—the implicit level of coloration provided by purely technological aspects of contemporary society—it does seem helpful to identify a peculiar cultural configuration exclusively with "modernity." But this coloration extends as much to the activities of critics of the modern as it does to its partisans. Finally, a significant point is that the modern is not to be seen as itself a spiritual medium, that is to say, a unique religious stance.
When taken together, the concepts of modernity and religion identify the broad range of religious responses to intense and self-conscious social change in the contemporary world. What is uniquely modern is not the particular religious responses to change per se but their variety, intensity, and duration in the contemporary world. Crucial is the insight that religion is not so much threatened by modernity as challenged by it. And the challenge involves an inevitable and implicit coloration of virtually all religious behavior as well as a forcing of responses of many kinds, some direct, some indirect, all to some degree explicit, in the realm of religious belief. In these terms, the concepts of modernity and religion encompass a subject as fascinating as it is complex.
The subject of modernity has been most fully explored in the social sciences because it has offered a rubric under which scholars can analyze the relentless social change characteristic of the contemporary world. This field looks back to the work of Max Weber, who first gave substantial attention to the relationships between religion and the emergence of modern societies. His Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, translated by Talcott Parsons (London, 1930), has continued to provoke strongly positive and negative scholarly responses. The following general discussions of modernity may be particularly useful in the current context: David E. Apter's The Politics of Modernization (Chicago, 1965); Cyril E. Black's The Dynamics of Modernization (New York, 1966); and Shmuel N. Eisenstadt's Tradition, Change and Modernity (New York, 1973). For a different treatment of the question, see Becoming Modern: Individual Change in Six Developing Countries (Cambridge, Mass., 1974), by Alex Inkeles and David H. Smith. An interpretation of American history under the same rubric is available as Modernization: The Transformation of American Life, 1600–1865 (New York, 1976) by Richard D. Brown.
Recent discussions of religion depend heavily on anthropological and sociological perspectives, each of which introduces its own implicitly comparative framework. See the essays (especially that by Clifford Geertz) in Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion, edited by Michael Banton (London, 1966). Anthony F. C. Wallace's Religion: An Anthropological View (New York, 1966) is also useful.
Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann collaborated on an influential study, The Social Construction of Reality (Garden City, N.Y., 1966), but subsequently have explored somewhat different sociological perspectives on religion in the modern world. Berger's The Sacred Canopy (Garden City, N.Y., 1967) and Luckmann's The Invisible Religion (New York, 1967) give different estimates of the status of religion in contemporary society. Berger also collaborated with Brigitte Berger and Hansfried Kellner in The Homeless Mind (New York, 1973), an explicit consideration of how religion is affected by modernization.
Among studies of particular episodes of religious change in modern societies, William R. Hutchison's The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism (Cambridge, Mass., 1976) is a fine study of liberalism in American culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. On this topic also see Kenneth Cauthen's The Impact of American Religious Liberalism (New York, 1962). Ernest R. Sandeen's The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800–1930 (Chicago, 1970), sharply focuses on the question of sources. George M. Marsden's Fundamentalism and American Culture (New York, 1980) is a superb study that suggests the broader sources of this movement and its implications.
Whitney R. Cross's The Burned-Over District (Ithaca, N.Y., 1950), an older case study of religious responses to the extreme social change of upper New York State in the early nineteenth century, suggests how religious movements as diverse as revivalism, Mormonism, and the Oneida Community could originate under the same social conditions. See also Paul E. Johnson's A Shopkeeper's Millennium (New York, 1978), a case study of the Rochester Revivals, for one model that explicitly relates religion to rapid social change. Religious Movements in Contemporary America, edited by Irving I. Zaretsky and Mark P. Leone (Princeton, 1974), is a compendium of essays on new religious movements.
On the expectation of "big changes" induced in a society whose culture is threatened, see Kenelm Burridge's New Heaven, New Earth (New York, 1969). Millennial Dreams in Action, edited by Sylvia L. Thrupp (New York, 1970), a broader discussion of millenarianism, suggests additional perspectives on this phenomenon.
Ali, Tariq. The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads, and Modernity. London, 2002.
Ardis, Ann, and Leslie Lewis, eds. Women's Experience of Modernity, 1875–1945. Stanford, Calif., 2003.
Asad, Talal. Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, and Modernity. Stanford, Calif., 2003.
Fawaz, Leila, and C. A. Bailey, eds. Modernity and Culture: From the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. New York, 2002.
Hess, Jonathan. Germans, Jews, and the Claims of Modernity. New Haven, 2002.
Latour, Bruno. We Have Never Been Modern. Translated by Catherine Porter. New York, 1993.
Seligman, Adam. Modernity's Wager: Authority, the Self, and Transcendence. Princeton, 2000.
Smith, David. Hinduism and Modernity. Oxford, U.K., 2003.
John F. Wilson (1987)
When Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) undertook to promote “new modes and orders” unlike those that had previously existed, he was expressing a historical vision that came to define modernity (from the late Latin modernus, derivative of the classical Latin modo, meaning “just now” or “in a certain manner”). This vision was one shared in diverse ways by other founders of modernity such as Francis Bacon (1561–1626), Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), and René Descartes (1596–1650), as well as world explorers of the period and leaders of the Protestant Reformation. From politics and science to philosophy and religion, an influential cadre argued for the possibility of introducing an historical break as significant as any that had preceded it, although they also often made the case for this break as a kind of return to lost traditions of antiquity.
That Machiavelli is considered a founder of a new form of political science indicates the significance of this vision for the social sciences. Indeed, modernity gave rise both to the kinds of societies or social relations studied by the field as well as to widespread notions about what it means to practice science. Yet it is an ambivalent term. Modernity can denote different historical periods and phenomena, and it is celebrated and reviled for a variety of reasons. It has multiple meanings that inform debates about the human condition and the nature of the social sciences. This is especially true at the dawn of what many theorists describe as the “postmodern age.”
Three essential features of the modern era set it apart from premodern ways of life. First, modernity refers to radical societal changes, including the rise of democracies, the spread of religious pluralism and secularization, the European colonization of other parts of the world, the formation of the bureaucratic nation-state and market economies, increased social mobility and literacy, and the growth of industrial society with all the attendant changes in working conditions. Modernity is characterized by advanced technoindustrial society, which has brought gains in material well-being primarily to the developed (or modernized) parts of the world. Indeed, a central motif of modernity is the notion of unlimited progress. Yet it is also characterized by uniquely modern problems such as the environmental risks associated with technologies. Many social theorists argue that the emerging knowledge or information age constitutes a novel, postmodern society.
Second, modernity is characterized by a growing emphasis on reason and experience, which speaks to the rise of modern science and technology. Most importantly, modern science altered what it means to know. In the prologue to the never-completed work The Great Instauration, Bacon first made the radical argument that “human knowledge and human power meet in one.” Complaining of the vain speculations of earlier philosophers, Bacon argued that knowledge should lead to “the conquest of nature for the relief of man's estate” (Novum Organum, 1620, LII). Unlike the ancients, for whom theory was about things eternal, modern thinkers promoted a more practical science concerned with altering the changeable. This alliance between knowing and changing the world is rooted in the modern subject/object dualism first articulated by Descartes.
