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Calinescu, Matei. Faces of Modernity. M54C34 '. In literary criticism we are constantly using terms which we cannot define, and defining other things by them. We are constantly using terms which have an intension and an extension which do not quite fit: theoretically they ought to be made to fit; but if they cannot, then some other way must be found of dealing with them so that we may know at every moment what we mean.
The single most significant change affecting the vocabulary of modernity since , the year my book appeared, has been the emergence of an international concept of postmodernism.
In postmodernism was still a comparatively rare and fuzzy term, used almost exclusively in America, and I felt I could deal with it appropriately in a rather brief section of the chapter The Idea of the Avant-Garde.
Today a volume on modernity lacking a more substantive treatment of postmodernism would hardly be credible. The addition of "On Postmodernism" is by itself a major retroactive revision of the entire work. In a sense, this revision illustrates obliquely the "strategy of retraction" or "palinode," which, as I suggest in "On Postmodernism," springs from an essential quality of the postmodernist spirit.
Writing the new revisionary chapter has helped me to resist the temptation of altering the text of the first four essays in any major or minor way. However, even without changes in the earlier chapters, I feel that the sequence of thought in the present version reflects the development of my views on modernity, a modernity now revealing the latest of its intriguing faces, postmodernism.
Of course I have corrected the occasional typos or infelicities -when I spotted them. The "Selected Critical Bibliography" has been revised and updated. The major change has been, again, the addition of a new separate section devoted entirely to postmodernism.
Omitted from this edition is the "Epilogue," rendered superfluous by the new final chapter. Since I also have dealt at more length with aspects or themes of modernity only briefly touched upon in Faces of Modernity, such as, among others, the question of modernism and ideology including politics , the philosophical metaphor of "the death of man," so widely debated, particularly on the Continent, during the s and s, 2 and, in literary criticism, the conflict between poetics and new versions of hermeneutics.
Such outgrowths of my study were too extensive to permit even partial incorporation in the new edition. One day I will perhaps consider assimilating them into a separate volume. My deep thanks go to my editor, Reynolds Smith of Duke University Press, for his especially warm and affirming role. I wish to express here my thanks to the editors of these two journals, by whose permission the above mentioned texts appear in fresh incarnations in this volume.
Other parts of the book were drafted or tried out as lectures or talks at various universities, among which I would like to acknowledge Harvard, the Claremont Colleges, the University of California at Riverside, Stanford, and the University of Massachusetts.
The manuscript has been read wholly or in part by numerous colleagues and friends who have offered valuable suggestions. Burton Feldman has read part of the manuscript and made a number of challenging remarks, from which the whole book has benefited in more ways than I can acknowledge here. Among my colleagues at Indiana University I am particularly grateful to Willis Barnstone who chastened my English with a friendly ferocity of which, I am afraid, even more would have been needed , Alvin H.
This relativism is in itself a form of criticism of tradition. From the point of view of modernity, an artist -- whether he likes it or not -- is cut off from the normative past with its fixed criteria, and tradition has no legitimate claim to offer him examples to imitate or directions to follow. At best, he invents a private and essentially modifiable past. His own awareness of the present, seized in its immediacy and irresistible transitoriness, appears as his main source of inspiration and creativity.
In this sense it may be said that for the modern artist the past imitates the present far more than the present imitates the past. What we have to deal with here is a major cultural shift from a time-honored aesthetics of permanence, based on a belief in an unchanging and transcendent ideal of beauty, to an aesthetics of transitoriness and immanence, whose central values are change and novelty.
Even during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, most of the "moderns" involved in the famous Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes, or in its English counterpart, the Battle of the Books, continued to consider beauty as a transcendental, eternal model, and if they thought themselves superior to the ancients, they did so only insofar as they believed they had gained a better, more rational understanding of its laws. But since the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries or, more specifically, since aesthetic modernity under the guise of "romanticism" first defined its historical legitimacy as a reaction against the basic assumptions of classicism, the concept of a universally intelligible and timeless beauty has undergone a process of steady erosion.
This process first became self-conscious in France. Stendhal believed that "romanticisme," a word he borrowed from the Italian, was simply "the art of presenting to the peoples literary works which, in view of the present-day state of their customs and beliefs, afford them the utmost possible pleasure. Nothing of that sort in Stendhal.
