- Modernism, 1910-1945. Image to Apocalypse
The year 1910 marked the end of the Edwardian Era. It saw the Paris premiere of Stravinsky's and Diaghilev's The Firebird; the former conceived Le Sacre du printemps establishing, through Nijinsky, a new conception of movement and, with it, Russian dynamics in expression. Rilke published his modernist novel Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge; Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto continued to be serialized in European papers; and the artist group surrounding Ernst Ludwig Kirchner ('die jungen Wilden') had finally found their style in figurative abstraction, providing a complement of high originality to Picasso's experiment with form. The first Post-Impressionist exhibition in London that year masterminded by Roger Fry provided vital links between the eruptions in art on the European Continent and England with her more reserved attitude towards cultural change, even though she prided herself in continuously spearheading dramatic transformations in industrial and commercial terms. Modernism indulged, at least initially, in the art of being different.
By 1910 Freud had already provided the foundations for psychoanalytical aesthetics (in Der Dichter und das Phantasieren), comparing the poet's daydreaming to a child's activity ('he creates his own world for himself […] or transposes the things of his world into a new order that pleases him'), and dissonance in music experienced a resounding emancipation. Perhaps we should add that around that time Richard Strauss, too, changed his mind, in his case about modernism in opera, which he had brought to a climax with Electra in 1909, but after [End Page 419] he decided to work on a piece of blissful regression, Der Rosenkavalier. Against this backdrop Virginia Woolf's often quoted phrase 'on or about December 1910, human character changed' sounds somewhat understated if not pathetic, unless we agree with Jane Goldman who argues that 'December 1910 may mean for Woolf material improvement for women workers, and the emergence of women from intellectual darkness into prismatic enlightenment, from obscurity into public life' (159). It may indeed mean just that.
Baudelaire once identified Edgar Allan Poe as the first modernist because he was an 'écrivain des nerfs'. But it was Rimbaud's prose poem Une saison en enfer that indicated the potentially ideological dimension of what was implied by being modern: 'Il faut être absolument moderne' (1873). This claim was intended to be inclusive. Therefore a meaningful definition of modernism must appreciate its essentially transnational and intercultural dimension. In that respect Jane Goldman's study has a long way to go. Although she provides a synoptic chronology at the end of her investigation and mentions Rimbaud once and Rilke twice (but Musil not at all), her approach is decidedly insular. Vienna, after Paris the second cradle of Modernism, barely gets a look in. She is evidently unfamiliar with Jacques le Rider's and Hilde Spiel's seminal explorations of Viennese modernism. It would have been much more honest if the title of Goldman's study indicated that she is, in fact, mainly talking about Modernism in the Anglophone world. Any survey of the more recent studies on Modernism, most notably Helmuth Kiesel's masterly achievement Geschichte der literarischen Moderne. Sprache Ästhetik Dichtung im zwanzigsten Jahrhundert (C. H. Beck, Munich 2004), demonstrates just how essential it is to appreciate the European cross- and undercurrents of this persistently prominent 'ism'. The sheer scale and density of modernism's decidedly transnational interconnections, to a certain extent in response to Rimbaud's categorical aesthetic imperative to artistic practice, continue to amaze one even in the age of globalisation.
Goldman is fond of categorizing. This has its merits when categories help to define the contours of often amorphous trends within modernism. But when the reader is confronted with the subtitle 'Introduction to Part I and Chapter 2' (33) the commendable will to structure turns into lamentable parody.
The visual arts feature prominently in Goldman's Modernism but sadly at the expense of music. She likes Schwitters but ignores Schiele. Schoenberg gets...