Third, modernity ushered in new understandings of the human self and political community, which reflected and conditioned these social and cultural changes. Modern theorists such as Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) conceptualized the self as a reflexive, autonomous, and rational will, freely choosing its ends and projecting its values onto an indifferent nature that is void of purpose. Political association is cast less as the common pursuit for higher ends (the “perfectionism” of ancient political theorists) than as procedures for adjudicating demands within a framework of individual rights and freedoms. C. B. Macpherson named this political aspect of modernity “possessive individualism” (1962).
Modernity should be set within specific contexts, insofar as it is used to describe different periods of history and aspects of life. Indeed, there are numerous features associated with “being modern,” which have been developed in several fields of study. For example, “modern art” refers to works produced in the period from the late nineteenth century to the 1970s, a time characterized in part by the abandonment of earlier emphases on representationalism and religious iconography. A related term is modernism, which also has multiple meanings, but is often used to refer to cultural movements composed of “modernists” who embrace the features of modern life identified above. Bruce Lawrence, for example, characterizes many religious fundamentalists as modern because they take advantage of technological advances (Lawrence 1989). But they are not modernists, because they reject the fundamental philosophical underpinnings of modernity and refuse to wholly adapt their personal identities and social lives to the dictates of the modern world. At its extreme, this rejection of modernity has led to terrorist acts.
A few prominent uses of modernity from philosophy and social science indicate its multiplicity. Karl Marx (1818–1883) emphasized the alienation of humankind under modern capitalist systems and envisioned communism as an emancipating force. Indeed, alienation is one predominant motif in critical theories of modernity. For example, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) suggested that the essence of modernity is “the death of God.” For Nietzsche, the modern worldview necessitates that “the highest values devaluate themselves. The aim is lacking: ‘why?’ finds no answer” (Nietzsche  1967, p. 9). He argued that each individual should mold his or her own values as the pure expression of selfhood, ignoring traditions about good and evil. In modernity, what was once thought of as transcendent and given becomes the unstable product of the human will. Marx summarized this radical historical contingency: “all that is solid melts into air” ( 1994). Critical approaches to modern society thus often focus on securing personal orientation and meaning, frequently through spiritual or communal practices.
Auguste Comte (1798–1857) described the modern era as the culmination of a three-stage historical process, which is itself a characteristically modern interpretation of history in its linear, progressive outlook. The scientific or “positive” stage transcends the earlier “theological” and “metaphysical” stages. For Comte, the methods of the natural sciences provide the only route to certain knowledge. In a more pessimistic account, Max Weber (1864–1920) argued that the rationalization of life in modern society traps individuals in an “iron cage” of rule-based control. Similarly, Jürgen Habermas (b. 1929) criticized the modern notion of subject-centered reason by developing theories of communicative rationality. Peter Wagner explained such conflicting interpretations by arguing that modernity is ambiguous in presenting two counterposed metanarratives—liberation and disciplinization (1994). Michel Foucault (1926–1984) did much to highlight the latter dimension of modernity by arguing that modern society involves pervasive systems of control and surveillance, which has informed many theories critical of development and globalization. He argued that modernity possesses certain underlying conditions of rationality that constitute an understanding of the world and define what counts as truth. Similarly, Martin Heidegger (1899–1976) argued that modernity is a unique way of revealing and being in the world, which he called Gestell (“enframing”). For Heidegger, modern human existence is constituted by a technological approach to the world.
Work in feminist epistemology and the sociology of science has further refined critiques of modern rationality. Thomas Kuhn (1922–1996), for example, argued that scientific advance is not the steady polishing of the mirror of nature leading to a correspondence with reality “in itself.” Rather, science is a community endeavor in which groups define common problems and standards. Kuhn's work ushered in a variety of postmodern approaches to science and theories of our linguistically mediated existence. Indeed, all of the thinkers mentioned here have spurred thought about various alternatives to modernity. In one of the most provocative of such accounts, Bruno Latour (b. 1947) argued that “we have never been modern,” meaning that we have never been able to sustain the conceptual categories or the binary types, especially those of “nature” and “culture,” posited by the modern worldview. The harder we try to purify our world into distinct, bounded domains, the more intermediary forms proliferate.
SEE ALSO Comte, Auguste; Foucault, Michel; Globalization, Social and Economic Aspects of; Habermas, Jürgen; Kuhn, Thomas; Marx, Karl; Modernism; Modernization; Nietzsche, Friedrich; Postmodernism; Rationality; Science
Bacon, Francis. [c. 1620] 1994. Novum Organum; with Other Parts of the Great Instauration. Chicago: Open Court.
Bauman, Zygmunt. 1991. Modernity and Ambivalence. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Giddens, Anthony. 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Hirschman, Albert. 1977. The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism Before Its Triumph. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Latour, Bruno. 1993. We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Lawrence, Bruce. 1989. Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt Against the Modern Age. San Francisco: Harper and Row.
Macpherson, C. B. 1962. The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke. Oxford: Clarendon.
Nietzsche, Friedrich.  1967. The Will to Power. Ed. Walter Kaufman. New York: Vintage Books.
Taylor, Charles. 1989. Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Turner, Bryan S., ed. 1990. Theories of Modernity and Postmodernity. London: Sage.
Wagner, Peter. 1994. A Sociology of Modernity: Liberty and Discipline. London: Routledge.
Modernism is a highly complex cultural phenomenon which has generated a variety of differing opinions and an immense critical literature. The notion of the "modern" has undergone various semantic shifts and definitions, mainly due to the sensibility of each age, yet the word has always retained a particular pertinence in characterizing a feeling of novelty, of change and historical evolution. For American expatriate writer Gertrude Stein Modernism was a sort of "inevitable art," the only "composition" appropriate to the new disposition of time and space in which people lived in the early part of the twentieth century. However it is defined, it is clear that Modernism was an extraordinary combination of often contradictory aspects: the futuristic and the nihilistic, the revolutionary and the conservative, the naturalistic and the symbolistic, the romantic and the classical. It was a celebration of a technological age, the so-called "Age of the Machine" and a condemnation of it, a faithful acceptance of any new, exciting cultural expression and the excuse for fearful and anxious reactions in face of it. The term has often included many artistic movements which originated mostly in Europe (Impressionism, Expressionism, Futurism, Cubism, Symbolism, Imagism etc.), but soon became truly international, often sharing a tendency towards abstraction and a refusal of realism. The Modernist tendency expressed itself as anti-representationalism in painting, free verse in poetry, stream-of-consciousness narrative in the novel, just to make a few examples. Most critics agree that the peak of the Modernist period was the first quarter of the twentieth century, but some place it as early as the 1890s, as did Frank Kermode in a famous study aptly entitled The Sense of an Ending.
One cannot date exactly the beginning of "modern" culture in America, but surely it was decried in quite exalted terms as early as 1871, in Walt Whitman's prophetic Democratic Vistas : "America demands a poetry that is bold, modern, and all-surrounding and kosmical, as she is herself. It must in no respect ignore science and the modern. It must bend its vision toward the future, more than the past." "Science and the modern" were firmly linked in Whitman's forward-looking vision in a union that expressed the post-Civil War optimism of American civilization. Surprisingly, Whitman's quest for an art that would favorably compare with science and the modern had virtually no followers until the first decades of the twentieth century, when a group of artists began to create a visual and literary culture that reflected and responded to the extraordinary transformations of American society under the impact of the machine. But this new art was to be rather different from what Whitman had optimistically envisioned. What Whitman had in mind was a larger aesthetic vision of democratic civilization which would have incorporated the world of science and technology. For the modernists, on the other hand, the new world of the machine was far more complex and their response was far more ambivalent.