With the breakup of traditional aesthetic authority, time, change, and the self-consciousness of the present have tended increasingly to become sources of value in what Lionel Trilling once called, with a felicitous phrase, the "adversary culture" of modernism.
Historically, Baudelaire, one of the first artists to oppose aesthetic modernity not only to tradition but also to the practical modernity of bourgeois civilization, illustrates the intriguing moment when the old notion of universal beauty had shrunk enough to reach a delicate equilibrium with its modern counterconcept, the beauty of transitoriness. In a famous passage, which will be analyzed later, the author of Les Fleurs du Mal writes: "Modernity is the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art, of which the other half is the eternal and the immutable….
Tradition is rejected with increasing violence and the artistic imagination starts priding itself on exploring and mapping the realm of the "not yet. At the same time, modernity turns against itself and, by regarding itself as decadence, dramatizes its own deep sense of crisis. The apparently contradictory notions of avant-garde and decadence become almost synonymous and, under certain circumstances, can even be used interchangeably.
Seen from this vantage point, aesthetic modernity uncovers some of the reasons for its profound sense of crisis and for its alienation from the other modernity, which, for all its objectivity and rationality, has lacked, after the demise of religion, any compelling moral or metaphysical justification. But, being produced by the isolated self, partly as a reaction against the desacralized -- and therefore dehumanized -- time of social activity, the time consciousness reflected in modernist culture also lacks such justifications.
The end result of both modernities seems to be the same unbounded relativism. The clash between the two modernities, renewed with increasing intensity over the last one hundred and fifty years or so, appears to have led to a near-exhaustion of both, at least insofar as they function as intellectual myths. Naturally, sociologists have not been long in joining a debate that was triggered, among other things, by sociological theories and notions such as "mass society" as defined by David Riesman in his influential book, The Lonely Crowd , "consumer's society," "mass" or "popular culture," "post-industrial society," etc.
According to Bell, the exhaustion of antibourgeois modernist culture is to be explained through its wide acceptance and subsequent banalization.
During the last few decades the antinomian and deliberately deviant patterns of modernist imagination have not only won out culturally but have been adopted practically and translated into the life style of an increasingly large intellectual minority. Parallel to this process, the traditional ideal of bourgeois life, with its concerns for sobriety and rationality, has lost its cultural champions and has reached the point where it simply can no longer be taken seriously.
The contemporary scene presents some of the signs of a possible revolution. Bell writes: What we have today is a radical disjunction of culture and social structure, and it is such disjunctions which historically have paved the way for more direct social revolutions. In two fundamental ways the new revolution has already begun. First, the autonomy of culture, achieved in art, now begins to pass over into the arena of life. The post-modernist temper demands that what was previously played out in fantasy and imagination must be acted in life as well.
There is no distinction between art and life. Anything permitted in art is permitted in life as well. The "abandonment of Puritanism and the Protestant ethic," Bell writes, "…emphasizes not only the disjunction between the norms of culture and the norms of social structure, but also an extraordinary contradiction within the social structure itself.
On the one hand, the business corporation wants an individual to work hard, pursue a career, accept delayed gratification -- to be, in the crudest sense, an organization man. One is to be 'straight' by day and a 'swinger' by night" pp. The phenomenon of compulsive consumption, the fear of boredom, and the need for escape, combined with the widespread view of art as both play and display, are among the factors that in various degrees and fashions have contributed to the growth of what is called kitsch.
Kitsch is one of the most typical products of modernity. However, this alone would not be sufficient reason for discussing kitsch along with the ideas of modernity, the avant-garde, and decadence, which, on the one hand, are so closely related through the common theme of time, and on the other, are so much wider in scope.
What justifies the inclusion of kitsch among the central concepts of modernity analyzed in the book is the fact that in kitsch the two bitterly conflicting modernities are confronted, as it were, with their own caricature.
Grossly exaggerated, their contradictions and secret implications suddenly become obvious. Thus, the temporal relativism implied by the aesthetic concept of modernity, and specifically the view that no tradition is by itself more valid than any other, while serving as a justification of the overall antitraditionalism of modernism and the total freedom of individual artists to choose their ancestors at their own discretion, may also be seen as a precondition for the all-embracing and blandly tolerant eclecticism of kitsch as a style.
