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date: 04 June 2020

Afterword: ‘Newness’ in Modernisms, Early and Late

Abstract and Keywords

This article sums up the key findings of this study on modernism. It discusses the ‘newness’ in early and late modernisms, and suggests that the very range of articles in this book is itself witness to the many types and different manifestations, in different media, and across uneven histories, of what we term modernism, or the avant-garde. The article traces the origin of modernism in different countries, and highlights its relations with other disciplines including philosophy, science, and history.

Keywords: modernism, avant-garde, philosophy, science, history


The very range of chapters in this volume is itself witness to the many types and different manifestations, in different media, and across uneven histories, of what we term ‘modernism’, or the ‘avant‐garde’. If in some ways this collection echoes a standard emphasis on Anglo‐American and European modernisms, its informing perspective, it should be clear, is motivated by an awareness of what Andreas Huyssen, following Arjun Appadurai and Cesar Canclini, have termed ‘modernism at large’.1 In this perspective, the family of terms ‘modern’, ‘modernization’, ‘modernity’, ‘modernism’, and their more errant cousin ‘avant‐garde’, have migrated so as to appear old and new at once in hybridized or realigned formations in non‐European cultures. We tend to talk, consequently, of a spatialized geography of modernisms and of multiple and polycentric modernities.2 This rightly unsettles any unexamined (p. 1013) perception of the West and its others in terms of the model of centre and periphery. But a number of still‐ravelled issues, of time and of space, are caught up in this sense of the changed composition and provenance of modernism. Is it, to begin with, so new and, if so, in what ways? As chapters by Doyle, Bell, and in other ways Youngs, make clear, Europe's long history of colonialist ambition and the primitivist appeal of non‐European traditional art forms made nineteenth‐ and early twentieth‐century modernism already a world phenomenon, albeit accompanied by an ambivalent sensibility that was shot through with prejudice and self‐doubt.

The theorist of globalized artistic culture Noel Carroll points, on this same theme, to examples of cultural hybridity in the impact of Turkish music on Mozart, African art on Picasso, and the Japanese Ukiyo‐e School on Impressionist painters. This he sees as a one‐sided exchange in which national ‘artworlds’ and canons remained ‘segregated’ and ‘parochial’.3 The plethora of examples in chapters here by Chaudhuri, Donald and Zheng, Black and Muecke, Woods, and Mackie suggest otherwise. Chaudhuri (Chapter 52), for instance, shows how Indian artistic, design, and media culture has evolved from a combination of traditional or vernacular styles and a first‐hand acquaintance with European art movements. Even where, in design and architecture, the ‘imported’ international modernism of the Bauhaus and Le Corbusier have had a very strong impact, these served to critique ‘classical’ imperialist models and, in the broader process of decolonization, coexisted with other modernisms, revivals, and adaptations such as Indo‐Saracenic, primitivist‐folk styles, and ‘Indo‐Deco’. Hemelryk Donald and Zheng (Chapter 54) show, similarly, how movements in twentieth‐century Chinese modernism have drawn upon European Symbolism, Futurism, and visual and cinematic techniques, as well as upon Freud, and Western concepts of individual liberty, equality, and the ideals of democracy and science—not simply in a one‐way process of assimilation but in a double critique of these sources and of traditional Chinese thought, political rule, and the effects of Chinese modernization. Hemelryk Donald and Zheng advance an understanding of the process of ‘influence’ which takes account of existing conditions and predispositions in the ‘receiver’ nation. Writers and artists, they suggest, in a description which can serve for other examples here, are engaged in a process of adaptation or cultural translation in which they ‘become transformative and deliberative new voices referencing culturally distinct patterns of expression while finding their own timbre and reason’.

For Noel Carroll, the more recent dispensation of a new ‘integrated, interconnected, transnational artworld’4 differs significantly from earlier periods in that artists all over the world now ‘share a number of conceptual frameworks (p. 1014) and hermeneutical strategies’.5 Among these, Carroll cites the perspectives of post‐coloniality, feminism, identity politics, and ‘a generic anti‐establishmentarianism’ along with a ‘toolkit’ of methods, such as ‘radical juxtaposition, de‐familiarization, and the de‐contextualization of objects and images from their customary milieus’.6 The result, he believes, is a ‘unified’ transnational institution of art: ‘a culturescape with its own language games and networks of communication, distribution, and reception’.7 As a case in point, Carroll suggests how ‘foreign language’ and independent film workers help ‘bring sophisticated work from everywhere to serious audiences in search of something different’.8 The narrow internationalism of such a conception, however, centred upon ‘serious audiences’ in need of stimulation from the outside, comes all too readily to resemble the appropriative and universalizing cosmopolitanism of an earlier era which continues to ignore ‘local’ national language games, audiences, and networks.

To understand more fully these dual historical and spatialized relations, of porosity and power at once, we can neither afford to repeat the history of Western privilege, nor hope simply to dismiss ‘the West’ as if it were a homogeneous construct and its influence a straightforwardly imposed hegemonic regime. The governing process rather, as evidenced by many chapters in this volume, has been conspicuously one of dialogic interchange, across and between local, national, and globalizing cultural imperatives, marked variously by strategies of assimilation, negotiation, opposition, or rejection. This volume, then, tracks the production of differently inflected modernities and modernisms as a geo‐historical and transnational process in which the Anglo‐American and European examples remain of great interest and value at the same time as they are repositioned in this very process of dialogic exchange.

Many chapters here help us also appreciate the inner complexities and heterogeneity of this European history. The key metropolitan centres we associate with this phase, for example—Vienna, Paris, London, and Berlin, though this is itself a limited list—overlapped with and overtook one another in economic terms, while modernist initiatives combined or moved at a different pace and with distinctive inflections in relation to regional, national, and international artistic cultures, especially, as Timothy O. Benson shows (Chapter 45), in reaction to the dramatic changes in geopolitical identities consequent on the First World War. The internal collaborations comprising the coteries and movements by which we name European modernism were riven, moreover, by fractious competition and rivalry. In addition, emerging artists and writers had themselves to negotiate with or reject the leaders of the previous generation in order to move on. In this way, in English‐based modernism, Wyndham Lewis felt the need to jettison the examples of Augustus John, or Ford Madox Ford and Joseph Conrad, just as later figures such as W. H. Auden, John Lehmann, Herbert Read, and I. A. Richards had to wean themselves from the already presiding (p. 1015) authority of T. S. Eliot. And this remains the case where different media and different arts comprised non‐synchronous traditions. Thus, James Donald (Chapter 28) points to the complex periodization of silent and sound film (was the first or the second, or were somehow both, ‘modernist’?) but maintains, all the same, that post‐Second World War movements in cinema be seen as ‘a negotiation of the modernist tradition, or a reinvention of it, or a reaction against it’, as ‘something different and something new’.

The dialogue within Europe extended too, of course, as cinema especially made plain, across the Atlantic. The encounter with Europe, or an idea of Europe, of American writers and artists reached its high point in the 1920s, at a time when many European writers and artists, in their turn, entered upon a complex engagement with the adventure and disenchantment symbolized by American modernity. What has followed in Anglo‐American modernism from the late 1930s and 1940s has been the process of canonization but also, in a retrospect upon this process, the recovery of different, seemingly tangential trends and the emergence of newer forms and idioms. These tendencies criticism has chosen to call ‘late modernism’ or, with decreasing confidence, ‘postmodernism’. Both take their form, nonetheless, from a now differently accented dialogue with a modernist past. There is some reason, by that very token, therefore, for viewing this fuller history, and not simply the more conspicuously spatialized global present, as comprising a typology of modernisms.

This development prompts us to ask not only ‘What was modernism?’ as if this were a question of a bygone era, but to pose the questions of when and where modernism both was and is. How could it be otherwise when neither the process of modernization nor the meaning of ‘being modern’ are confined to the past but always belong to the here and now. We know too, however, as soon as these words are spoken, that the ‘here and now’, for all its apparent immediacy, is never quite ‘here’ or ‘now’. The modern, like the moment of presence, is always coming and going, and the unnerving paradox of a simultaneously punctual but passing moment—captured for modernity in the technologies of the snapshot or live broadcast—is at the heart of what we talk about when we talk about modernism.

