On 8/8/01, Nancy Gish writes:
> "Modernism" is not any more easily pinned down
> or made coherent than "Romanticism." That is why
> many scholars now use the term "Modernisms."
That's a great lead-in, Nancy, for my attempts to transcribe excepts of Dr.
Perl's tapes. I'm quite sure Dr. Perl would heartily agree with what you
said. Here's the opening minute from the six-hour lectures:
My subject is the movement in literature and the other arts that is called
"Modernism", and I would like to begin by pointing out how peculiar that word
is: "Modernism". That is, the word "Modern", which is supposed to be the
neutral name of a historical period has been made, over the past few decades
(The word "Modernism" has only been used for the past few decades), the word
has been made over the past few decades into an "ism" word. A neutral
historical term has been turned into an ideological term, an "ism" word -- a
word that denotes a theory, the kind of word that's used to denote an
Now what I'm going to suggest is that Modernist art and literature cannot
be understood without understanding HOW the word "Modern" became an
ideological term, and how THAT came to pass is a subject of, I'm going to
suggest, underrated difficulty and underrated significance.
First of all, let me begin by saying: There is no such thing as Modernism.
No such thing ever existed. A famous intellectual historian, A. O. Lovejoy
made his reputation by insisting that we give up the word "Romanticism" and
use only the plural instead, "Romanticisms". I want to suggest something like
that. This insight can be applied with profit to almost anything, and
certainly to this subject. There is no such thing as Modernism -- there are
only "Modernisms", there are only a variety of "Modernisms".
Now for convenience, and reasons more important than convenience that will
become clear later, I want to accept for the time being a distinction that is
made by the British critic Frank Kermode between two kinds of Modernisms. The
two kinds he distinguishes he calls "Paleo-Moderism" on the one hand meaning
'original' or 'originary' Modernism and, on the other hand, "Neo-Modernism"
or 'new', 'later' Modernism.
[Later in the tape, Perl goes into more depth in discussing the differences
between the two schools of Modernism that he identified at the beginning]
Neo-Modernism, Paleo-Modernism. Let me give you the canon: Neo-Modernism is
the Modernism of William Carlos Williams. It is the Modernism of Gertrude
Stein. It is the Modernism of the Dada movement. It is the Modernism of the
Surrealist movement. It is the Modernism of the Bloomsbury Group, including
Virginia Woolfe. Paleo-Modernism is the Modernism of T.S. Eliot. It is the
Modernism of James Joyce, the Modernism of Ezra Pound, the Modernism of
William Butler Yeats, and to these I would add, just so you get the flavor,
the Modernism of Igor Stravinsky, the Modernism of Pablo Picasso.
-- Steve --