Clearly, the changes that occurred during the years following Whitman's declaration of 1871 were extraordinary, even beyond any expectation: the material world was virtually rebuilt from scratch and the human subject came to be placed in an environment that was continuously changing. Candles and oil lamps had been replaced by lightbulbs powered by that invisible power, electricity; the wireless radio became ever more common in the dining-room. Specialized industrial processes had been in effect since the 1880s, but with electricity mechanization was much accelerated. In 1910, one in ten urban homes had electricity; by 1930 most did, and the consumer, especially the lady of the house, was surrounded with new machines: irons, sewing machines, vacuum cleaners, toasters, washing machines, refrigerators, in brief the household was transformed into a wholly new, exciting, mechanized environment.
Understandably, the impact of the modern times was most visible in the city. Cities like New York started growing upward, from their pre-elevator six stories to the thirty stories of the skyscraper by the end of the nineteenth century. Daniel Burnham's triangular Flatiron Building (1903), the tallest building of its time, became a symbol of such times. Photographers like Alfred Stieglitz, Alvin Langdon Coburn, and Edward Steichen started to immortalize these tall buildings as aesthetic objects. However, the skyscrapers would soon acquire a different role: they would perform an advertising function for the commercial interests that had built them in the first place; they would become icons of the modern age and, above all, of modern industrial civilization. In New York the very names of streets like Broadway, Wall Street, or Madison Avenue reflected those structures of mass communication and persuasion, finance, capitalism, and popular culture that were defining the new modern way of life. New York was to become the modern/ist metropolis par excellence, but it should be stressed that Modernism transformed and embraced not just one city, but many.
To go back to Whitman again, one could wonder why, in a time of such revolutionary changes, his aspiration was not answered earlier by the world of art and culture. The reason might be that all the major transformations Whitman and the American people in general were witnessing (the tall buildings, the manufacturing products, etc.) were not regarded as pertaining to the world of art, at least the capital "A" Art of high culture, as defined by the academy and by its well established aesthetic criteria. In a way, Art was perceived as a defence against the ever-changing world of bridges, skyscrapers, steam engines, and railroads. Even when the machine was artistically represented, its mere functionalism had to be hidden behind some classical decorative embellishment. It was only gradually, in the machinery and architectural forms of the industrial landscape, that the new modernist vocabulary found its inspiration, and as a result science and the modern began to find their way into the culture at large.
The vocabulary of "the modern" was one of mechanical forms and elaborate mechanisms viewed under a metaphorical light. Such a vocabulary was embraced in the visual arts by European expatriates like Picabia and Duchamp and by American artists as well; not surprisingly the city and the machine became the subject matter of modernist art. The American response was characterized by the attempt to connect the new age of the machine with a native cultural tradition; it was as if in order to look at the future one had first to look backwards, especially at the century that had just come to a close. This is perhaps one of the most interesting paradoxes of modernity: that the projection into the future and the emergence of a popular modernism also coincided with a deepening traditionalism. This tendency is detectable in literature and in the visual arts as well, in artists as diverse as William Faulkner, William Carlos Williams, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, or in the adherents to the Precisionist movement, a handful of young painters and photographers that would represent one of the most interesting American contributions to international modernism.
Compared to the European, the American artists were more critical and, in many respects, more worried about the consequences of mechanical civilization: the dangers of robotization deriving from matching the man to the machine and the machine to the man found perhaps their best expression in Chaplin's Modern Times (1936). However, already in his 1919 book Our America, Waldo Frank had voiced the concern of many Americans who feared that the dehumanizing forces of technology would lead to psychic fragmentation and spiritual deprivation. Such opinions dominated literary magazines like The Seven Arts, Secession, and Broom, to name just a few. However, American artists were also engaged in building native forms of cultural expression that could not disregard the contemporary reality of machine technology. For many Walt Whitman provided a singular model for the celebration of indigenous culture, in particular the metaphysical analogy that he drew between mechanical energy and divine spirit. William Carlos Williams echoed portions of the poet's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" in his own exhortations to American artists to develop indigenous subjects and forms of expression. These new forms should be based on Whitman's glorification of the dynamism, vitality, and energy of the native environment and his celebration of the machine as an American cultural symbol.
Not surprisingly, it was another poet, Hart Crane, who derived an affirmative mythology from the realities of the technological world. Crane wanted to resuscitate contemporary, but decayed, culture by aligning it with the great mythologies of the past. He considered the entrenchment of machinery in contemporary life as a challenging responsibility for the poet. The machine could not be ignored but must be absorbed into poetry, where its destructive forces would be countered through the creation of an alternative myth. Guided by an evangelical temperament Crane infused technological culture with transcendent ecstasy. By fusing popular legends about American history—Columbus, Pocahontas, Rip Van Winkle—with contemporary reality—railroads, subways, office buildings—he aimed to construct "a mystical synthesis of 'America"' that would achieve "a mythic transfiguration of current values." For Crane, the bridge, especially Brooklyn Bridge, was an emblem of unification, a passage between the ideal and the transitory sensations of history.
One could well agree with Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane when they argue that for many writers the city became the very "analogue of form," not only that Modernism was a particularly urban art but also that the artist was "caught up in the spirit of the modern city, which is itself the spirit of a modern technological society…. The city has become culture." In New York the experimental spirit was particularly evident in Greenwich Village and was often conflated with a sense of liberation in morals. Henry James described the Village of those years in Washington Square (1881). Soon radicalism characterized not only arts and morals, but also politics, especially in the period 1910-1917, after the appearance of magazines like the Masses, the Freeman, The Nation, and The New Republic, to name a few. Radical politics was debated in the salon of Mabel Dodge by people like John Reed and Bill Haywood. From an artistic perspective the salon of Alfred Stieglitz is certainly worth mentioning. The Berlin-educated Stieglitz staged the first American exhibition of Matisse, Toulouse Lautrec, Picasso, and Picabia, among others. He organized the famous Armory Show of 1913, the exhibition that would mark a turning point in the world of art, not to mention the role that Stieglitz played in the history of photography.
To dispel any doubt about the conceptual link between "modernism" and "modernization," it should be stressed that even in the era of high aesthetic modernism (roughly 1890 to 1930), the impact of the machine was reflected also in a whole range of cultural productions that appealed to a large number of people. As Douglas Tallack has rightly pointed out: "material changes were no mere backdrop to artistic experimentation. They produced a mass culture based on the market, the phenomenon with which all twentieth-century writers and artists had to contend." Far from being just a "lure" for a mass audience that mindlessly consumed every product it was offered, popular culture texts of the time should be viewed for their often contradictory meanings and uses and for the social and cultural dynamics they reflected. Saloons, parks, dance halls, music, and celebrations are examples of new forms of leisure that became commodified during this period. Though a detailed analysis of such phenomena is beyond the scope of this essay, it is worth mentioning impact of the communications revolution on the creation of an ever-growing market for news and entertainment.