This phenomenon is confirmed by the periodizing terms I have alluded to, ‘late’ or ‘post’ or ‘pre‐’ and ‘early’, which prefix the apparently substantive core of ‘modernism’. Modernism is seemingly ‘there’ even as it is being anticipated or superseded. In the process, too, as an inescapably relational term, modernism engages with the other, longer histories designated by the parent terms ‘modernity’ and ‘modernization’. ‘Modernization’, though it tends to evoke the rush of early twentieth‐century technologies, is perhaps the most narrowly defined and unproblematic of these terms. The more capacious ‘modernity’, however, has long been differently employed in the social sciences and in literary history and criticism as well as across different European intellectual and artistic traditions. If it is commonly understood to refer to epochal shifts in the social and political order which ushered in the modern age, modernity is variously dated from as early as the fifteenth century, or the eighteenth‐century Enlightenment, or is associated with post‐Victorian societies. Fredric Jameson has argued that we would do well to see this history as the unimpeded (p. 1016) manifestation of a ‘singular’ modernity, identical, to all intents and purposes, with capitalism. But one suspects that this provocative insistence is borne, as much as anything, out of frustration at the non‐appearance of capitalism's opponent, the awaited offspring of the evanescent cultural imaginary Jameson terms ‘the desire called Utopia’.9

If anything, the relations here between what we might describe as ‘culture, society, and technology’ have become more perplexing in recent decades. While Perry Anderson, for example, could detect the contiguous and converging political and cultural features of the earlier twentieth‐century conjuncture which produced Anglo‐American modernism, these spheres seem increasingly to be neither synchronous nor in evident alignment.10 Jameson's stultifying ‘singular modernity’ and transformative utopian desire would seem in fact to bear this out. It remains the case, nonetheless, that to grasp these relationships across a dramatically changing history and expanding world is to grasp, or, in Fredric Jameson's earlier terms, to ‘cognitively map’, our position in contemporary geo‐cultural time and culture. The terms ‘transnationality’ and ‘globalization’ or ‘de‐globalization’ stand in for one attempt to do this. But though they point to evident if confusing features in the world economy and allied social and political developments—and bring ‘us’ to reflect more self‐consciously on whose ‘cognitive map’ is in question—they do not substitute for the work terms like ‘modernism’ or ‘late’ or ‘postmodernism’ are called upon to do; that is to say, they do not in themselves offer a way of naming and mapping contemporary artistic culture. The chapters in this book on different modernisms will serve their purpose if they help draw part of this new map. I want to reflect further, in this Afterword, on some of the general questions I believe this discussion entails.

Newness: Minority and Mass

Zurich in 1915 was a cosmopolitan heterotopia, home to wartime refugees ‘longing for a clean slate’ and, as is well known, a temporary home to the celebrated transients Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Tristan Tzara, and James Joyce.11 While Joyce worked at this time on Ulysses, Tzara helped launch European Dada, and Lenin wrote the pamphlet published in 1917 as Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. All three, we might say, were planning revolution. Marjorie Perloff writes of ‘a short‐lived but (p. 1017) remarkable rapprochement between avant‐garde aesthetic, radical politics, and popular culture’ occurring at the beginning of the twentieth century.12 She is not thinking of Zurich, but, arguably, these three figures (Joyce, Tzara, and Lenin), comprising primary examples of experimental modernism, the European avant‐garde, and political modernism, did in this instance coexist in one of the most astonishing chronotopes of all places and times. Lenin lived at 14 Spiegelgasse in the same street where at number 1 the Cabaret Voltaire took place. The Joyces lived at three different addresses before moving in 1916 to number 54 and then in 1917 to number 73 Seefeldstrasse, within walking distance of the Cabaret Voltaire and the Café Odéon. Here was ‘a natural theatre of the new’, in Robert Hughes's description, where everybody, so it is said, met everybody else.13 In one report, Joyce and Lenin are said to have met at the Odéon, although there is no supporting account of this.14 Marjorie Perloff is describing ‘the moment of futurism’ and has in mind figures such as Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay, Apollinaire, and the Italian and Russian Futurists of the avant guerre. This moment passed, however, she believes, into another phase of separated tendencies towards the nihilistic anarchism of Dada and ‘a renewed longed for transcendence’ from which was born both the Surrealist emphasis on the occult, the visionary and dream, and proto‐fascism.15 If, in Zurich, we were to substitute Ezra Pound for Joyce and Trotsky for Lenin, and trust to the gregarious go‐getting young Pound to round up the other two, we could guarantee some conversational fireworks on aesthetics and economics. In Tom Stoppard's play Travesties, Lenin, Joyce, and Tzara do, of course, all meet. On stage, they wrangle and exchange texts and identities in the Zurich library and the home of a minor embassy official. The truth, however, is that these exemplary modernisms, near neighbours as they seemed, were not on speaking terms.16

Modernist studies has grown accustomed to modernist difference—indeed, it has promoted it—but we can still be pulled up, I believe, by the kind of difference which, as in this case, outside of the comic fantasy of Stoppard's Travesties, tells a story of non‐communication between so‐called ‘high modernism’, the avant‐garde, and revolutionary political modernism. And this extends to deep‐seated instincts in critical study. For while Anglo‐American literary critics might choose whether or not to consider Joyce's œuvre in whole or in part as modernist or avant‐garde (p. 1018) (or realist), few, if any, readers would think to describe Tzara as anything but avant‐garde. Why this is so is unclear. What is clear, however, is that there has been far less conversation across transnational critical‐cultural habits and traditions than across artistic and political movements.

To consider these questions fully would require a properly historicized account of the long‐standing conventional usage of the terms ‘avant‐garde’ and ‘modernism’ across different art forms in Anglo‐American and European critical study. The conception of modernism, or the avant‐garde, in an expanded field should encourage just such a dialogue across critical positions and academic disciplines. The relation of these discourses and different artistic tendencies to political modernisms, whether of the Left or Right, would embrace examples in continental Europe, high‐profile figures such as Marinetti and Pound or Breton and Brecht, and the Marxist 1930s in the UK and US. These have been much studied in their national‐cultural contexts or within the frameworks of particular critical paradigms, but have rarely inspired a comparative study. The conjunction in this volume, in close proximity, of chapters on modernist politics, on Italian and Russian Futurism, on London, Berlin, and the modernist Atlantic, among others, might help prompt such an inquiry.

I can do no more here than sketch out some of the riddles these questions pose. I want to probe some of the internal differences between these modes and tendencies but also to ask what the various modernisms—to call them this—might be said to share. First of all, perhaps, they share the history of naming and associated cultural authority I have indicated. The use of the term ‘modernism’, as is well known, came into being with most force in the post‐war period with something like the hegemonic meanings it then assumed for a generation or more. The moment of institutionalized definition arose in Anglo‐American literary studies as a response to the apparent threat from below and from mass society to the modernism that was then valued as occupying the centre rather than the margins of culture. The one‐time emergent and alternative became dominant and to represent accepted cultural capital. As is also well known, this installed a blithely male and Eurocentric, or selectively Anglo‐American, modernist tradition. But the fuller history has also produced its own dissident renaming, in an appeal to other readings or other modernisms, or to the avant‐garde as a resolutely unincorporated commitment to experiment. We know, too, from more recent studies that the terms ‘modernism’ and indeed ‘postmodernism’ were used early in the century by some actors in this scene themselves (respectively, for example, by Middleton Murry and Randolph Bourne); that their meanings, like the work of this period, ran in diverse directions; and that the unified modernism of the post‐war canon was a partial construction in its contents and analysis. The new readings across an expanded field to which again this book and others are witness have further loosened ‘modernism's’ anchorage.

This brings us again to acknowledge the difference between heterogeneous modernisms, but not to an idea of what modernisms might share. With this in mind, I want to explore the critical‐cultural ramifications of ‘newness’, a term Peter Osborne investigates here (Chapter 22) as a shared structural feature of modernism as a philosophical concept. Susan Stanford Friedman, in a searching discussion of the (p. 1019) provenance of the triad ‘modernism‐modernity‐modernization’, has argued that ‘what is shared…is the emphasis on rupture from the past…transformative change is a constant component of definition’.17 In the first instance, this clearly echoes the self‐understanding of modernist and avant‐garde figures and movements themselves. Thus, ‘il faut être absolument moderne’, declared Arthur Rimbaud in 1873,18 while William Carlos Williams was to announce in 1920 in the Prologue to Kora in Hell, ‘Nothing is good save the new. If a thing have novelty it stands intrinsically beside every other work of artistic excellence.’19 For Richard Huelsenbeck, the word ‘Dada’ represented ‘the child's first sound’ and expressed ‘the primitiveness, the beginning at zero, the new in our art’.20 Dziga Vertov spoke of how his ‘camera eye’ deciphered ‘in a new way, a world unknown to you’.21 And for Franz Marc, on a still broader scale, the projected but unpublished second volume of Der Blaue Reiter was to be concerned entirely with a new world: ‘there is only one question’, said Marc; ‘has the time come to separate ourselves from the old world? Are we ready for the vita nuova?’22

