The Social History of Art - Vol. 4

The Social History of Art - Vol. 4

The Social History of Art - Vol. 4

The Social History of Art - Vol. 4

Excerpt

If the purpose of historical research is the understanding of the present--and what else could it be? --then this enquiry is approaching its goal. What we are now to be concerned with is modern capitalism, modern bourgeois society, modern naturalistic art and literature, in short, our own world. Everywhere we are faced with new situations, new ways of life, and feel as if we were cut off from the past. But the incision is probably nowhere so deep as in literature, where the frontier between the older works which are merely of historical interest to us and those that arise from now onwards and are still more or less topical today represents the most remarkable breach in the whole history of art. It is only the works produced on our side of the divide that constitute the living, modern literature directly concerned with our own contemporary problems. We are separated from all the older works by an unbridgeable gulf--to understand them, a special approach and a special effort on our part are necessary and their interpretation is always involved in the danger of misunderstanding and falsification. We read the works of the older literature differently from those of our own age; we enjoy them purely aesthetically, that is, indirectly, disinterestedly, perfectly aware of their fictitiousness and of our self-deception. This presupposes points of view and abilities which the average reader in no way has at his command; but even the historically and aesthetically interested reader feels there is an irreconcilable difference between works which have no immediate relationship to his own age, his own feelings and aims in life, and such as have grown out of these very feelings and seek an answer to the question:

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