The Ghosts of Modernity

The Ghosts of Modernity

The Ghosts of Modernity

The Ghosts of Modernity

Synopsis

Jean-Michel Rabate, the eminent French Joycean, combines psychoanalytical and philosophical concepts in rereading the history of modernity to give a more precise meaning to the term modernism. Rabate focuses throughout on a single theme, the ghostly nature of modernity. In writing a history of the concept of modernity with the awareness that the radically new has often been subject to the effects of the return of the repressed. Rabate analyzes the notion of loss in various fields: in Freudian aesthetics of color, in literary history, and in philosophy. The postmodernist fascination with a lost object allows a reconsideration of the boundaries of such terms as modernism and postmodernism. The conclusion ties together all these motifs, from Joyce to Barthes, and shows their theoretical basis in Marx's criticism of ideology and in Freud's consideration of mourning. From the analysis of "color" as an unthinkable object of discourse to an aesthetics of the unpresentable, Rabate points to the possibility of an "ethics of mourning", which would seem capable of overcoming the dead end of history whose ending condemns it to eternal repetition.

Excerpt

The Crosscurrents series is designed to foreground comparative studies in European art and thought, particularly the intersections of literature and philosophy, aesthetics and culture. Without abandoning traditional comparative methodology, the series is receptive to the latest currents in critical, comparative, and performative theory, especially, that generated by the renewed intellectual energy in post-Marxist Europe. It will as well take fill] cognizance of the culrural and political realignments of what for the better part of tile twentieth century have been two separated and isolated Europes.

While Western Europe is moving aggressively toward unification in the European Community, with the breakup of the last twentieth-century colonail empire and the collapse of communist hegemony--the former Soviet Union -- Eastern Etirope is subdividing into nationalistic and religious enclaves. The intellectual, cultural, and literary significance of such profound restructuring, how history, will finally rewrite itself, is difficult to anticipate. Having had a fertile period of modernism snuffed out in an ideological coup not long after the 1917 revolution, the nations of the former Soviet bloc have, for instance, been denied (or spared) the age of Fretid, most modernist experiments, and postmodern fragmentation. While Western Europe continues to reach beyond modernism, Eastern Europe may be struggling to reclaim it. Whether a new art can emerge in the absence--or from the absence--of such forces as shaped modernism is one of the intriguing questions of post-cold war aesthetics, philosophy, and critical theory.

In the Ghosts of Modernity,Jean-Michel Rabaté returns to and rereads the modernist enterprise through its own hauntings, "textual or historical specters that have not been properly laid to rest." Rabaté revisits those shapers of poetic high modernism, such as Eliot, Pound, and Mallarme, in whom ghostings testify, to the failure of mourning, which is an act of integration: "The main point I would like to make is that [Eliot and Pound] help us understand how modernism is 'haunted' by voices from the past and how this shows in an exemplary way, the ineluctability of spectral returns. What returns is, in a classi-

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