Where this absolute commitment to the absolutely new has not been a nihilistic abandonment of the past and future alike, as in some Dadaist positions, it has given modernism and the avant‐garde its utopian character. In striving to project the idea of a new art or civilization into a clean, open sphere, it aligns itself with the emergent forces of the present, including political ideologies of the Left and Right: its eye upon the future in the present. In the process the newness of being modern in present time becomes identical with its phonic neighbour ‘nowness’; ‘the “today” of the modern’, as Osborne puts it. Susan Stanford Friedman, once more, summarizes: ‘modernity is the insistence upon the Now—the present and its future as resistance to the past, especially the immediate past. It establishes a cult of the new that constructs retrospectively a sense of tradition from which it declares independence.’23 These two impulses come together, we might think, in Gertrude Stein's statement that ‘The business of Art…is to live in the actual present, that is the complete actual present, and to completely express that complete actual present’—a dictum that Marjorie Perloff cites in elaborating the case for a permanent, if suppressed, modernism, made new again in the present time of the twenty‐first century.24

(p. 1020) The statements by such as Rimbaud, Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Dziga Vertov, and Franz Marc might suggest that this uncompromising invocation of newness now (and its claim on the future) helps define them and this mode as avant‐gardist. But how, we might ask, is this different from the English ‘Georgian’ Harold Monro's belief in poets as the ‘heralds, perhaps even the architects, of the new, free society that was surely coming’ or from Rupert Brooke's praise of Monro as himself the originator of what Brooke termed the ‘New Poetry’?25 On another front, Émile Zola, the founder of literary Naturalism, described this new art, based upon science and not the imagination, as opening up a ‘new world’, as ‘the force which is sweeping us onward, and which is working toward the molding of future centuries’.26

The fact is that an explicit appeal to newness and its simultaneous use as an evaluative term (‘the new is the good’, to paraphrase Williams) extends not only across different literary and artistic modes but surfaces everywhere else, too, across modernity in the open domain of mass society. This proximity and inter‐animation of minority and mass, or popular, culture occupied much of the debate on the postmodernism of the 1980s and 1990s, but, as some of the authors in this volume (Xiros Cooper, Crouch, and Halliwell) attest, the minority and the mass already ran in tandem and traversed each other in the earlier period too.

This insight is often associated with the pointedly named New Modernist Studies, which has widened the purview of criticism and scholarship across a range of modernisms and modernist contexts. As described by Marina MacKay (Chapter 26), the earlier, ‘older’ version of modernist study was elitist while the second recovers modernism's relation to and position inside the cultural mainstream. In the process, New Modernist Studies poses the challenge to itself, as to others, as to whether Rupert Brooke or Harold Monro or Émile Zola, George Gissing or Sherwood Anderson, or the trio, say, of Wells, Bennett, Galsworthy—from whom the modernist Virginia Woolf wished famously to distance herself—were also modernists, or a different kind of modernist. But what common ground does this establish? And did any of these writers, Woolf included, believe, with Carlos Williams, that ‘nothing is good save the new’? Did they aim to begin again at zero or to express, with Stein, the ‘complete actual present’? And what was the relation of these different ways of being new or modern to the newness pursued in the cultural mainstream of modernity?

The materialist turn in modernist studies, associated with this changed agenda and unsettled scale of value, has sought, indirectly addressing these questions, to set modernist art in relation to the harder facts of production, finance, and readership. This is particularly evident in the study of journals and periodicals, as discussed here by Suzanne W. Churchill and Adam McKible (Chapter 19) and currently understood (p. 1021) as such a significant feature of the culture of modernity. The Little Review, with its slogan ‘Making no compromise with the public taste’, would appear to be a self‐proclaimed example of the ‘elitist’ modernism which has occupied the ‘older’ modernist study. At the same time, contemporary periodicals such as The Dial, the New Age, the London Mercury, or American Mercury, or medium‐circulation popular magazines, or so‐called ‘slicks’, such as Vanity Fair, the Smart Set, or Esquire and the New Yorker, provide ready examples of a stratified public taste and assorted claims on newness. This is evident in some of their titles and self‐promotion (thus, a 1916 advertisement for Vanity Fair promised ‘an Altogether New Kind of Magazine…an entertaining magazine for Moderns’),27 but it is also clear in their contents, including cartoons and advertising, assumed readership, and working editorial criteria. Especially interesting, too, is who of otherwise named ‘modernist’ (here designating ‘experimental’) authors was included and excluded in these popular ‘quality’ magazines.

Lawrence Rainey's account of the publication of The Waste Land in The Dial magazine rather than in the Little Review or Vanity Fair highlights, as Edward Bishop sees it, ‘the transition of modernism as a minority culture to one supported by an important institutional and financial apparatus’.28 ‘The Dial ’, Bishop writes, ‘represented the present moment of modernism.’ The Little Review, meanwhile, belonged to modernism's beginnings, and Vanity Fair ‘represented modernism's future where the market economy could purchase and commodify works of literature’ ideologically opposed to a market ethos.29 John Xiros Cooper (Chapter 17) in the present volume takes a similar but more positive view of what he sees as the ubiquitous assimilation and dispersal of modernist tropes across the everyday life of modernism's future in postmodern culture. And in fact we can point to earlier examples of the commodification of literary and artistic works. In the world of ‘little magazines’, for instance, the Pre‐Raphaelite Germ, a minority magazine with a small readership which ran for only four numbers, was twice reprinted by the end of the nineteenth century. In the process, the price of an original set increased from the already expensive 1s. to £30 and in one instance to £104.30 What we are more inclined to ask of such examples, however, and of the entire process, is whether aesthetic value, and its concomitant symbolic cultural value, was entirely commodified and thus lost to market value.

The ‘slicks’ themselves offer some revealing evidence on this, for they too discriminated, in their own terms, according to their position vis‐à‐vis other competitor magazines and their target readerships, on which modern or modernist, or (p. 1022) avant‐gardist, authors, or what aspect of their work or person, was marketable. Thus, Ernest Hemingway contributed to the Little Review, transition, and This Quarter among radical little magazines, but also to Life, Cosmopolitan, and, on a regular basis (along with Scott Fitzgerald) to Esquire in the 1930s. At this point Esquire was a new magazine which, in seeking out its own niche, aimed to become ‘the common denominator of masculine interests—to be all things to all men…among other things, a fashion guide for men’.31 In other examples, Joyce was reviewed, referenced, or quoted, but not himself published, in Vanity Fair, and both he and Gertrude Stein were parodied or pastiched—hilariously in the latter case, as Churchill and McKible show—but again not directly published, in Esquire or the New Yorker. Some writing was also simply rejected. Thus, Esquire found space for Pound's essays on art and Social Credit but not for his poetry. They rejected a piece on Brancusi and finally drew the line at his support of Mussolini. And in a further small but revealing instance, Gertrude Stein, who contributed from 1917 into the 1930s to Vanity Fair, the most open of these magazines to modernist authors and artists, had a piece rejected by the New Yorker on the grounds, said the editor, that ‘she was not allowed to buy anything her boss didn't understand’.32

The mainstream, that is to say, drew its own clear boundary lines, with the result that a slap in the face of public taste could be simply greeted with a blunt rejection slip. The powerful role of the editors of popular magazines, the nervousness of printers, and the exercise of censorship—directly experienced by Ezra Pound, D. H. Lawrence, and Joyce, and the magazines The Freewoman and Masses, as well as later by the Beats—would have made it abundantly clear to authors what was and was not acceptable. Not everything, clearly enough, was deemed fit for commodification by the commodifiers. This did not mean, however, that writers and artists either simply succumbed to or resolutely defied this fate. And short of the extreme case of censorship—which in the above examples was partly circumvented or not permanent—it did not mean either that unpublished work was extinguished.

Gorham Munson, editor of the little magazine Secession (a call to secede from the modern US), spoke of the ‘atmosphere of danger for ideas’ necessary to a new movement and of the welcome appearance of ‘danger’ in the poetry of E. E. Cummings.33 In rejecting Gertrude Stein, the New Yorker identified something similar—what was outré and beyond the pale. It was possible, then, to be too advanced, too new—a reaction which effectively set this otherness ‘outside’ rather than ‘out in front’. What was at stake was, in fact, a place and influence in the public realm. If, in Peter Bürger terms, the avant‐garde sought through provocation to intervene and (p. 1023) transform everyday modernity,34 it met with the gains and losses of its absorption into the classy, middlebrow reaches of that world. In other words, this was a battle over being modern, in which one newness—the newness of literary experiment, experienced in a direct encounter with the experimental text—vied with another newness of being up to date, fashionable, and sufficiently au fait with names and trends. This latter ‘smartness’, moreover, as Churchill and McKible show—and Mackie's study of modernism in Japan (Chapter 55) confirms—was targeted specifically at the construction of the ‘modern girl’. The material difference between these perceptions of the modern manifested itself in the world of magazines and the marketplace. We see this clearly in the generic and internal differences between, on the one hand, the little magazines The Egoist, the Little Review, and transition, where, to take a case in point, James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake (‘Work in Progress’) were published, and, on the other hand, the Smart Set, which published two stories from Dubliners in 1915, and the New Yorker, where Joyce was parodied but never published.

