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What Ever Happened to Modernism? Hardcover – September 28, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"[Josipovici's] approach does more justice to the complexity of Modernism than any capsule account could provide. And because Mr. Josipovici is himself an accomplished novelist, he knows how to craft a strong narrative. . . . The story he tells is unexpectedly compelling."—Eric Ormsby, Wall Street Journal
(Eric Ormsby Wall Street Journal)

“[A] small, elegant volume . . . Josipovici offers a refreshing retro-radicalism by rejecting the vetted reading list.”—John L. Murphy, New York Journal of Books
(John L. Murphy New York Journal of Books)

"An appealing literary-historical excursion . . . Quite engaging."—M. A. Orthofer, Complete Review
(M. A. Orthofer Complete Review)

"A measured and accessible polemic against contemporary culture. . . . What we have instead is a richer, broader and more exciting book than is signaled by the title. . . . This book is so alive. . . . An inspiring, sometimes electrifying, call to arms; a serious book for serious readers."—Ben Hamilton, The Millions
(Ben Hamilton The Millions)

"Valuable . . . . You don't have to agree with all of Josipovici's demanding ideas about what it means to write fiction after modernism to be stimulated and provoked by this book."—Bill Marx, Arts Fuse
(Bill Marx Arts Fuse)

"An essential work that is highly readable and quotable. Those familiar with Josipovici's work with recognize that respect, and the humanity underlying. . . . His position is well articulated. . . . Hopefully future writers will regard this impressive and impassioned book as an invitation to engage openly with [Josipovici's] story and view of modernism."—Jeff Bursey, American Book Review
(Jeff Bursey American Book Review)

"The story he tells is unexpectedly compelling. . . . Mr. Josipovici has a gift for sweeping the reader along."—Eric Ormsby, The Wall Street Journal
(Eric Ormsby The Wall Street Journal)

"One of the pleasures of Gabriel Josipovici's Whatever Happened to Modernism? is that it all but forces us—dares us even—to argue with it. . . . Careful moderate critics are useful, bit it it the fiery, aggrieved ones who scale the highest intellectual heights, and Josipovici has scaled those heights with brio and panache."—Matthew Cheney, Rain Taxi
(Matthew Cheney Rain Taxi)

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2011 in the Language and Literature category.
(Choice Outstanding Academic Title Choice 2012-03-12)

About the Author

Gabriel Josipovici is a prolific and eminent novelist, literary theorist, critic, and scholar. He is currently research professor at the University of Sussex, where he taught in the School of European Studies for thirty-five years.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (September 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300165773
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300165777
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,859,682 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This little volume packs a punch, for those able to take the impact of its hefty erudition. This eminent English critic defends a far more distant pedigree for modernism than one might expect. All the way from Aeschylus, to Durer and Luther, and then from Cervantes forward into the early modern, and then the Enlightenment, Romantic, nineteenth-century, and modernist periods.

Offering the reader a steady, very serious array of texts and art that refuses easy answers can be bracing, or sobering. Josipovici prefers the former mood, but understands the latter. He argues that the consolations of today's middlebrow novels and ready-made sob stories from this oppressed constituency or that geopolitical hotspot do not make for lasting literature. His last chapter will gain the most attention, for such utterances. The reactions should prove telling, for defenders and advocates of Josipovici's rather mandarin, but slyly subversive, stance.

This might have benefited from more illustrations. Much art is discussed, but not much of it gains representation. Some readers may find the concision overwhelming. While more straightforward than many monographs from most professors, nevertheless this demands a wide familiarity with the best of the Western canon. However, for a brief book, he avoids jargon and his theory stands by its own clarity against many who will oppose his thesis as they may this canon, for all its own rebelliousness. His survey compresses the type of liberal education once assumed by the arts graduate, but one that in this era appears to be eroding given identity politics as a substitute for the modernist canon.

Josipovici makes his points in rapid, but studied form--so careful attention is necessary to do justice to his arguments.
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In wondering about What Ever Happened to Modernism, Gabriel Josipovici wants us to revisit modernism for a number of reasons. He finds fiction as currently practiced to be the product of great talent, but, he borrows a phrase of the art critic Clement Greenberg, "It took talent - among other things - to lead art that far astray. Bourgeois society gave these talents a prescription, and they fill it - with talent." (172) He also wants us to understand the source of the great hold that the modernists, like Proust, still have for us.

If there is one phrase that lies at the heart of the modernist spirit, that would be Schiller's "the disenchantment of the world." (12) The loss of transcendent authority, and the rise of its replacement, individualism, meant that the artist was called to help us understand the reality that had once seemed self-evident. This calling is not to give us a new understanding of reality, to make us comfortable again, to provide a narrative with a satisfying conclusion. It is, rather, to show the world in its essential strangeness, to help us see just how far we are from comprehending how mutually blind the world and we are to each other.

He starts us with Rabelais and Cervantes. Don Quixote, for instance, invents himself as a knight, invents even his own name. But isn't that the author's job?

Don Quixotes's madness dramatizes for us the hidden madness in every realist novel, the fact that the hero of every such novel is given a name merely in order to persuade us of his reality, and that he has giants created for him to do battle with and Dulcineas for him to fall in love with simply to satisfy the demands of the narrative.
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This is a superb work, no question - lucid, hugely erudite, tightly argued, far-reaching. I've just one problem with its premise, though. Its whole thesis is structured around the argument that modernism is an articulation of the "disenchantment of the world" associated with the Renaissance and the dawning of the modern age, that its proponents, all the way back to Cervantes until bang up to date, give voice to the struggle of consciousnesses set adrift when the divine no longer gives meaning to the world, and meaning itself is put in question. But don't some of the key writers of that age, some of the most brilliant and challenging intellects, stand in complete contradiction to the idea of the disenchantment of the world? What about William Blake? Holderlin? Poe? Kleist? Coleridge? Georg Trakl? There are visionary writers who totally confute the desacralization of the world. They may not give voice to the divine in any tongue that can commonly be understood, but isn't that always the way of revelation? And don't they give birth by doing so to spellbinding, mystifying, endlessly fertile works of art that crown and transcend the entire canon of modernism? Or are the voices of the prophets too timeless to be time-bound by a concept like modernism?
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