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LEON SURETTE Modernism, Postmodernism, Fascism, and Historicism The critique to which Modernism is now being subjected by Postmodemism has made it increasingly apparent that :NIodemism has long been ' m.lsconstrued in so far as it has been understood as the fulfilment - or the latest development - of liberal humanism.1 Such a view of Modernism was to jts credit in the 19405 and 19505 when liberal humanism was the 'ideology' of choice- However, today 'liberalism' is becomi.ng a dirty word among enJightened American intelJectuals - as it has been for a long time among wueconshucted conservatives and Marxists. In the 19405 and 19505, a liberal thought herself to be a sceptic and a relativistj a relativist in that she tolerated views and opinions she thought erroneous, and sceptical in that she believed that the 'plai.n truth' was ultimately unattainable. Howevec within the perspective of the Postmodem , such tolerance does not count as relativism nor does such epistemic modesty count as scepticism. Now only a thoroughgoing, Nietzschean denial of the possibility of knowledge and a consequential equalization of all beliefs and systems counts as sceptical relativism. Because liberal humanism clings to a belief in an objective world as the object of knowledge, it belongs to the ideology that Nietzsche calls jSocratism,' Heidegger 'metaphysics,' and Derrida 1ogocentrism' -onesaid to be characterized by absolutism in science, patriarchy in politics, dogmatism in philosophy, and fonnalism in art. More than any other single text, the 198) edition. of Paul de Mao's collection of essays, Blindness and Insight, typifies the shift between the old 'inside' view of Modernism, and the new 'outside' or 'hindsight' view. Taking formalist criticism as synecdochic ofModernism, de Man characterizes it as promising'a convergence between logical positivism and literary criticism' - a promise which has not been fulJilled.1 Modernism's selfperception as sceptical and relativist was undoubtedly a self-deception, but the Postmodem perception of Modernism as 'epistemo]ogkal' and absolutist is equally self-serving and distorting. I propose to interrogate these contrary views, with the objective of discovering their justice and accuracy. My first point is to observe that the characte.r of the shift in sensibility between the older 'inside' view and the cU]"rent 'outside' view is to some degree masked by a shared vocabulary whose meanings have shifted subtly - in particular such terms as 'liberal,' UNMRSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOUJM:E 6Cl, NUMBER 4, SUMMER 1991 MODERJ'lISM, POSTMODERNISM, FASCISM, HISTORICISM 477 'relative/ and 'sceptical.' On the other hand, an unnoticed and unexpected continuity is masked by a cloud of neologisms - such as 'Logocentrism/ 'di/fbal1ce/ and 'episte.me.' I begin by offering an account of Modernism divergent from both the older linside' view and the polemical Postmodern view. nus understanding emphasizes the visionary, mythical, and even mystical aspects of Modernist literature. Such accounts are found early - in Edmund Wilson's Axels' Castle - and late - in James Longenbach's account of the 'sceptical visionaries' whose thought he tells us (in Modernist Poetics of HistDnj) informs High Modernism. The 'danger' of this view is that if Modernism is not sceptical and relativistic, it may be found to be credulous and absolutist orat least dogD'\atic- to be, in short,RightWing, Fundamentalist, and Retrograde. Just such a conclusion motivated the New York Intellectuals '3 opposition to Pound's Bollingen Pri2e, and their suspicion of Eliot's conservative social criticism. For them, Modernism was tinged with fascist elements. Their critique is once agaLn gaining a hearing in the context of the Postmodern polemic..( The astonishing success of de Man's espousal of a sub-Heideggerean relativism and scepticism among North Amer.ican hterary scholars is no doubt partly due to the fact that a tacit axiom of the avant-garde has long been that credulity and dogmatism are the marks (respectively) of the peasi1l\try and the bourgeDisie. Romanticism - the bete noire of Modernism - chose the credulity of the child, the savage, and the peasant over the dogmatic intolerance of the bourgeoisie and the sophisticated scepticism of the savant. Modernism opposed it.s own sceptical 'realism' - typified by constitutive works such as Ulysses and The Waste umd, which 'tell it like it is' - to Romantic credulity. But (in contradiction...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 476-492
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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