Newness: Modernization and Modernity

Newness, of course, also found expression, as a number of chapters above point out, in the material forms and experience of modernization and social modernity. As such it was associated in direct and visible ways with the new technologies of the car, the aeroplane, the underground, the typewriter, and the telephone, with steel‐framed bridges and skyscraper buildings. Photography and radio (see Chapters 29 and 32) participated in the truism, as it has become, of modernity's accelerated transmission and representation. Thus, photography's capture of the ‘instant’ (the moment of now) delivered en masse the technology and experience of intervening in duration itself, while the ‘thereness’ and ‘nowness’ of early radio, as Debra Rae Cohen reports here, presented its listeners with ‘the terrifying “miracle” of simultaneity of broadcast and reception’, similarly manipulating time and distance. Cinema, in particular, would seem to be at once the quintessential modernist medium and industry, enacting, as James Donald points out, a pedagogic function in teaching its audiences how to ‘negotiate the inherent strangeness of being‐in‐the‐(modern)‐world’, whether in its adoption of an avant‐gardist aesthetic or in the productions of mainstream film entertainment. Here, too, something ‘lately’ adopted could appear new enough, as in the example of the Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, which, says Donald, offered to an emerging middlebrow audience the lure of a challenging but not too difficult artistic respectability, with the additional pleasure of being able to claim a (p. 1024) degree of distinction from mass culture—the net result ‘as much a technique of modern niche marketing as a triumph of modernist formal experimentation’.

Often these technologies of transport, modes of communication, and media of representation and entertainment were associated with the modern city, in turn perceived as a contradictorily utopian and dystopian site, and associated in early twentieth‐century modernism especially with the iconography and mythology of the American cities of Chicago and New York. Writers and artists, Bertolt Brecht, Georg Grosz, and Vladimir Mayakovsky among them, responded to the thrill of new materials and technologies and the architectural adventure which conveyed what Crouch (Chapter 34) describes as ‘an attempt to create a form suitable for the new machine age’ and the sense that ‘society had come to a significant destination’. For Francis Picabia the ‘Cubist city’ of New York had revealed an ideal symbiosis between an avant‐gardist aesthetic and modern cityscape. ‘Futurists’ of different persuasions, such as Antonio Sant'Elia, Vladimir Tatlin, or Le Corbusier, saw more a destiny than a destination, a future to be imagined now. Le Corbusier's faith in a geometric mechanization of the modern city was unqualified. His ‘Voisin Plan’ of 1925 for the rationalization of Paris would have entailed the total clearing of a 600-acre site, including Les Halles, the rue de Rivoli, the Opéra (classed as ‘junk’ by Le Corbusier), to be replaced by a motorway and new financial and residential centre ‘rising to a height of over 600 feet’.35 Here was the arch‐exponent of ‘international modernism’, disparaged for decades since as a universalizing Western aesthetic and dehumanizing ideology. Nonetheless, the potency of these ideas extended, as Supriya Chaudhuri (Chapter 52) shows, beyond the West, tout court, to Indian‐based architects thoroughly acquainted with European modernist aesthetics. Le Corbusier had a profound impact in India, stretching into the 1980s, but met with an adaptive rather than assimilative mentality. ‘The “messy”, mixed‐use character of Indian built environments’, Chaudhuri comments, ‘was never accommodated within the totalizing vision of modernist design.’

But there was a newness, too, associated with the migration of people and ideas. This entailed not simply the imagined projection of modern structures, materials, and urban environments, or the before and after of the imagined and the real, but the newness of fragmented and redefined borders, cognate, as Youngs (Chapter 15) suggests, with collaged artistic composition, and a newness felt in the shock of a first encounter with all the ambiguity of the ‘here and now’. This was the bewildering experience, felt as a bodily sensation, of enchantment and estrangement, as the new met the old at the moment of arrival. We know of this experience from colonial and post‐colonial histories (see Chapter 14). But the experience of migrancy which marks these narratives was played out, as Raymond Williams and others have shown, equally in the earlier era of immigration to the modern city. One such example is the shock of the new experienced on arriving in Harlem by the figure King Solomon Gillis in Rudolph Fisher's story ‘The City of Refuge’ (1925). Here, to Gillis's stunned (p. 1025) amazement, the conventional order of things is turned around when he sees his first black policeman. John Cournos's first sight of London from the top of a bus in the novel Babel stirred in him the sense that here was a ‘multi‐tongued…many‐tuned’ jazz city, its cultural and ethnic differences a measure of its democratic composition.36 Djuna Barnes was so affected on her first sight of Paris that she felt it ‘cannot adequately be described’.37

What could not adequately be described—other than as ‘indescribable’—could not be repeated either, or not by the same individual. This modernist sublime was associated, in these examples, we notice too, with an encounter with both historically new and older cities. Also, if the experience of a first encounter could not be individually repeated, it was collectively repeated for the generation who sailed back and forward across the modernist Atlantic and between the new and old in the 1910s and 1920s. In this period the iconic emblems of New York and Paris, in particular, enacted a curiously schizophrenic dance, pulling respectively towards modern(ized) society writ large, and the modern(ist) society of the street café and coterie (see Chapters 35, 40, 41). In the event, in the short and longer term, the excitement of modern urban experience on both sides of the Atlantic could prove profoundly disturbing, a scene of disillusionment and dystopian alienation and, day by day, of the changed mentality, at once blasé and withdrawn, described by Georg Simmel in his classic account of early twentieth‐century Berlin.38

For many Europeans who travelled as visitors or were forced from fascist Europe to seek intellectual and artistic freedom in the US, the emergent ‘culture industries’ spawning Chaplin, jazz, and the funny papers were part of the attraction. Hollywood was a haven and a place of employment. For an émigré such as Bertolt Brecht, however, who, like others, had anticipated a different America, the actuality in the city of Angels was ‘hell’. The artist, Baudelaire had said, goes to the marketplace seemingly to observe but in reality to find a buyer, and the harsh truth of this Brecht found in Hollywood, where ‘Every day…I go to the market where lies are bought,’ there hoping to ‘sell the products of my mind’.39

These disillusioned moderns alert us, indirectly, to the crucial new ‘art’ of modernity: the parasitic art of advertising and companion to commerce which came both to inspire, as Timothy O. Benson shows (Chapter 45), and itself adapt the techniques of collage and montage developed in European art movements.40 The new was delivered up to a new function which combined the innovations of aesthetic form with commercial intent according to the dictates of a market economy expanding into the new cultural industries. Here again—in the motif that accompanies this (p. 1026) entire development—the question we ask is whether or not this assimilation compromised modernist method. For a commentator such as Theodor Adorno there was no doubt. Writing with a virulent pessimism in the 1940s, he detected a logic running from passages from Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Baudelaire to Hitler and the sensationalist display of fascist atrocities. Newness, to his eyes, had come to mean an unrelieved desensitizing conformity and sameness.41

Adorno's verdict on modernity was devastating but simplistic. Though explained, as Tyrus Miller points out, by the experience of fascism,42 it ignored not only the internal complexities of American modernity and a ‘nativist’ modernist art and, most notoriously, the vibrant, indigenous modernism of jazz, but also the fluid, rather than starkly opposed, relations between European and United States culture.

Martin Halliwell (Chapter 40) outlines the earlier complex story of the rejection of American conformity and capitalism for the exile of freedom, licence, and civilization associated with old Europe and new modernism and the counterpart of a fascination with American technological modernity. Quite evidently, not all American writers and artists were seduced by Europe, and another ‘newness’, elaborated, among others, by William Carlos Williams, Alfred Stieglitz, Charles Sheeler, Langston Hughes, and John Dos Passos, was based in an appeal to local conditions. For all the tensions of race and ethnicity this sometimes entailed, being new, being modern, being modernist, and being American were not in these examples thought to be incompatible.

