The Nineteenth-Century Foundations of Twentieth-Century Culture
The foundations of twentieth-century culture consist of formulations in the late nineteenth century--what was happening in Europe around 1900 that produced the cultural revolution called Modernism, the critical development in twentieth-century culture.
Twentieth-century cultural history has a unifying theme, that of Modernism: The emergence of Modernism, its impact in multiple areas as diverse as painting, philosophy, and anthropology, and how it evolved. We are now living in a period that is called the age of Postmodernism because we are not quite certain what it is. What we do know is that it follows upon the Modernist era whose high-point was from about 1900 to 1940, and that we are the legatees of the Modernist heritage.
The exhibition in New York in 1986 of the work of Mies van der Rohe, the prominent Modernist architect, is an example of our persistent concern with Modernism. Hardly a month goes by without a showing in New York of some form of Modernist art. Much of our time and attention within both university humanities departments and cultural weeklies and quarterlies is devoted to Modernist literature and its influence. Modernism in fact remains dominant in the publishing world, among leading purveyors of poetry and fiction, more than it probably does in culture as a whole. It continues to have a major and not always fortunate influence on what is published in poetry and fiction. The physics and microbiology that is central to natural scientists is rooted in the Modernist view of the world, and is inconceivable without it. Psychoanalysis, sociological research and anthropological theory as taught in our universities are alike products of Modernism.
Modernism is one of the four great cultural revolutions in Western civilization since 1500. By cultural revolution is meant a great upheaval in consciousness, perception, value systems and ideology which has affected the way we think of ourselves and our world, and which has had a seminal impact in literature, philosophy, religion, political theory and the visual and performing arts.
The first of these cultural revolutions was the Reformation of the sixteenth century, which not only generated Protestantism but involved the reshaping of