Wednesday, October 27, 2010


While the Wikipedia article on Modernism is very useful (especially the historical summary), it is also long and detailed (Don't let me stop you from exploring it!). I wanted to find some succinct sources that epitomized Modernism for our course. Here are two. One is a very readable PowerPoint presentation I discovered by searching SlideShare (by Maria Teresa Ciaffaroni). The other is a handout from a 2008 course on Modernism taught by Sarah Brouillette I discovered by searching MIT's OpenCourseWare (after the break). Please browse through the SlideShare presentation, perhaps using some of the themes or people mentioned in the presentation as beginning points for your own self-directed learning.
How do these various aspects of modernism relate to our digital civilization today? Are we suffering a comparable sense of a loss of tradition? Does the technology that drives so much of our culture today confirm or challenge traditional systems? How does art play a role? Has it succumbed to mechanization and mass consumer culture (the concern of Walter Benjamin or Theodor Adorno)? Chime in. Don't forget to read past the break for that summary list from MIT.
Here are two lists I've taken from a handout by Sarah Brouillette provided for a Spring 2008 course on modernism at MIT (source):

  1. Early 20th-century aesthetic movement (esp. 1910-30): TS Eliot, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, etc.
  2. Rejected Victorian notions of art: its purposes, its formal features, and its relationship to its audience
  3. Emphasizes individual experience and perception (impressionism); concern with how the world is experienced (rather than what the world is). Think stream-of-consciousness writing.
  4. Movement away from fixed narrative points of view, like omniscient “all seeing, all knowing” narrators.
  5. Interest in blurring the boundaries between poetry and prose: less obviously distinct than they once were
  6. Interest in fragmentation and collage 
  7. An emphasis on self-reflexivity: the work of art draws attention to itself as a work of art 
  8. Blurring of the boundaries between popular art forms (photography, advertising, later film) and 'high art’ categories

Characteristics of Modernity
  1. I have a stable and coherent self who is rational and universal
  2. I know the world through reason and rationality
  3. I produce objective truth or "science” that isn’t constrained by me
  4. This truth is what leads to progress and improvement
  5. Reason, truth, and “the good” are synonymous
  6. Science is the best application of my rationality: it is neutral and objective and unbiased
  7. Language is how rationality is expressed and its discoveries communicated; it is “transparent” and can objectively represent the reality or the world (think photography)
  8. There is no difference between objects in the world and the words used to name them in language
  9. These premises stand behind and support EVERYTHING: democracy, law, ethics, and aesthetics