More important, modernity's concern with the present may be said to have found its unwittingly parodic counterpart in the "instant" beauty of kitsch. Modernism's negation of aesthetic transcendence and of the ideal of permanence -- a negation that inspires certain extreme avant-garde tendencies, such as those represented by Tinguely's mechanical self-destructive "sculptures" -- has its rather grotesque parallel in the built-in commercial obsolescence of so many kitsch objects and in the general notion of "expendable art," as advanced by certain theorists of the pop movement.
But kitsch is in no way a direct consequence of the rise of aesthetic modernity. Historically, the appearance and growth of kitsch are the results of the intrusion of the other modernity -- capitalist technology and business interest -- in the domain of the arts. Kitsch was brought into being by the industrial revolution, at first as one of its marginal products.
In time, with the sweeping social and psychological transformations brought about by industrial development, the "culture industry" has steadily grown, to the point where now, in the predominantly service-oriented postindustrial society, with its stress on affluence and consumption, kitsch has become one of the central factors of modern civilized life, the kind of art that normally and inescapably surrounds us.
In the postmodern age, kitsch represents the triumph of the principle of immediacy -- immediacy of access, immediacy of effect, instant beauty. The great paradox of kitsch, as I see it, is that being produced by an extremely time-conscious civilization, which is nevertheless patently unable to attach any broader values to time, it appears as designed both to "save" and to "kill" time.
To go now into further detail concerning the relationships between modernity, the avant-garde, decadence, and kitsch, would be to anticipate questions, arguments, and opinions that are discussed at length in the following chapters. The purpose of these brief introductory remarks has been simply to point out that the concepts under scrutiny, for all their heterogenous origins and diversity of meaning, share one major characteristic: they reflect intellectual attitudes that are directly related to the problem of time.
Clearly, this is not the metaphysical or epistemological time of the philosophers, nor the scientific construct dealt with by physicists, but the human time and sense of history as experienced and valued culturally. My concern with modernity and the other notions analyzed in this book is primarily cultural in the traditionally restricted sense of artistic and literary culture , but it obviously would have been impossible to explain such complex terms if the wide variety of nonaesthetic contexts in which they are used had been ignored.
However, the ultimate reason for grouping together modernity, the avant-garde, decadence, and kitsch is aesthetic. It is only from such an aesthetic perspective that these concepts reveal their more subtle and puzzling interconnections, which, in all probability, would escape the attention of an intellectual historian with a predominantly philosophical or scientific orientation.
Both as term and concept, modernity has a long and very intricate history. Being in the first place interested in aesthetic modernity -- and specifically in those of its lines of development that led to what today we agree to call "modernism" -- I felt that my study could start somewhere around the mid-nineteenth century.
However, it should not be difficult to realize that certain issues raised by modernity even in this restricted sense cannot be conveniently dealt with if earlier stages in the evolution of the concept of modernity are ignored.
But to account even briefly for the diverse intellec- tual responses to the problem of modernity, or for the forms of time consciousness involved in this notion, would have required a close examination of trends in philosophy, religion, and science over many centuries. A more detailed history of modernity would have taken me too far from the aesthetic concerns of this study. The stages through which the idea of modernity passed before the mid-nineteenth century clearly form the matter of another book that remains to be written.
The first subchapters of the opening essay should therefore be regarded as nothing more than a very general and inevitably sketchy introduction. For purposes of expository clarity, I took into account only those developments that had an explicit relationship to the centuries-old and ever-renewed "Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns.
Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism
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Five Faces of Modernity
Five Faces of Modernity is a series of semantic and cultural biographies of words that have taken on special significance in the last century and a half or so: modernity , avant-garde , decadence , kitsch , and postmodernism. The concept of modernity—the notion that we, the living, are different and somehow superior to our predecessors and that our civilization is likely to be succeeded by one even superior to ours—is a relatively recent Western invention and one whose time may already have passed, if we believe its postmodern challengers. Calinescu documents the rise of cultural modernity and, in tracing the shifting senses of the five terms under scrutiny, illustrates the intricate value judgments, conflicting orientations, and intellectual paradoxes to which it has given rise. Five Faces of Modernity attempts to do for the foundations of the modernist critical lexicon what earlier terminological studies have done for such complex categories as classicism , baroque , romanticism , realism , or symbolism and thereby fill a gap in literary scholarship.