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Modernism: The Lure of Heresy Hardcover – November 12, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
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An elegant, erudite, insightful, and entertaining analysis of the arts and culture of our time. -- Ada Louise Huxtable
As a cultural and intellectual historian, he has perhaps no peer in his own generation. -- Harold Bloom
Beautifully written, wide-ranging and psychologically acute....Gay's magisterial book is richly rewarding. -- Stephen Greenblatt, author of Will in the World
This is cultural history of the highest magnitude, a work as astute in its analyses as it is massive in its ambition. -- Stacy Schiff, author of Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
Treats the not-always-distant past with the suave, detached but never-indifferent passion of someone possessed of...a true historical imagination. -- Adam Gopnik, author of Paris to the Moon
You can be sure that students and journalists and teachers will be stealing from Modernism for years to c ome. Bravo! -- Hilton Kramer, author
Top Customer Reviews
I am happy to report that Peter Gay, while by no means having written that elusive definitive opus, acquits himself splendidly and has produced a compulsively readable introduction to this vast topic. Discussing both the usual suspects in concise chapters (Baudelaire, Picasso, Cezanne, Duchamp, Joyce, Schoenberg, etc) and some less so (Ensor, dealer Durand-Ruel, museum curator Lichtwark), Gay weaves multiple stories together to make a seamless whole that carries the reader across Modernism's multiple manifestations: dance, sculpture, architecture, music, film as well as painting and literature.
Apt illustrations punctuate the text and the book's production as a whole is lovely. I would only criticize the dearth of illustrations when discussing paintings: verbal description can't do the visual arts justice. And like much of Gay's previous writing, Saint Sigmund hovers over the entire enterprise, thankfully never becoming too intrusive.
Having written definitive explorations of European culture in the 18th and 19th Centuries, it is a pleasure that Gay has brought readers into the 20th with this new volume, certain to be one of the most accessible introductions to Modernism for some time to come.
I feel let down. He focuses on the usual suspects; Joyce, Picasso, Balanchine, Stravinsky etc. and tells their stories with verve and enthusiasm. He dates the beginning of modernism from Baudelaire's publication of Les Fleurs du Mal in 1857. These poems offered up the twin defining characteristics Gay assigns to the movement; the breaking of conventions that elicit passionate revulsion and a subjective, psychological, inward focus by the artist. The book then follows painting, drama, music and architecture in a chronological progression through the male canon (except for Virginia Woolf) praising their distinctive takes on modernism as he has defined it.
He pulls the curtain down on the movement in 1960 with the advent of Pop Art. He ends the book with a rather perplexing claim that modernism is the great undead of movements, finding the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the architecture of Frank Gehry worthy of inclusion despite their work post-dating the movement's death knell by more than a generation. He does this by violating his own rule which is, "the lure of heresy." He doesn't claim that either Marques or Gehry were treated as heretics. They were grandly praised and understood immediately upon the appearance of their work. Isn't modernism dead when there is no shock?
This paean to the Marquez and Gehry points to a key weakness of the book in terms of providing an intellectual framework for the movement.Read more ›
Well, Gay does consider this about modernism in his intro, but rejects it. He claims that the urge to talk about "modernisms" instead of one coherent movement is misguided, and yet basically does so himself throughout his survey (and that's really all it is) of a hugely disparate collection of artists and artworks. Instead of building a case for why everyone from Picasso to Knut Hamsun to Eliot are really members of a single coherent approach or worldview, he lapses into an encyclopedic collection of artist biographies (which all seem to include the "so-and-so was born to parents of such-and-such type" trope) with thin connective tissue bringing them together in anything more than a motley crew of once-marginalized, now-highly regarded mavericks. He does posit the thesis statement that what everyone in modernism shares is a devotion to innovation and the psychological, but this doesn't seem like enough to hang 500 pages on. He also claims in the intro that he is going to use Freudian-type methods to dig into the drives of these characters, but does nothing of the sort. I learned some facts about the titans of modern art that I might be able to drop at the MOMA and sound semi-familiar with whoever I'm looking at, but not much else. I also agree with another reviewer that he missed the big picture in a major way by ignoring postmodernism...this is museum catalog blurbage masquerading as cultural/intellectual analysis.
The problem with Modernism is that there is so much of it, particularly if you set out to write about poetry and fiction, music, architecture, painting, pop culture, and the many movements and sub-movements attending them. And of course, he is not bounded by any national borders. This is history with a capital H. That means that he has relatively little space (4-6 pp., usually at the outside) for each major figure. Thus, the book is a sweeping survey, an excellent introduction to the subject. Theory is kept to a minimum. He focuses on two aspects of Modernism--its penchant for aesthetic heresy and its stress of subjectivism.
The book is also scrupulously fair, recognizing silliness and extremism where they are found and recognizing the important realities that work designed to shock the middle class cannot exist without a middle class prepared to consume it and a society sufficiently free and stable to protect the shockers and provide them a safe place in which to work.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
In the "Acknowledgements" at the end of MODERNISM, Peter Gay writes that the "book is not my fault", in the sense that writing a study of Modernism was not his idea but rather that... Read morePublished 13 months ago by R. M. Peterson
In Plato's dialogues known as the REPUBLIC and the PHAEDRUS, we learn that the human psyche has three parts: (1) the reasoning and adjudicating part, (2) the desiring part, and (3)... Read morePublished 15 months ago by Thomas J. Farrell
An absolutely brilliant study of Modernism from various cultural perspectives—truly a pleasure to read for scholars and anyone interested in the period.Published 19 months ago by T. LeCarner
This is a good book. The illustrations are very helpful. The author makes his case.Published on July 7, 2014 by John E. Banks
There are two ways to approach something of the nature of the subject of Modernism: from the outside, which lends to a text that is more a factual history, and from the inside,... Read morePublished on February 13, 2014 by A.E.M. Baumann