The fact that the communications revolution had an effect on the production as well as on the distribution and reception of culture was already evident in the late nineteenth century when American fiction, like the domestic household, made contact with the new mass-produced brand-named merchandise. As advertisements became touch-stones of modernity and its fragmentations, fiction and advertising acted on one another in complex and unexpected ways. Frank Munsey, editor and publisher of one of the first new magazines oriented to the middle class in the 1890s, argued that: "fiction … is responsible for enormous circulations, and without fiction the general advertiser would find the magazine proposition … decidedly uninteresting from a business standpoint." The big change in magazine economics usually dates back to 1893, the year that three monthlies, Munsey's, McClure's, and Cosmopolitan dropped their prices to ten cents, shifted their enterprise from sales to advertising, and increased their circulation to hundreds of thousands. These magazines were different from the old elite magazines such as Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Century (which cost thirty-five cents a copy/four dollars a year) in that they achieved a large circulation, thus reaching readers who had never subscribed to magazines. Munsey's, the first of the middle-class magazines to drop its price to a dime, is exemplary in its mission of bringing fiction and ad writing ever closer, so readers would learn to appreciate the directness and succinctness of advertising writing. Again, to quote Frank Munsey's words: "The modern advertisement is a thing of art, a poem, a sledge hammer, an argument—a whole volume compressed into a sentence. Some of the cleverest writing … can be found in the advertising pages of a first rate magazine."
Munsey's published mainly general fiction, articles, and comments specifically directed to a middle class reading public largely, but not exclusively, formed by women. Others would soon follow Munsey's example. The Saturday Evening Post, which began publishing in its modern form in 1897, offered a contrast between conventional moral values and modern publishing conventions. De Witt Wallace's Reader's Digest, founded in 1922, aimed to emulate Henry Ford by applying mass production techniques to the world of print. The "tabloid" made its first appearance in 1919 in the form of the New York Illustrated Daily News. In the 1930s, Henry Luce became the first media tycoon thanks to the massive circulation of his magazine Life, which made an extensive use of the camera.
Much of the recent interest in modernism has had less directly to do with high literary manifestations, and more with the lived forms of popular culture: cinema, radio, fashion, mass advertising, automobiles, daily papers, and detective and science fiction. These forms came to symbolize not just Manhattan or Chicago, but city life in general. As Raymond Williams puts it, "out of an experience of the cities came an experience of the future." Besides, there is the question of whether modernism has actually ended, whether there is a case for a sort of aesthetic continuity from the abundance of versions of modernism to the equal abundance of versions of postmodernism. What is certain is that although modernism was not to everybody's taste, it was the movement which best described and shaped our modern consciousness.
Bradbury, Malcolm, and James McFarlane, editors. Modernism, 1890-1930. Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1991.
Britt, George. Forty Years—Forty Millions: The Career of Frank A. Munsey. 1930; reprinted, Port Washington, New York, Kennikat Press, 1972.
Covert, Catherine L., and John D. Stevens, editors. Mass Media Between the Wars: Perceptions of Cultural Tensions, 1918-1941. Syracuse, Syracuse University Press, 1984.
Czitrom, Daniel J. Media and the American Mind: From Morse to McLuhan. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1982.
Fox, Richard Wightman, and T. J. Jackson Lears, editors. The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American History, 1880-1980. New York, Pantheon Books, 1981.
Gans, Herbert J. Popular Culture and High Culture. New York, Basic Books, 1974.
Garvey Gruber, Ellen. The Adman in the Parlor. New York, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1996.
Giedion, Sigfried. Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History. New York, Oxford University Press, 1948.
Kern, Stephen. The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1983.
Lears, T. J. Jackson. No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920. New York, Pantheon Books, 1981.
Lipsitz, George, Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1990.
Marchard, Roland. Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920-1940. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1985.
Singal, Daniel Joseph, editor. Modernist Culture in America. Bel-mont, California, Wadsworth, 1991.
Tallack, Douglas. Twentieth-Century America: The Intellectual and Cultural Context. London, Longman, 1991.
Werheim, Arthur Frank. The New York Little Renaissance: Iconoclasm, Modernism, and Nationalism in American Culture, 1908-1917. New York, New York University Press, 1976.
WORLD WAR I: ALIENATION AND DISILLUSIONMENT
AFTER 1945: FINDING A PLACE FOR ART
The word modernism is used to characterize a wide range of aesthetic, political, and social movements in the twentieth century. Within the visual arts, architecture, and literature, modernism is most often recognized as demonstrating an intense engagement with a particular medium and the limits of its form. The larger constellation of social and political forces that bolster cultural production fall under the rubric of modernism as well. From the Bauhaus to surrealism to existentialism, all modernist works can be held to one overarching principle: the evaluation and expression of the governing parameters of an art form mobilized to critique and rediscover its proper essence. Indeed, the question "what is modernism?" is already anticipated by the very forms of modernist art. This self-critical tendency has given rise to a large, heterogeneous body of work, because each sociopolitical challenge to art and its role in modernity required a specifically devised aesthetic response.
Some of modernism's most important aesthetic experiments were conceived before 1914 but continued to exert influence on the arts throughout the rest of the century. In particular cubism—led by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque—had a profound effect on painting, using the limits of two-dimensional representation as an analytical device for transforming everyday objects into drastically altered amalgams of lines and shapes. The cubists became a major touchstone for artists looking to radicalize a given medium, as well as for avant-gardes seeking to cut ties with the past; only the profound devastation and loss surrounding World War I would have as acute an impact on artistic production in the first half of the century.
Between 1914 and 1918, scores of European intellectuals, artists, and writers fought in the trenches. The aesthetic and political sensibilities of those who survived were forever altered by the war. For many, the effects of the war and the impact of mechanization demanded a critical engagement based on the new relationships between self and community in light of emerging concerns about technology.
In Italy, the futurist artists and poets embraced the new machinery of war, creating works that attempted to embody the heightened sense of time and motion that accompanied the advance of technology. Founder Filippo Tommaso Marinetti drafted the group's "Founding and Manifesto of Futurism" (1909) shortly before the war began, arguing for the evisceration of Romantic-expressionistic concepts of the self under the new horizon of mechanical mediation and delineating the futurists' proto-fascist ambitions for art and politics to merge violently in the social sphere.
In other European nations, the avant-gardes were more critical of the political establishment. Dada, which was founded in Switzerland and later spread to Germany and France, used absurdist humor to ironize traditional art-world standards, the war, and the bourgeois values behind it. A diverse group of artists were associated with the movement, including Jean Arp, John Heartfield, Hannah Höch, Francis Picabia, and Hans Richter. The dadaists worked in nontraditional forms and employed innovative techniques such as photo-montage to represent the vertiginous flow of visual information that typified the urban experience of the new postwar metropolis.
Surrealism was a direct outgrowth of the Dada movement and worked to reformulate its politically charged engagement with popular culture and the mass media. The French writer André Breton penned a manifesto for the group in 1924, but the movement had many distinct voices and expressions. The surrealists were fascinated with the operations of the unconscious and developed formal procedures for realizing its effects through automatism and chance procedures. Writers and artists alike worked to fuse a Marxist critique of capital with the newly popularized tenets of psychoanalysis developed by Sigmund Freud and later elaborated by Jacques Lacan, mining their unconscious desires to imagine pictorial and literary landscapes that were both liberating and derisive.
