Academic journal article German Quarterly

Defining Modernism, Baudelaire and Nietzsche on Romanticism, Modernity, Decadence, and Wagner

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Defining Modernism, Baudelaire and Nietzsche on Romanticism, Modernity, Decadence, and Wagner

Article excerpt

Gogrof-Voorhees, Andres Defining Modernism. Baudelaire and Nietzche on Romanticism, Modernity, Decadence, and Wagner. New York. Peter Lang, 1999. 201 pp. $46.95 hardcover.

This study summarizes Baudelaire's and Nietzsche's thoughts on the cultural problems posed by modernization. In separate sections devoted to each writer, the book traces how the concepts of romanticism and decadence, and the figure of Wagner, provide the grounds for defining and questioningthe status of art in modernity. In the section on Baudelaire, GogrofVoorhees provides close readings of his "The Salon of 1845," "The Salon of 1846," "The Painter of Modern Life," and "The Universal Exhibition of 1855," as well as his essays on Poe and Wagner, to follow how Baudelaire's thinking about modern art and the role of the modern artist develops through his shifting views on romanticism, decadence, and Wagner's importance. In the second section, Gogrbf-Voorhees traces the same concepts in Nietzsche's thought: romanticism and modernity in The Birth of Tragedy and "On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life" (Untimely Meditations); decadence in Human, All Too Human, The Gay Science, andEcce Homo; and Wagner's status as a modern artist in "The Case of Wagner." In both sections, Gogrof-Voorhees highlights well the ambivalence each thinker feels towards modernity. She shows, for example, how the concept of the decadent "dandy" in Baudelaire's thought embodies both a resistance to and an affirmation of modernity; how Baudelaire's fascination with the surface phenomenon of fashion is linked to his commitment to the expression of the "eternal" in aesthetics; and how Nietzsche both personally identified with and aggressively attacked a decadent attitude.

Gogrof-Voorhees's topic is, without a doubt, highly relevant, her writing is clear, and her close readings adequate to their objects. However, the book seems to be driven by a sense of duty to cover and summarize the primary and secondary literature at the expense of an inspiring new argument or approach. There are interpretive oases-the discussion of fashion and aesthetics in Baudelaire; the insight that Nietzsche does not condemn the modern condition so much as he condemns a lack of self-consciousness about it; and the discussion of Paul Bourget's inestimable influence on Nietzsche's critique of mass culture-yet all too often the reader is forced back to a recapitulation of themes as they unfold in each thinker's works. …

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