For those who criss‐crossed the Atlantic, what was at stake was a sense of the meanings and values of culture, a concept including, in different versions, the idea of being modern and the signs and effects of modernization. In one version this described a consumerist mass society, in another it harboured an idea of artistic autonomy and the select minority. Both societies, America and Europe, were in different ways ‘new’ and offered liberation from a disparaged and frustrating past; both were thought of, and thought of themselves, as ‘advanced’. In the complex stratifications and permutations of modernity, however, as the case of avant‐gardist or modernist little magazines and big‐city‐based American ‘slicks’ demonstrates, this was not a stark, either/or distinction; nor, pace the Adorno of Minima Moralia, was America the dystopian landscape of paralysed subjects abandoned to a ‘catastrophic degeneration’, devoid of all quality and judgement.43 Adorno's despair and his America belong to a specific period in European history and American cultural and economic development, but are part of a continuing transatlantic exchange. In the arrière guerre of the 1940s, Adorno could see nothing but an equation between European fascism and American capitalism. In an earlier letter to Walter Benjamin, he spoke with more subtlety of the necessary dialectical understanding of artistic autonomy and reification: ‘both’, he wrote, ‘bear the stigma of capitalism, both (p. 1027) contain elements of change…torn halves of an integral freedom to which however they do not add up’.44


New artistic movements and schools, numbering hundreds across the twentieth century, pronounced their newness most visibly and loudly through the form of the manifesto. Though itself an apparently new form characteristic of modernism and the avant‐garde, the manifesto derived from and adapted the political manifesto of earlier decades and thus retained some of the utopian rhetoric and declamatory style of political modernism.45 Among the earliest, and certainly the most notorious, was Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's announcement of Futurism in Le Figaro in 1909—an outrageously polemical rejection of the past and tradition which, as Daniel Moore (Chapter 21) says, ‘declared open season on history’. Here Marinetti rejected the tenets of Italian Symbolism in the name, as Martin Puchner puts it, of ‘the absolute value of novelty’,46 summed up by the features of mechanized modernity: above all speed, introduced by the car and aeroplane, and new forms of communication. For the Futurists, profound change was inevitable; a new sensibility the automatic result of new science and the new technologies accelerating everyday life. As John White points out (Chapter 39), the manifesto became Futurism's primary genre, a fitting mode of widely disseminated communication in a world in which the daily newspaper each day synthesized the events of the whole world. The Futurist arts in poetry, painting, and drama responded in kind, in an insistence on brevity and rapid transmission. The result was the transformation of the human into a machine; a robotic soldier of revolution primed for the only event which would satisfy Futurism's destruction of the past: namely, war—famously described as being more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.47

For Futurism, the vital act comprised a simultaneous rejection of the old and birth of the new, a moment of rupture and violent annihilation of the past which would open in the same instant onto the future. In the extremity of its violence Marinetti's Futurism willed the destruction not of a past but of all the past, against which, as Puchner says, he set the ‘future as such’.48 Futurism's conception of history therefore amounts to a curiously aborted projection where the Futurist is already ahead of time (p. 1028) and the others must catch up along a ‘unified historical axis’.49 Futurism was plainly, indeed literally, an ‘avant‐garde’ movement, ahead of the game and the multitude, and to this extent akin to the vanguardist political party which similarly places itself already in the future. It is not altogether surprising, therefore, that prior to the First World War and Futurism's explosive appearance, Marinetti, like Mussolini, had adopted ‘several core socialist positions’.50 The Italian communist Antonio Gramsci, editor of L'Ordine Nuovo (‘The New Order’), had in 1921 praised the Futurists' sense of the need in an age of ‘big industry and the large proletarian city’ for ‘new forms of art, philosophy, behaviour and language’. In ‘the field of culture’, Gramsci commented, ‘the Futurists are revolutionaries’.51 The later identification between Futurism and Fascism was explicit, however, and came no doubt to help frame Walter Benjamin's gnomic distinction between on the one hand the Futurist–Fascist aestheticism of art and, on the other, the communist politicization of art.52

Futurism's logic of absolute transformation decided the only possible enactment of its theory: an elimination of the past and the present, or what we might term the ‘past now’, in war. It was founded, therefore, on the deluded perception of present time as a tabula rasa which would launch the future. Since, however, the present can never be emptied of the whole of the past, but is precisely composed of past traces and anticipations of a future, Futurism exposes the weakness, as demonstrated by Paul de Man, of all such thinking, including Gertrude Stein's determination to express ‘the complete actual present’.53 The attempted destruction of the past in an attempt to occupy the new now, through an ‘event’ which emerges out of nothing, will, as de Man shows, always fall victim to duration and the passage of time it has sought to annul. For newness, like modernism and the avant‐garde, is inescapably tied to its partner: the ancient, the old, and traditional, or, in a word, the past. Either that or they are nothing.

But there was another much‐cited example of modernist self‐advertisement and sloganeering with a quite different implication to these avant‐gardist protestations. Ezra Pound's call to ‘make it new’ has been frequently invoked as the watchword of modernism. It is a mistake, however, to set this alongside the destructive urge of Futurism or see it simply as evidence of Paul de Man's contention that modernity is (p. 1029) motivated by an act of ‘ruthless forgetting’ (or ‘blindness’) and takes ‘the form of a desire to wipe out whatever came earlier in the hope of reaching at last a point that could be called a true present, a point of origin that marks a new departure’.54 Pound drew the dictum of ‘make it new’ from the Chinese Ta Hio, and it appears both as a written ideogram in his Canto 53 and as the title, also accompanied by the ideogram, of a collection of his essays published in 1934. The contents of this volume are revealing. It consists of the following set of Pound's earlier essays, with their dates of first publication: ‘Troubadours: Their Sorts and Conditions’ (c.1912); ‘Arnault Daniel’ (1920); ‘Notes on Elizabethan Classicists’ (before 1918); ‘Translators of Greek’ (before 1918); ‘French Poets’ (February 1918); ‘Henry James and Remy de Gourmont’ (August 1918 and February 1919); ‘A Stray Document’ and ‘Cavalcanti’ (1910–31).

The book was in a sense a response to T. S. Eliot, and Faber, who wanted a collection of literary essays and not a set of essays propagating Pound's economic views—but this is not to say they wanted the collection he presented, where none of the literary essays were ‘new’ either in their date of composition or in being on contemporary material.55 The one new item in the collection is an introductory essay, ‘Date‐Line’. Here Pound argues for a new culture or, in a term derived from the anthropologist Leo Frobenius, a new ‘Paideuma’, which would be informed, says Pound, by a comparative cultural perspective. Pound's title ‘Date‐Line’ is accompanied not by ‘1934’ but by the note ‘Rapallo. Jan 28th, anno XII’—the year 12, a radical recasting of the calendar which doubly honoured the year 1922, as witnessing, firstly, the inauguration of a consummate literary modernism (Pound dated present time in the ‘post‐Christian era’ from 31 October 1921, the date Joyce was said to have written the last words of Ulysses) and, secondly, the installation of Mussolini's Fascist regime in Italy. ‘Making it new’, therefore, for Pound, meant remaking literature and society according to these dual models in a rare, eccentric, and, as it turns out, contradictory pairing of artistic modernism and political modernity. For what one might term the ‘Futurist’ amputation of the past in Pound's revolutionary calendar starting from Joyce and Mussolini was incompatible with his practice and historical sense as a poet. For much of his own poetry, especially the ‘creative translations’ of the Provençal Poets, the Anglo‐Saxon ‘Seafarer’, the Latin poet Sextus Propertius, as well as his use of Ovid, Homer, and Dante in The Cantos, is guided by the impulse to kick‐start a moribund present society by renewing the best of past civilizations. ‘Literature is news that stays news’, as Pound announced in another slogan, thereby granting literature an originality and staying power which defeated the passage of time while administering to the ephemeral topicality of the day. The accent in ‘making it new’ must in this respect fall upon the ‘it’, which comprised, in utter contrast to Marinetti and Futurism's dismissal of all of the past, a selective past (p. 1030) literature assembled in a newly invented tradition deemed to be of permanent aesthetic and cultural value.56

We might think we have arrived here, in the respective dismissal and retention of the past, at a difference between the ‘avant‐garde’ and ‘modernism’, and that we see their internal disjuncture in Pound. If this is the case, it does not account for the appeal to the ‘primitive’ energies of early societies (or of the psyche) in the avant‐gardist movements of Fauvism, Vorticism, Cubism, and Surrealism (see Chapters 20 and 368). For all the importance, too, of the conservative implications of ‘tradition’ in ‘modernist’ art, as notably in T. S. Eliot, this tendency, too, gave currency to a newly anthologized past which served to critique the present and immediate past in a radical rupture which looked in its own terms towards a transformed future.

