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Anthony J. Cascardi GENEALOGIES OF MODERNISM SOME preliminary remarks are in order for an essay on modernism which does not propose a discussion ofthe "high modernist'' writing of JamesJoyce, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, or Ezra Pound. The modernism which I am seeking to describe has its beginnings in the seventeenth century and may be understood as a consequence of the historical project undertaken by Descartes. In die Meditations, me Discourse on Method, and die Rulesfor the Direction of the Mind, Descartes carried out a program of self-criticism which called for the rejection of die wisdom of the ancients and die accumulated experience of die past in favor of diose trudis of reason which could be certified by die madiematical mind. Taken togedier, the will to begin philosophy entirely anew and die conception that reason consists in the ordering of structures or quantities comprise what has sometimes been referred to as Descartes's "foundational" project, i.e. die will to formulate a context for Üiought which would transcend me immediate historical conditions in which die diinking act takes place. Descartes's search for the foundations ofknowledge is placed in the service of what Hans Blumenberg has called modernist "self-assertion," diat is, the self-authenticating production of new ideas.1 This is meant to secure die historical legitimacy of modernism and to justify its self-conception as independent of any sacred or secular paradigm whose original meaning is to be found in the past. Yet this positive project is accompanied by several limitations which derive from die conception ofreason in terms ofwhich it is carried out. The self-grounding nature of die reason which Descartes describes is conceived in terms of a madiematical substance in which the objective nature of qualities and values is lost to die "subjective" mind. Modernism so conceived is at once strongly revisionist and staunchly rationalist, and yields a series of paradoxes and antinomies which reflect me instability of die syndiesis from which it is forged. On die one hand, 207 208Philosophy and Literature modernism is die result of an attempt to make dieory the master of history, and to assert die priority of a theory of the self (more accurately , of the "subject") over the claims of die self in any of its particular manifestations or historical forms. Radier than say diat history is dius eliminated from modernist thought, it would be more accurate to say that Descartes construes history as open to radical revision by speculation. Yet while modernism proceeds from a conception of reason which proposes to master die conditions of history, it remains incapable of providing a theoretical account ofdie historical nature of its own genesis and task. Indeed , die cogito as "founding" act ofdiought establishes itselfwidiin history as die moment of a radical discontinuity or gap. The value of history is dius relativized to its value for an absolute present, and die will to revise die past is transformed into die pure will to self-revision, itself a form of die "transvaluation" of all values and a manifestation of die Nietzschean "will-to-power" over die past. The genealogy of modernism dius encompasses die philosophy of Descartes as well as diose who set diemselves the task of challenging Cartesian rationalism and who stand in apparent opposition to Cartesian ideas. My claim is diat die traditions represented by Descartes, Hume, and Kant on die one hand, and by Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida on die odier, must be seen as one tradition and not two, and diat die genealogy of modernism may be said to conform to die antinomic configuration which together these lines represents. On die one hand, modernist culture invokes a conception of reason which resembles diat of the madiematical sciences; it begins, as in Galileo and Descartes, with die geometrization ofdie natural world. Yet it concludes, as in Nietzsche, in a movement which leaves inaccessible to rational judgment the entire range of phenomena associated with values, desires, and die will. In a well-known essay, "Against Dryness," Iris Murdoch made die related assessment mat philosophical currents as apparently diverse as French existentialism and logical positivism actually shared a model of value judgment, mat of reason supplying die mind widi...


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