The combination of multiple endeavors in service of a singular aesthetic reached a pinnacle with the founding of the Bauhaus School of Art and Architecture. Formed in Germany in 1919, the Bauhaus's mission was nothing less than the amelioration of society on all fronts by combining the pedagogy and practice of craft and fine arts. The school preached the elimination of excessive ornamentation and superfluous design. Its affinity for clean, industrially inspired modeling was also championed by the Swiss architect Le Corbusier, whose treatise Vers une architecture (1923; Towardsa NewArchitecture, 1927) helped to establish the international style in modernist architecture.
While the Bauhaus worked toward unification via the arts, writers throughout Europe attempted to capture and represent the alienation and fragmentation of the individual following the war, which resulted in an explosion of inventive narrative techniques. The Irish writer James Joyce radicalized the novel as a form, rejecting traditional structures such as plot in an attempt to represent the interior world of a character. Virginia Woolf, a British novelist and critic, developed a similarly innovative technique, writing in a stream-of-consciousness style that moved fleetingly through a range of characters' thoughts to produce connections between individuals that would not otherwise be evident. In the dark and surrealistic writings of the Czech writer Franz Kafka, the individual experience is again the focus; by placing an ordinary protagonist in an extreme and usually unexplained circumstance, Kafka's works provided a worm's-eye view of one person's struggle against the dizzying and circuitous movement of an endlessly systematized bureaucracy.
The modernist torch was all but extinguished with the rise of National Socialism in Germany. Although many of the artists and intellectuals associated with these movements emigrated abroad, this critical phase of artistic engagement was all but eradicated by the Degenerate Art exhibition (1937), where Nazis confiscated some twenty thousand works that were deemed unsuitable to their social vision.
In the wake of the Holocaust, artists in Europe worked to restore the potential for modernist art in a climate of tragedy and confusion. Some wished to revisit the legacy of the prewar avant-gardes, and others looked to the past with greater scrutiny. For these artists, the avant-gardes' vision of mobilizing artistic movements for political ends helped define the ethos of prewar totalitarian regimes. The aesthetic movements that surfaced in the years immediately following World War II were thus largely characterized by an engagement with this contested past via a return to painting, specifically abstraction. The memory of the war and the legacy of both cubism and surrealism made an uneasy framework for painting. The multiplicity of artistic responses registered the inability of artists working in the wake of World War II to find a clear trajectory.
Several small, disparate movements that illustrate European artists' struggle to cope with the aftermath of the war and the ever-burgeoning influence of capitalism cropped up in the years between 1945 and 1960. One such movement in theater and literature aligned itself with the tenets of existentialist philosophy. These expressions were most thoroughly embodied in the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, whose plays, novels, and philosophical writings drew a portrait of the individual as an agent of responsibility set against the backdrop of a massive and hollow universe. In painting, a group of French abstractionists revisited the surrealists' notions of automatism and "informal" gestural practice under the appellation art informel. Artists such as Jean Fautrier and Hans Hartung employed disparate modes of representation that moved between heavily impastoed surfaces and lyrical, academic abstraction.
In the early 1950s, a collective of English artists and architects who called themselves the Independent Group began exhibiting works that turned away from art's past to engage directly with the new forms of advertising and consumerism. The Independent Group advocated a critical surrender to the philosophy of consumer capitalism by integrating art into innovation and leisure. In their signature 1956 exhibition, This Is Tomorrow, the group's members explored their growing fascination with the erotics of the artificial and the reproducible, blending the popularity of new styles of consumer advertising with the sensibility engendered by aesthetic encounters.
Beginning in the 1960s, artists across Europe began working outside of the traditional media of painting and sculpture. Groups such as the New Realists in France and Arte Povera in Italy delved further (and sometimes fruitfully) into the cross-pollination of art and consumer culture. Opting for direct confrontations with the power structures of Europe, these movements proposed a more ambivalent relationship to the commodity form. They integrated into their canvases materials that were traditionally scorned by the practitioners of modernist painting. Paintings became fields in which the tensions between high and low culture, the aesthetic and the everyday, and the political and the social were mapped onto one another. The goal was to open the exclusionary boundaries of the picture frame to the contiguous social forms that were erupting in the changing political climate of the 1960s. Art's assumed place as an elite institution in the privileged realm of bourgeois society came under fire, and the search for its legitimacy in a culture of social revolution became a growing concern for modernists.
In Germany, the attempts to reckon with art's legacy in the aftershock of the war were especially fraught. Joseph Beuys, whose works and performances dealt with a return to the mythic structures of artistic practice, believed that everyone had the potential to be an artist. Under his tutelage, a new generation of young artists attempted to reconcile art-making with the broader community of student movements and social protests of the 1960s, most notably the fluxus and capitalist realist movements. The capitalist realists, lead by Konrad Lueg, Sigmar Polke, and Gerhard Richter, pursued painting as a necessary vehicle for critique of the commodity and of consumerism. For these artists, the longevity of modernist practice depended on pitting competing elements of popular culture against one another in an effort to reassert a place for art within the increasingly visualized forms of quotidian life.
With the 1970s came the rise of conceptualism, performance art, and other dematerialized artistic practices that stressed ideas over material production. This shift away from traditional modes of art-making is often considered the start of the so-called postmodern era. The legitimacy of this demarcation is a topic of serious debate within the study of modernist art, and has led some critics to argue that what has been hailed as postmodernism is merely the latest avatar of modernism itself. Advocates of postmodernism have maintained that the ambitions of modernism, which include its claims to authenticity and autonomy, were effectively exhausted or negated by the movements of the late 1960s and 1970s. In particular, turning away from the idea of originality and self-expression as elements essential to a work of art have been the key points of contention within these aesthetic movements.
This postmodern face of late-modernist art recodes the self-critical thrust of modernism as an investigation into the very groundwork of modernism itself. The material substrate of art as an object in the world is pulled apart and analyzed through language, performance, and institutional parameters. In the work of artists such as Marcel Broodthaers, Daniel Buren, and Hans Haacke, the museum itself took the place of traditional fine arts media, effectively becoming the nexus for modernism's reflexive explorations. These artists worked to expose the insidious social and commercial networks that support the production, exhibition, purchase, and sale of works of art, undermining the notion of the artist as a singular agent of creative expression in an effort to create awareness of the constructed division that art maintains between the social world and its own privileged spaces.
With the evolution of mass media, art has continually been forced to re-imagine its place in a globalizing market. As a result, the 1980s and 1990s saw a rise in concern with regionalism, nationally constructed identities, and nomadism through the work of artists caught between an inherited ethnicity and an adopted nationality. In England, the rise of cultural studies and postcolonial theory precipitated the emergence of the black British arts movement of the 1980s, which opened the formal questions of modernism to issues of race, gender, and sexuality. Young artists such as Sonia Boyce and Isaac Julien began working to destabilize these categories, employing a variety of media such as digital video and photography to investigate the construction of subjectivity under the influence of globalism.
Wherever art appears to be in crisis or the aesthetic is threatened by the demands of market capitalism or political censorship, one finds the circumstances vital to modernist practice. Predicated on the threat of its own obsolescence, modernist art strikes out at itself in anticipation of the future conditions of its own compromised existence. Whether in feminist critique, performance, or photomontage, modernism is best understood as the need to envision new forms for art through intensive self-critical investigation. This is a peculiarly modern phenomenon, because art's place within the social sphere has become increasingly marginal since the dissolution of the state-controlled art academies of the nineteenth century. With the disappearance of this institutionalized reception, modernist art could look only to itself to replace its absent interlocutors. Both progenitor and critic, modernism will persist as long as the community that surrounds it continues to vanish.