Christopher Butler suggests that this interventionist renewal of the past was characteristic of the early modernists. They were, he says, ‘perhaps the last avant‐garde to apprentice themselves to the production of major work in earlier styles. An acute awareness of the past and the technical ability to reproduce it ensured that the early advances of the Modernists were made through a stylistic metamorphosis of the genres of the previous tradition.’57 Thus, as Ramsay Burt (Chapter 31) summarizes: ‘Picasso could draw like Ingres, Matisse studied with salon painters William‐Adolphe Bouguereau and Gustave Moreau, and Schoenberg's early work showed his ability to synthesize the late Romantic styles of Brahms and Mahler.’ The same might be said of other arts: of Nijinsky, as Burt points out, who had trained in the Imperial Russian Ballet and insisted that he needed to work in the Ballets Russes with dancers who had ‘a perfect ballet technique’, which he then adapted ‘for his own purposes’.58 Pound's ‘creative translations’ of past literatures were similarly part of a deliberate apprenticeship in verse forms, itself the sign of a new and disruptive professionalism.

The modernist use of the erstwhile political form of the manifesto was also an innovation, but the differences sketched out here between conceptions of the past, of history, the process of change, and systems of value show how problematic the appeal to newness in modernism and the avant‐garde has been. To believe, with Paul de Man, that time and the past cannot simply be annulled and that there can be no absolute new beginning presents us with a spectrum of radical attitudes towards past literature, art, and civilization. The rhetoric of sheer revolution and interventionist renewal alike therefore express a view of the past and a position in history. Also, in so far as Futurists of the Right or Left, along with radical avant‐gardists and conservative modernists, proselytized for an improved culture and social order, the commonly drawn distinction between first‐generation twentieth‐century modernists who supposedly eschewed an engagement with social and political affairs and ‘late (p. 1031) modernists’ who were committed to social and political causes is simply false.59 The difference exists, instead, firstly in the form and political character of this commitment, but also in the fact that ‘late modernists’ had to be new in a new way because they inherited a different past, of which the early modernists themselves were a part. As Frank Kermode has put it of W. H. Auden, ‘he was all for making it new but not in quite the same way as Ezra Pound’.60

The Postmodern and Now and Next

The above reflections reinforce the idea of a necessarily historicized diversity of modernisms: new in their relation to a past (but not the same past), even when this is absolutely rejected; modern in their response to the changing technologies of modernization and the manifold physical, political, and social changes of modernity, whether these are celebrated or deplored. I want to ask, finally, about the avant‐garde or modernism's future, or, more precisely, how we name what is new now. One answer is that this future is to be found in modernism's ongoing academic study. In a sense this is only to make explicit the long‐standing relation, elucidated by Sascha Bru (Chapter 2), of the modernist avant‐garde with its Siamese twin, modern literary theory, and, in particular, poststructuralist theory. The two remain inseparable, in spite of the sense voiced by Bru, that modernism—if it is so named—‘has always come both before and after theory’.

The obvious candidate and theory's own first choice for this future was ‘postmodernism’, a term and tendency which, having failed to stay news, is now past‐tense and curiously older than a reinvigorated modernism. Under postmodernism, the Americanized West was doomed in the 1980s and 1990s, or so it seemed, to a culture of simulacra which had lost all sense of the real and history, all affective apparatus, and any claim to originality other than a recycled pastiche, since parody or satire were now beyond us. These ideas were derived, often indeed in pastiched versions, principally from original essays by Fredric Jameson and Jean Baudrillard. In a forlorn deflation of the historical avant‐garde's ambitions, however, the concept of postmodernism could not survive its dissemination across the popular media of everyday life, nor the accusation that the cultural logic it was asked to name was complicit with late capitalism.

Other terms, in some inflection of ‘globalization’ and ‘transnationality’, have come to name the present and a context for present art. But how then is the latter to be (p. 1032) named and understood? One tendency, having dispatched postmodernism, sees a continuing currency in historical modernism; another sees a newly pluralist conception of renovated and realigned modernisms; while a third has referred more specifically to ‘cosmopolitan’ or ‘post‐colonial’ or ‘subaltern’ modernisms, or, most recently, at the time of writing, to ‘altermodernism’.

I want here, finally, to consider some of these examples and to propose less another new concept than a new adjective which implies a necessary perspective upon and condition for modernism.

In her study 21st‐Century Modernism, Marjorie Perloff expresses some dismay at the survival of the fatigued notion of postmodernism. Instead, in a reprise of her earlier The Moment of Futurism, she appeals, in a consciously conceived manifesto, to the ‘short lived…avant‐garde phase of modernism’ exemplified by the early T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Marcel Duchamp, and Velimir Khlebnikov. These ‘four early modernists (or call them avant‐gardists)’, says Perloff,61 supply the precedents for a resurgent modernism alive in the work of a group of American poets associated with the school of ‘Language Poetry’: Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein, Lyn Hejinian, and Steve McCaffery. The initial avant‐garde project, Perloff argues, had been ‘at the very heart of early modernism’ but had been deferred—‘its radical and utopian aspirations…cut off’ by wars and the repressive force of ‘the great two totalitarianisms’.62 This last presumably alludes to communism under Stalin and to fascism, but perhaps to an advancing capitalism. No more is heard of these repressive forces, however, nor of the enabling conditions which allowed this modernist impulse to resurface in the contemporary US—home, with all its irregularities, to capitalism in its most advanced phase. Perloff's attention, however, is focused not upon this socio‐economic history but upon ‘the technological and formal inventions’ of these earlier and latter‐day modernisms. This inventiveness we can elicit from reading the ‘materiality of the text’ with ‘new eyes’.63 The resulting new language, Perloff proposes, with Wittgenstein, is tantamount to a new ‘form of life’.64 The terms of Perloff's judgement remain, however, unapologetically, at root aesthetic, just as her critical method is more technicist than historical or political. The results are seductive and illuminating, but the strong, and all‐important, sense of lineage (a relation with the past) that both Perloff and her chosen authors draw upon does not materialize as a linkage across figures, movements, or conjunctures that would connect moments in a radical cultural and artistic history.

The narrower history informing Perloff's idea of a revived modernism contrasts markedly with Susan Friedman's injunction to recognize and actively respond to the present globalizing scene of multi‐ or polycentric modernities. ‘Always spatialize!’, she recommends in answer to Jameson's ‘Always historicize!’65 Friedman, too, names (p. 1033) the new art and culture ‘modernist’. ‘Multiple modernities’, she contends, ‘create multiple modernisms.’66 While she cautions at the same time that not all literature is modernist, Friedman's argument never recovers from this simple equation, devoid of all distinction between the aesthetic forms and ideological and political alignments that might emerge from the rupture, which, in her own view, identifies the onset of modernity. Challenging and instructive as it is, a spatialized modernity, so conceived, runs the risk of losing geo‐historical and aesthetic specificity.

The related conception of ‘altermodern’ brings a contemporary agenda derived from academic theory in cultural studies and political and economic thought to the task of reconceptualizing modernism for the present day. The term is the coinage of Nicolas Bourriaud, curator of the Tate Triennial Exhibition for 2009, which showcased British examples of this new art. Accompanying the exhibition was a seminar programme, a set of resulting essays, and a manifesto. Here Bourriaud calls for an art that will respond to the threat of ‘fundamentalism and consumer‐driven uniformization, menaced by massification and the enforced re‐abandonment of individual identity’.67 Thus, ‘art today needs to reinvent itself, and on a planetary scale’. The resulting ‘altermodernism’ is understood as ‘a synthesis between modernism and post‐colonialism’ and, as such, participates ‘for the first time’ in a ‘global dialogue’ alive to the ‘multicultural explosion and the proliferation of cultural strata’ marking this era.68

Freed from the ‘petrified’ time of postmodernism and the ‘linear vision’ of modernism, ‘altermodernism’, says Bourriaud, works across multiple temporalities ‘exploring all dimensions of the present, tracing lines in all directions of time and space’. ‘Always spatialize!’, Susan Stanford Friedman insists, and here geo‐spatial metaphors abound; thus, ‘our civilisation…resembles a structureless constellation, awaiting transformation into an archipelago’; the artist is a detached nomad who ‘relocates’ or ‘transmits or “teleports” diverse materials in a narrative of planetary drift’.69 But for all the sense of ‘heterochronic time’ which accompanies this analysis and, theoretically, opens up the resources of different registers, cultural traditions, and different periods, history too is spatialized. History is ‘the last continent to be explored which can be traversed like a territory’—if, indeed, it is not ruled out of bounds altogether, since at the same time ‘the historical counters’ are ‘reset to zero’.70 The idea of contemporaneity, it follows, can be abandoned for ‘intemporality’ in ‘a voluntary confusion of eras and genres’.71 At best, to understand the present ‘means carrying out a kind of rough and ready archaeological investigation of world culture’.72 ‘Altermodern’ amounts, then, to the relaunch of an avant‐gardist (p. 1034) impulse across the horizontal plane of a globalized surface, its diversity newly accessible at the click of a mouse off an open network that knows no centre, no power, or prohibitions—less a new modernism, one might think, than a now fully booted up ‘perpetual present’ of the earlier postmodernism.

