Paris, Capital of Modernity

Paris, Capital of Modernity

Paris, Capital of Modernity

Paris, Capital of Modernity

Synopsis

Collecting David Harvey's finest work on Paris during the second empire, Paris, Capital of Modernity offers brilliant insights ranging from the birth of consumerist spectacle on the Parisian boulevards, the creative visions of Balzac, Baudelaire and Zola, and the reactionary cultural politics of the bombastic Sacre Couer. The book is heavily illustrated and includes a number drawings, portraits and cartoons by Daumier, one of the greatest political caricaturists of the nineteenth century.

Excerpt

One of the myths of modernity is that it constitutes a radical break with the past. The break is supposedly of such an order as to make it possible to see the world as a tabula rasa, upon which the new can be inscribed without reference to the past—or, if the past gets in the way, through its obliteration. Modernity is, therefore, always about [creative destruction, ] be it of the gentle and democratic, or the revolutionary, traumatic, and authoritarian kind. It is often difficult to decide if the radical break is in the style of doing or representing things in different arenas such as literature and the arts, urban planning and industrial organization, politics, lifestyle, or whatever, or whether shifts in all such arenas cluster in some crucially important places and times from whence the aggregate forces of modernity diffuse outward to engulf the rest of the world. The myth of modernity tends toward the latter interpretation (particularly through its cognate terms of modernization and development) although, when pushed, most of its advocates are usually willing to concede uneven developments that generate quite a bit of confusion in the specifics.

I call this idea of modernity a myth because the notion of a radical break has a certain persuasive and pervasive power in the face of abundant evidence that it does not, and cannot, possibly occur. The alternative theory of modernization (rather than modernity), due initially to Saint-Simon and very much taken to heart by Marx, is that no social order can achieve changes that are not already latent within its existing condition. Strange, is it not, that two thinkers who occupy a prominent place within the pantheon of modernist thought should so explicitly deny the possibility of any radical break at the same time that they insisted upon the importance of revolutionary change? Where opinion does converge, however, is around the centrality of [creative destruction.] You cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs, the old adage goes, and it is impossible to create new social configurations without in some way superseding or even obliterating the old. So if modernity exists as a meaningful term, it signals some decisive moments of creative destruction.

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