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Wood, Paul, et al. Modernism in Dispute: Art since the Forties. New Haven, 1993.
The terms modern and modernity have been widely used in the expression of two contrasting perspectives. They either (1) suggest that certain new habits, practices, or worldviews are inferior to those of ancient, medieval, or classical times and origins; or (2) they claim the superiority of these habits, practices, or worldviews, ascribing a positive meaning to their being new, up to date, fashionable, progressive, or evolutionarily successful.
It is typical of the latter perspective that the emphasis has been on "current" developments and on "the present," and that contrasts such as primitive, old, antiquated, obsolete, as well as terms with the prefix pre (e.g., premodern, preindustrial), have been used. This perspective is applied to the most recent social, literary, and aesthetic developments, and it leads to an ideology of permanent qualitative progress.
A major shift between these two views of modernity is marked by the controversy called the Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes (Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns; a title derived from the writings of Charles Perrault), which began in England and France in 1687 and lasted for about a century. In this long debate several philosophers of the Enlightenment questioned the superiority of antiquity, its arts and values. They thus paved the way for the self-privileging of modernity over the other epochs of human history.
The term modernity also designates an epoch in human history that is characterized by the emergence of nation states that build on the political loyalty of their citizens, develop standardizations of the law, and establish legal institutions and bureaucratic forms of administration. Such nation states permit and even encourage public deliberation about the common social order, the common good, and the common goals. This development is connected to a consolidation of knowledge through institutionalized education and with strategies to acquire knowledge systematically by cultivating the "sciences." The political, educational, and scientific processes develop along with an industrial society that by the technological application of scientific knowledge generates a constant transformation of its natural and cultural environments.
Modernity as historical epoch
Since these developments have not occurred simultaneously across the globe, the localization of modernity in space and time is difficult to determine and remains open to debate. The Reformation is often designated, even in secular circles, as the breeding ground of typically modern mentalities. Modernity is also usually associated with the age of "enlightened thinking" that shaped Europe and North America from the second half of the eighteenth century on. During this period, the French revolution and the philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) became the most important sources for political and intellectual ideas. During the last decades of the twentieth century, an ongoing international debate about the end of modernity set in, with Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) acting as an early prophet of "postmodernism." The postmodern period is fuelled by the growing conviction that modernity's faith in the unity of reason and the rationality continuum was illusion, and by uncertainties about the future of nation states in the process of globalization.
The ambivalences of modernity
Whereas modernity can be regarded as an endeavor to escape religious and political tyranny and authoritarian traditionalism, it has itself become a metaphor for a deeply ambivalent global enterprise. The striving for liberation, the establishment of a public legal system, mandatory education for all people, and the development of welfare systems within the nation state were all aspects of the modern enterprise. The same modernity that fled the tyrannies of the past and strove for the unity of the state, the rule of law in political life, and political sovereignty based on the will of the people (democratization) also brought forth aggressive nation states characterized by chauvinism, imperialism, colonialism, and ecological brutality. Similarly, the escape from prescientific and even mythical worldviews, the striving for a consolidation of knowledge through the sciences, the search for scientific truth, and the appeal to rationality and reason led to more than the triumph of public education and the flourishing of discovery and technological innovation. It also led to scientistic and naturalistic ideologies that promoted blindness to religious truths and cultural complexity.
Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) offered a subtle analysis of how the unfolding and the triumph of scientific thinking shaped the modern common sense, its modes of experience and expectation, and how it correlated with a relative deformation of aesthetic, ethical, and religious experience. According to Whitehead, "The modern world has lost God and is seeking him" (1960, p.72). The process of modernization finally led to the dominance of science-assisted technical reason (industrialization) and to the triumph of the powers of the market, the media, and technology—developments that have turned out to be culturally imperialistic and ecologically destructive.
Ambivalence over the blessings or curses of modernity is rooted in a structural conflict within modernity itself, which has lead to the deeply negative connotations associated with the term modernity. The conflict is usually spelled out by the dual of "modernity" and "postmodernity." It is also present in the ongoing discussion of whether postmodernity is merely an extension of modernity, a self-jeopardizing of the modern enterprise that would be better identified as late modernity.
On the one hand, modernity strives for the freedom of the person, the equality of all human beings, and for the universality of reason. Modernity's fight for justice and equality, and against tyranny, is connected with a passion for universal transparency and unity. For the modern mind, unity means consensus, mutual understanding, and harmony based on equality. On the other hand, modern societies have developed a multisystemic texture as modernity brought forth a differentiation of social institutions, sciences, and rationalities—differentiations that resist the plea for an overarching universal unity. Modernity thus created an ongoing conflict between unity and differentiation: a passion for unified reason, a universal rationality-continuum, and universal morality on the one hand, and a passion for differentiation of social systems, differentiation of the sciences, and a nonhierarchical differentiation of cultural spheres on the other hand.
Several social systems work for the sustenance and the wellbeing of the whole society. Such systems include, for example, politics, law, religion, education, the sciences, the market, the media, technology, the arts, and the family. In this multisystemic order each system performs a function that is essential and indispensable for the whole society. At the same time each system strives for autonomy and defends itself against interference from other systems. Each system optimizes its procedures, its rationalities, and its institutional forms. Along with the differentiation of the social systems, modern societies developed a rich texture of associations, such as political parties, ideological movements, and a variety of clubs and lobbies, all of which attempt to influence, strengthen, or question and reshape the "division of powers" within social systems. The universal and even grandiose claims of such associations grow out of the interests and goals of their members. Some associations perish quickly, while others have a long life. Some are normatively and institutionally stable, others are open to trends. These associations, which want to influence and actually do influence social systems, make up civil society. The complex, but by no means chaotic, interaction between social systems and civil associations constitutes so-called pluralistic society, which provides a structured and pluralistic setting for the sciences and other cultural formations, a setting that promises to cope with the inner conflicts of modernity.
Modernity and postmodernity
The structured pluralism of modern societies and cultures has brought a differentiation of rationalities: for example, those of the market, of the natural sciences, of historical investigation, of religion, and of common sense. This differentiation has challenged the modern ideal of the universal unity of knowledge and of mutual moral communication and understanding. Yet with its multisystemic setting it has also challenged the idea of an endless and relativistic differentiation and dissociation, an idea often connected with postmodernity. These multisystemic settings appear in many areas of life, although the question of how many social systems there are and how they should be differentiated remains open to debate. But certainly their number is finite and small, and the evolution of a new system takes a long time, as evidenced, for example, by the development of the media during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The same holds true for differentiation in the sciences or for the family of confessions in Christianity, which constitute the pluralism of the academy and the pluralism of the ecumene. The world is much more complex than the typical modern mind is willing to admit, but it is much less chaotic than those who hope to exorcise the spirits of postmodernity would have it.
The one clear difference that divides modernity and postmodernity is reflected in many areas and on many different levels: This is the difference between the highest value and the interpretation of this value in both epochs. For modernity, the value of unity is paramount. For postmodernity, the value of difference is crucial. This, of course, includes different understandings and interpretations of unity and difference on both sides. For the typical modern mind, difference meant conflict, disagreement, inequality, or even oppression. For the postmodern mind, however, difference means freedom and creative engagement, while unity raises suspicions of adaptation, control, and even oppression. The postmodern mind would nevertheless acknowledge that not all forms of difference are creative and helpful. One must differentiate between the differences and recognize that some can be destructive. The postmodern mind would also welcome differentiated forms of unity. But all forms of unity have to allow for difference, have to appreciate and even treasure difference. Otherwise they breed oppressive ideologies.