I suggest that we can take instruction in all of this from the reflections of the modernist Walter Benjamin on the theme of ‘newness’ and ‘nowness’ which have directed the present discussion. As Peter Osborne points out, Benjamin draws on the inspiration of Baudelaire's conception of the time of modernity as ‘the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent’. Modernism, conceived of ‘as the affirmative cultural self‐consciousness of the temporality of the new, starts here’, comments Osborne.73 What, importantly, Osborne draws out of this as modernism's transcendent structural feature is the ‘iterability’ of this affirmation (see Chapter 22). The result of this operation produces ‘the same across the totality of manifestations of the new’ but also ‘an ongoing affirmation’ of the temporality of the new. The initial affirmation is thereby negated but reignited in the production of the ‘new again’, or the ‘new now’, and what Osborne terms ‘an overlapping historically successive multiplicity of modernisms’.

The significant outcome of this debt to Benjamin, and most particularly to Benjamin's ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, is a conception of temporality which radically departs from the conventional linear conception of time and its orderly succession of past, present, and future.74 Benjamin's identification in the ‘Theses’ and The Arcades Project of the advent of radical change with punctual moments of discontinuity and interruption in historicism's narrative of linear progression effectively theorizes artistic modernism's commitment to the intensity of the moment as well as the common critical conception of the modernist avant‐garde's estrangement of a taken‐for‐granted world. As Matt ffytch notes here (Chapter 23), Freud on memory and consciousness, and Surrealism's idea of the prophetic power of dream, also aided Benjamin's thinking on how the conscious recollection or reminiscence could awaken a dreaming populace from the phantasmagoria of a commodified existence. The moment of rupture, when such a recollection of the past and the present enter an electrically charged constellation ‘at a moment of danger’, is Benjamin's ‘Jetztzeit’, ‘the time of the now’.75 This Osborne directly associates with the avant‐garde project which ‘disrupts the linear time‐consciousness of progress in such a way as to enable us, like the child, to “discover the new anew” and along with it, the possibility of a better future’.76 As Benjamin writes, it is ‘not in the continuity of elapsing time but in its interferences’ that ‘the truly new makes itself felt for the first time’.77 This ‘truly new’ is distinguished in turn from the degraded (p. 1035) newness of capitalist modernity which can only mass‐produce ‘the ever‐always‐the‐same within the new’ of recurrent novelty.78

In addition, it should be said, the force of this distinction and ‘the possibility of a better future’ were dependent on Benjamin's faith in the revolutionary agency of the organized working class. The profound difficulties and challenge finally lie here—in the question of how, and in what sociopolitical alignment, the ‘truly new’ experienced in an arrest of time when the dialectic is ‘at a standstill’ can re‐enter so as to influence the world of practical action and historical narrative. In what terms can a revolutionary impulse, so conceived, join the history of capitalist modernity it has served to critique? Osborne believes that the answer—‘a conceptual bridge back from now‐time to a new narrativity’—lies in a new conception of open narrativity and of now‐time's place as a critique of the present ‘at once outside and within’ this present.79 By Osborne's reckoning, ‘the truly new’ does therefore return to the world to influence and enrich what is ‘next’. ‘Benjamin's “now”’, he concludes, ‘can thus be conceived as an integral moment within a new, non‐traditional, future‐oriented and internally disrupted form of narrativity.’80 The challenge remains, nonetheless, for a latter‐day modernism or avant‐garde, as for ‘New Modernist Studies’, of how it will itself meet Benjamin's distinction between the commodified novelty of the ‘ever‐always‐the‐same’ and the ‘really new’, and what equivalent social agency, if any, can be deemed to inspire a renewal of Benjamin's ‘politicized art’.

We can say this much: that if, for all their different historical schema, the various modernisms and modernities entail a moment of rupture impelled by the call to newness, this newness was never and is not now born of nothing. Benjamin's revolutionary moment arrests the flow of time, but the ‘dialectical image’ which comprises this moment does not dispense with the past—far from it, it is engaged in a battle for the ownership of the past. What is ‘new now’ emerges from an active, contestatory remembering of the defeated or forgotten. A new late twentieth‐ or twenty‐first‐century modernism can only emerge, consequently, in a combined estrangement of and re‐engagement with the past it inherits, a making the new new again. That is to say, its heterogeneous forms share not only a utopian impulse or quest towards the new at the moment of rupture or radical reform, but a self‐consciousness of their own time and place in the dialectal movement of this history. Modernism must ‘follow’; it must come after, and come to light out of the shadow of an earlier modernism or newness that is other to itself. The ill‐fated ‘post’ sought to describe just this break and continuity together. The same double movement has characterized the modernist avant‐garde, of course, but, whatever else, in its early twentieth‐century manifestation, the historical modernist avant‐garde did not, I believe, break from an earlier modernism. There is no fifteenth‐ or eighteenth‐century artistic ‘modernism’. Nor were Romanticism and Victorian realism ‘modernisms’, though they comprised the new art of a new phase of modernity. I suggest (p. 1036) that to capture not simply the advent of multiple or polycentric modernisms, but their self‐conscious relation, means recognizing the later modernisms in the West and the globalized world as ‘reflexive modernisms’. What marks this self‐conscious newness and distinguishes modernist cultural forms from modernity is the cluster of techniques by which, across the arts, existing and past materials are made new: what we might think of now, to echo Bertolt Brecht's conception of the Verfremdungseffekt, as the pedagogic, ‘social’ devices of collage, montage, and bricolage.81 Commercial culture has availed itself, of course, of these same techniques. The difference in this sameness is a matter of purpose. Andreas Huyssen, reflecting on a world where relations between tradition and the modern, the global and local have altered, but where neither term is extinguished, suggests what this purpose must be. The contest over the modern is a contest over the past and which and whose past—and therefore future—this is to be. In the spirit of Walter Benjamin, he insists that what is at stake is cultural memory. Thus, he sees a fundamental difference between a type of commodified cultural memory that is produced and marketed for ‘a media and consumer society that increasingly voids temporality and collapses space’ and those artistic and cultural works which use memory as an essential way ‘to imagine the future and to regain a strong temporal and spatial grounding of life and the imagination’.82 Thinking this way might guide us in describing earlier and later modernisms as ‘reflexive modernisms at large’, which are always spatialized, always historicized.


(1) See Andreas Huyssen, ‘Geographies of Modernism in a Globalizing World’, in Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker (eds), Geographies of Modernism: Literatures, Cultures, Spaces (London: Routledge, 2005), 6–18.

(2) See, for a synoptic set of positions, the set of papers collected in Modernism/Modernity, 13/3, special issue: Modernism and Transnationalisms, (Sept. 2006). See also Laura Doyle and Laura Winkiel, Geomodernisms: Race, Modernism, Modernity (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996). Laura Doyle restates the case in the present volume (Ch. 14) for moving beyond a ‘borrowing’ or ‘inheritance’ and inevitably binary model to a common ‘global’ model in conceptualizing the ‘co‐rooted’ relations between Western and non‐Western modernisms.

(3) Noel Carroll, ‘Globalization and Art: Then and Now’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 65/1 (2007), 138.

(4) Ibid. 139.

(5) Carroll, ‘Globalization and Art: Then and Now’, 140–10.

(6) Ibid. 141.

(7) Ibid. 142.

(8) Ibid. 133.

(9) Fredric Jameson, A Singular Modernity: Essay on the Ontology of the Present (London: Verso, 2002), 215; and see Jameson's subsequent Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London: Verso: 2005).

(10) Perry Anderson, ‘Modernity and Revolution’, in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (eds), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 317–33.

(11) Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959; repr., corr., 1976), 422; Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New (London: Thames & Hudson, 1991), 60–1.

(12) Marjorie Perloff, The Futurist Moment: Avant‐Garde, Avant Guerre, and the Language of Rupture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), p. xvii.

(13) Hughes, The Shock of the New, 60.

(14) Ellmann, James Joyce, 423 n. 10.

(15) Perloff, The Futurist Moment, p. xvii.

(16) Hugo Ball, a founding impresario of Cabaret Voltaire, liked to speculate that Lenin was a witness to the activities of the Dadaists: ‘Every evening he must surely have heard our music and our tirades,’ he said, and went on to ask, ‘Is Dadaism something of a mark and gesture of a counterplay to Bolshevism? Does it oppose to the destruction and thorough settling of accounts the utterly quixotic, unpurposeful, incomprehensible side of the world?’ (quoted in Raymond Williams, The Politics of Modernism (London: Verso, 1989), 81). The answer on the side of Bolshevism can only be ‘no’. Williams pursues this question, however, in a discussion of Soviet revolutionary theatre and Expressionist drama; Ibid. 81–94. As to the other participants, Joyce and Tzara did later appear together—in the pages of the transatlantic review, 1/4 (Apr. 1924) (Joyce, 215–23; Tzara, 224–9), along with a piece by Ernest Hemingway, 247–8, all three under the title of ‘From Work in Progress’.

(17) Susan Stanford Friedman, ‘Definitional Excursions: The Meanings of Modern/Modernity/Modernism’, Modernism/Modernity, 8/3 (Sept. 2001), 502.

(18) Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Adieu’, in Une Saison en Enfer (1873); repr. in Collected Poems (London: Penguin, 1962), 346.

(19) William Carlos Williams, Selected Essays (New York: New Directions, 1954), 21.

(20) Quoted in Alan Young, Dada and After: Extremist Modernism and English Literature (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1981), 13.

(21) Quoted in Vlada Petric, Constructivism in Film: A Cinematic Analysis: The Man with the Movie Camera (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 13.

(22) Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc (eds), The Blaue Reiter Almanac (1914), Documentary Edition, ed. and introd. Klaus Lankheit, trans. Henning Falkenstein with the assistance of Manug Terzian and Gertrude Hinderlie (London: Tate, 2006), 260.

(23) Friedman, ‘Definitional Excursions’, 53.

(24) Marjorie Perloff, 21st‐Century Modernism: The ‘NewPoetics (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), 154.

(25) Dominic Hibberd, ‘The New Poetry, Georgians and Others’, in Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker (eds), A Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, i (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 176.

(26) Émile Zola, The Experimental Novel and Other Essays, trans. Belle M. Sherman (New York: Haskell House, 1964); excerpted in Vassiliki Kolocotroni, Jane Goldman, and Olga Taxidou (eds), Modernism: An Anthology of Sources and Documents (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998), 171.

(27) Faye Hammill and Karen Leick, ‘Modernism and the Quality Magazines: Vanity Fair (1914–36); American Mercury (1924–81); New Yorker (1925– ); Esquire (1933– )’, in Brooker and Thacker (eds), A Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, ii (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

(28) Edward Bishop, ‘Re‐covering Modernism’, in Ian Willison, Warwick Gould, and Warren Chernaik (eds), Modernist Writers and the Market Place (London: Macmillan, 1996), 310.

(29) Ibid. 311.

(30) Marysa Demoor, ‘In the Beginning, There Was The Germ’, in Brooker and Thacker (eds), A Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, i. 53.

(31) The words of editor Arnold Gingrich in the first issue, Oct. 1933; cited in Time Magazine (16 Oct 1933), available at 〈,9171,746216‐1,00.html〉.

(32) Thomas Kunkel, Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of the New Yorker (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1995), 308; quoted in Hammill and Leick, ‘Modernism and the Quality Magazines’, to which this discussion is indebted.

(33) S4N, 23 (Dec. 1922), and 25 (Mar. 1923), no page numbers.

(34) Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant‐Garde, trans. Michael Shaw (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984).

(35) Hughes, The Shock of the New, 188.

(36) John Cournos, Babel (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1922), 89.

(37) Djuna Barnes, ‘Vagaries Malicieux’, Double Dealer, 3/17 (May 1922), 260.

(38) Georg Simmel, ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’, in Simmel on Culture: Selected Writings, ed. David Frisby and Mike Featherstone (London: Sage, 1997), 174–85.

(39) Bertolt Brecht, Poems 1913–1956, ed. John Willett and Ralph Manheim (London: Eyre Methuen, 1976), 382, 366.

(40) See Matthew Teitelbaum (ed.), Montage and Modern Life, 1919–1942 (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992).

(41) Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (London: Verso, 2005), 235–8.

(42) Tyrus Miller, Late Modernism: Politics, Fiction, and the Arts Between the World Wars (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 41–2.

(43) Adorno, Minima Moralia, 238.

(44) Adorno, letter to Walter Benjamin, 18 Mar. 1936, in Ronald Taylor (ed.), Aesthetics and Politics: The Key Texts of the Classic Debate Within German Marxism (London: Verso, 1977), 123.

(45) Martin Puchner, Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, Manifestoes and the Avant‐Gardes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).

(46) Ibid. 74.

(47) See ‘The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism 1909’, in Kolocotroni et al. (eds), Modernism, 249–53.

(48) Puchner, Poetry of the Revolution, 75.

(49) Puchner, Poetry of the Revolution, 77.

(50) Ibid. 78.

(51) Antonio Gramsci, ‘Marinetti the Revolutionary’, in Antonio Gramsci: Selections from Cultural Writings, ed. David Forgacs and Geoffrey Nowell‐Smith (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985), 51.

(52) See Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility and Other Writings on Media, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Brigid Doherty, and Thomas Y. Leven (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2008), 42. Benjamin sees Futurism's glorification of war as the consummation of the tradition of ‘art for art's sake’. ‘Such ’, he concludes, ‘is the aestheticizing of politics, as practiced by fascism. Communism replies by politicizing art.’ See, on this much‐discussed epigram, Susan Buck‐Morss, ‘Aesthetics and Anaesthetics: Walter Benjamin's Artwork Essay Reconsidered’, October, 62 (Autumn 1992), 3–41.

(53) Paul de Man, ‘Literary History and Literary Modernity’, in Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1983), 142–65.

(54) Ibid. 147, 148. Friedman writes of ‘“making it new” as a manifesto that refuses to acknowledge the presence of the past in the present and future’ (‘Definitional Excursions’, 504). This is clearly not Pound's own understanding.

(55) See Humphrey Carpenter, A Serious Character: The Life of Ezra Pound (London: Faber, 1988), 526–7.

(56) Shiach (Ch. 1 in this volume) emphasizes how modernism is constructed through its own contradictions: ‘rooted in tradition and classicism but fascinated by the impulse towards the “new”’. See also David James's argument on the ‘dialectic between tradition and experiment’ in modernist prose fiction (Ch. 5). Understanding this dialectic, says James, helps us ‘to correct the notion that fiction can be “modernist” only if it proves itself to be unprecedented’. Both speak to the internal tensions in conceptions of modernism I mean to draw out here.

(57) Christopher Butler, Early Modernism: Literature, Music, and Painting in Europe, 1900–1916 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 73.

(58) Marie Rambert, Quicksilver (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1972), 61; cited in Burt, Ch. 31 in this volume.

(59) See Tyrus Miller for the opposite view. Modernists, he contends, repressed history in favour of the ‘gold standard’ of aesthetic form. Late modernists by contrast ‘in no way ignored their social context’ (Miller, Late Modernism, 30–2).

(60) Frank Kermode, ‘With Slip and Slapdash’, Review of The Complete Works of W. H. Auden, iii: Prose, 1949–55, ed. Edward Mendelson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), London Review of Books (7 Feb. 2008), 19.

(61) Perloff, 21st‐Century Modernism, 5.

(62) Ibid. 3.

(63) Ibid. 6, 3.

(64) Ibid. 6.

(65) Susan Stanford Friedman, ‘Periodizing Modernism: Postcolonial Modernities and the Space/Time Borders of Modernist Studies’, Modernism/Modernity, 13/3 (Sept. 2006), 426.

(66) Ibid. 427.

(67) Nicolas Bourriaud (ed.), Altermodern Tate Triennial, exh. cat. (London: Tate, 2009), no page numbers. The exhibition was held between 3 February and 26 April 2009 at Tate Britain, London.

(73) Peter Osborne, The Politics of Time: Modernity and the Avant‐Garde (London: Verso, 1995), 142.

(74) Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (London: Fontana, 1970), 255–66.

(75) Ibid. 257, 263.

(76) Osborne, The Politics of Time, 150.

(77) Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2002), 474.

(78) Walter Benjamin, ‘Central Park’, New German Critique, 34 (Winter 1985), 43.

(79) Osborne, The Politics of Time, 156, 158.

(80) Ibid. 158–9.

(81) See, among many such instances, Bertolt Brecht, The Messingkauf Dialogues, trans. John Willett (London: Methuen, 1978), 103–5.

(82) Andreas Huyssen, Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2003), 6. On the idea of a ‘reflexive’ modernity and modernism, see my Modernity and Metropolis (London: Palgrave, 2002), esp. pp. 11–16, 23–9.