The postmodern mindset is not simply based on some Nietzschean philosophical idea. Numerous cultural and scientific achievements, along with many experiences of oppression and pain, have led to the conviction and to the affirmation that the world is poly-contextual. Society must welcome multiperspectival approaches and should embrace and cultivate pluralistic settings if it wants to maintain the modern striving for truth, justice, and dignity. Different cultures, different traditions, and different rationalities have to be taken seriously. Moreover, the human individual has to be taken much more seriously than modernity thought.
Modernity praised the value of the theoretical "human subject" and its autonomy, freedom, and rational self-control, but it failed to address the actual unique individual. Rather, modernity had in mind the idealized, standardized person of the bourgeois value system: the autonomous "subject," guided by reason and universal morals. But concrete human beings are much more subtle and complex. They are determined by unique personal histories, by complex biological endowments, by intricate passions and feelings, and by different forms of rationality. Some are more impressed by religion than others; some are devoted to the natural sciences, while others are skeptical of them. Some find their key values in family and friendship; others look for a more general orientation for the common good. The young Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) recognized the problems in the modern concept of the human person, and he accused Kant of having standardized modern subjectivity and of having attributed too much power to reason. Schleiermacher called for a new conception of individualism, one that takes each multifarious human person seriously—a sort of poly-individualism. In this respect, however, modernity itself provides possibilities for escape and for correcting its own reductionistic anthropological concepts. "All in all, resistance to rationalization has been as prominent a mark of modernity as has rationalization itself" (Bauman, p. 596).
See also Postmodernism; Postmodern Science
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Modernism emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century as a means of reimagining and ultimately securing art's role within a culture progressively detaching itself from the institutions and practitioners of aesthetic culture. Amid the growing influence of mass media, popular entertainment, and widespread consumerism, two phenomena in particular were pivotal in establishing the conditions under which the new forms of modernist practice developed: the waning influence of the official academic Salons, and the pressure exerted on individuals by increasingly technologically mediated modes of experience. Threatened with obsolescence in the face of a dissolving system of state-sponsored patronage, art had to find new forms of address and alternative modes of expression. Modernism, then, names a set of relentlessly self-critical formal strategies that surfaced in response to art's contingent status in the wake of the rapid industrialization ushered in by the expanding social strata of the urban bourgeoisie. This quest for criticality through formal analysis was intended to reflect on the terms of art's shifting terrain while continuing to offer a realization of the potential left to art under such conditions.
Artists and writers reacted to these circumstances by updating both the forms and the subjects of their works in an attempt to adequately represent their new urban experiences. With his article "The Painter of Modern Life" (1863) the poet and critic Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867) emerged as a leading theorist of modernism, championing the creation of new styles of artistic production suited to capturing the texture and feel of life in the swelling metropolis. He embodied these ideals in his own poetry, most notably in his collection Les Fleurs du mal (1857; The Flowers of Evil), which evinced new symbolic relationships between language and the sensory phenomena elicited by the city.
Baudelaire's literary influence gave rise to the symbolists, a diverse group of writers working in France at the end of the nineteenth century. Poets like Stéphane Mallarmé (1842–1898) and Arthur Rimbaud (1854–1891) were united by a desire to evoke the nature of their urban perambulations via imaginative free-verse passages. The symbolists eschewed earlier modes of naturalism and realism, giving primacy instead to the often-arbitrary associations of the mind stimulated by the dizzying and sometimes dreamy character of life in the burgeoning metropolis.
Symbolism rippled across national borders as well, with an important variant cropping up in Germany under the leadership of the poet Stefan George (1868–1933). Borrowing from the symbolists' revolt against naturalism, George theorized a program for literary production that drew heavily on the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900). Meanwhile, removed from life in the frenzied urban centers, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926) expanded the boundaries of lyric poetry, using rhymed, metered composition to survey previously unexamined subjects. He is best known for his "object poems," which were modeled after the work of the sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) and attempted to crystallize the reality of physical objects.
In the visual arts, modernism arrived via a picnic in the park. In 1863 a group of artists and their supporters created the Salon des Refusés, a democratically run alternative to the juried Salon exhibitions of the academy of fine arts, which had dominated official painting in France since the seventeenth century. In its inaugural show, Édouard Manet (1832–1883) exhibited his Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon on the grass), which appropriated and radically reworked the subjects and technique of Old Master painting, offering an uncompromising representation of a classically inspired female nude recontextualized in the space of a park luncheon with two contemporary bourgeois gentlemen. Manet's handling of paint, which employed flat, untransitioned patches of color, also engaged with the new forms of mechanical reproduction to create the flash-like visual fields characteristic of photography.
The impressionist painters furthered Manet's concern with absorbing the look of ready-made technology within the medium of painting. Artists such as Claude Monet (1840–1926) created canvases filled with tiny brushstrokes that when viewed from a distance produced optical sensations that mirrored the effects of naturally illuminated landscapes. Other artists, like Edgar Degas (1834–1917) and Gustave Caillebotte (1848–1894), rose to Baudelaire's demands by taking to the streets to create works that were produced from everyday encounters. The so-called neo-impressionists, who included Paul Signac (1863–1935) and Georges Seurat (1859–1891), updated the science behind impressionism's reformulated color theories by further atomizing their predecessors' tactile brushwork. Elsewhere, post-impressionists including Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) and Paul Gauguin (1848–1903) built on the tradition of landscape by undertaking to represent a remote, removed vision of the world. The flatness and discontinuous composition of canvases like Cézanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire series and Gauguin's works from Brittany and Tahiti gave form to an alienated subjectivity that longed to reassert itself through mining the bare materiality of the painted surface itself.
In Vienna artists previously operating under state-controlled academies similarly broke with the more traditional exhibition sites and societies for art. In 1897, led by the painter Gustav Klimt (1862–1918), a group calling themselves the secessionists formally split with these institutions of high art. Their work drew heavily on the design language of art nouveau to create large mural-size pieces that fused erotically depicted subjects in the context of highly ornamental decorative programs.
The early twentieth century witnessed an eruption of formal variants to the issues linking modernism to ideas of the self. Liberated from the burden of a purely mimetic correspondence to the world, the assertion of flatness as a structural limit to painting enabled artists to imagine and realize new visions of the world. Movements like fauvism, exemplified in paintings like Henri Matisse's (1869–1954) The Red Studio (1911), actively obliterated form through areas of wild, violent color. In Germany, expressionism—colorful street scenes and distorted perspectives first popularized by a collective known as Die Brücke (The bridge)—became the dominant style in the visual arts. Der Blaue Reiter (The blue rider), a group of German artists that included Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) and Paul Klee (1879–1940), updated the ambitions of the earlier expressionists, connecting the inner vision of the artist, through painting, to a more transcendental theosophical worldview.
In France, Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) and Georges Braque (1882–1963) developed the technique they called cubism, which fused abstraction and figuration within a single painted register. This radical analysis of form reworked the traditional subjects of still life and portraiture according to the parameters of the two-dimensional picture plane. In later variations, cubist painters also employed synthetic collage elements like pasted paper in order to further scrutinize the relationship between everyday objects and the flat surfaces native to painting.
Futurism, spawned in Italy shortly before the outbreak of World War I, denounced the dominant paradigm of expressionistic, subject-oriented artistic production. According to the group's 1909 manifesto, penned by the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876–1944), futurism's overarching ambition was to bring art into direct conversation with the character of urban experience. Artistically, this translated into a repudiation of the traditional subjects and contexts for art in order to adequately capture the movement and dizzying speed of modern technology.
After the start of World War I modernism continued to develop and explore new aesthetic terrain. As technology and mass media increased their hold on popular culture, questions surrounding art's function in Europe's rapidly changing societies became essential to a sustained engagement with modernism. This self-reflexivity, born in response to modernism's self-imagined obsolescence, has given rise to a tradition of relentless formal innovation that has sustained modernist aesthetic production throughout the twentieth century and beyond.
Baudelaire, Charles. The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays. Translated and edited by Jonathan Mayne. London, 1964.
Kandinsky, Wassily. Concerning the Spiritual in Art. New York, 1947.
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Birkett, Jennifer, and James Kearns. A Guide to French Literature: Early Modern to Postmodern. New York, 1997.
Frascina, Francis, et al. Modernity and Modernism: French Painting in the Nineteenth Century. New Haven, Conn., 1993.
Harrison, Charles, Francis Frascina, and Gill Perry. Primitivism, Cubism, Abstraction: The Early Twentieth Century. New Haven, Conn., 1993.
Travers, Martin. An Introduction to Modern European Literature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism. New York, 1998.
Wellbery, David E., ed. A New History of German Literature. Cambridge, Mass., 2005.
The European penetration of the Near East and India and the decline of Muslim ascendancy in these regions in the nineteenth century precipitated the crisis that defined the responses of Muslim intellectuals to European modernity. The key thinkers in the nineteenth century, who continue to influence contemporary attitudes in the Islamic world to modernity, were the so-called Islamic modernists, such as Jamal al-Din Afghani (1839–1897), Muhammad ˓Abduh (1849–1905), and Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817–1898). Although there were some differences between these thinkers, their work was governed by the same project, which was to show that Islam was consistent with the rationality of the European enlightenment and the development of modern science. As such, they argued that there was no fundamental incompatibility between modernity and its narrative of progress, and Islam as a religion. They tended toward a rationalist interpretation of the Qur˒an, in which whatever appeared to be in contradiction to rationality could be interpreted symbolically and allegorically. As a consequence of this they argued that the meaning of the Qur˒an was accessible to everyone. In other words, there was no need to rely on the technical and elaborate procedures of tafsir, in which the ulema trained in the traditional Islamic sciences were conversant.
These two tendencies in Islamic modernism also reflected in part the major impact of print on the Islamic world in the modern period. From the nineteenth century onward, the availability of the Qur˒an in print, and its concurrent translation into local languages, struck at the very heart of the traditional system of the oral transmission of knowledge, in which the charisma of the teacher as a living embodiment of knowledge was crucial. The multiplication of texts through printing made unsupervised reading possible. This in turn meant that it was possible to engage with religious texts without the mediation of the formally trained ulema.
These tendencies in Islamic modernism, and the impact of print, lie behind the works of a number of important Muslim thinkers in the twentieth century, in which the engagement with European modernity was a key theme. It is particularly evident in the commentaries on the Qur˒an by Sayyid Abu l-A˓la˒ Maududi, the founder of the fundamentalist Jama˓at-e Islami. Maududi himself was not a formally trained ˓alim, but it is precisely because of this that his ideas and thought played a crucial role in the development of what is called Islamic fundamentalism. These tendencies are similarly evident in Muhammad Iqbal's (1893–1938) The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1934). This work exemplifies Islamic modernism's response to European modernity both in its style and its content. It purports to show how the Qur˒an is entirely consonant with the major discoveries of European science, and it is wide-ranging in its eclectic use of European thinkers. Iqbal's engagment with the Qur˒an is singular and unmediated by any sense of tafsir in the traditional sense of the word.
Islam's relationship with modernity has been the defining theme of the work of major Muslim thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The strategies of interpreting the Qur˒an, and its relocation as a sacred text in the act of individual and unmediated reading, are in fact among the major consequences of the impact of modernity on Islam. However, the role of modernist thinkers as spokesmen for Islam vis-à-vis European modernity also points to some other features of the impact of modernity on the Islamic world.
First, it is clear that there are a multiplicity of Islamic voices engaging with European modernity. This in part is also a consequence of the abolition of the caliphate in 1924 by Ataturk, so that even symbolically there is no single figure-head in the Islamic world. This, together with the undermining of the authority of the formally trained ulema, has meant that there are competing voices for Islam with no clear procedures or authorities to adjudicate between them.
Secondly, Islamic engagements with modernity can be read in two overlapping ways. In part, the relationship of Islamic thought to European thought is mimetic; that is to say, in the work of Afghani, ˓Abduh, Iqbal, and others, such as the poet Altaf Husayn Hali (1837–1914), Islam is refashioned into a mirror of European modernity. At the same time, though, Islamic modernism also teases out, generally unselfconsciously, the contradictions in European modernity itself. Islamic engagements with modernity are at times ambivalent, rather than mimetic alone. As such, these engagements can be read alongside the works of European philosophers, such as those of the Frankfurt School and Michel Foucault, who have explored the tensions in modernity, arguing that it is less a narrative of progress than one of repression.
Thirdly, nowhere is this ambivalence to modernity more evident than in the attitude to the nation-state demonstrated by the thinkers mentioned above. There is an obvious tension between the modernist attempts to define a pan-Islamic, worldwide community, theoretically made possible through innovations in technologies of communication, and the fundamental reality of the nation-state, some with Muslim populations that are hostile to each other. The very attempts by Afghani, ˓Abduh, Iqbal, and others to reinterpret Islamic law as a legal system in keeping with a modern state is indicative of the powerful reality of the nation-state as the organizing principle of the world in the twentieth century. Furthermore, given the fact that the nation-state tends toward monopolizing all sources of authority, as long as it remains in existence, it is unlikely that the ulema will recover the authority they enjoyed in the pre-modern Islamic world.
The engagement of Islam with modernity remains open-ended and multivocal. Having said that, it is important to note that no Muslim thinker has argued for rejecting European modernity in toto in the way that the famous Indian nationalist leader, Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948), tried to do in his life's work. Although there may be problems regarding the feasibility of Gandhi's position, the fact that the possibility of any alternatives to European modernity has not been explored in any depth in Muslim thought is powerful testimony to the sway that European modernity has held over the Islamic world since the early nineteenth century.
Ahmad, Aziz. Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan 1857–1964. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.
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Cooper, John; Nettler, Ronald; and Mahmoud, Mohamed, eds. Islam and Modernity. Muslim Intellectuals Respond. London: I. B. Tauris, 1998.
Hourani, Albert. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798–1939. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
Robinson, Francis. "Technology and Religious Change: Islam and the Impact of Print." Modern Asian Studies 27, no. 1 (1993): 229–251.
Shackle, Christopher, and Majeed, Javed. Hali's Musaddas. The Flow and Ebb of Islam. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997.