Shakespeare's Universal Wolf: Studies in Early Modern Reification

By Hugh L. Grady | Go to book overview

Introduction: A Postmodernist Shakespeare: The Current Critical Context

POSTMODERNISM AND LATE MODERNITY

The volume of discussion of whether we are now in a new cultural period (which, in rare agreement, everyone seems to agree should be called Postmodernist) has reached that level of confused terminology and widely differing assumptions which marks all broad attempts at cultural redefinition. For some the 'post-modern' is merely an intensification of a still-vital Modernism in the arts and culture in general. For others, Postmodernism is a new and distinct period, with whatever echoes of an earlier Modernism transformed by the new social, technological, and aesthetic context to entirely new meanings. These are essentially debates about literary periods, and they tend to focus on whether we have or have not broken with the tradition of literary Modernism epitomized by the twentieth-century works of Joyce, Kafka, T. S. Eliot, Proust, Pound, and so on -- a period which may or may not have begun with Baudelaire in the mid-nineteenth century.

To complicate matters further, other critics contextualize their definitions in terms, not of what we could call the 'short modern' period of (whatever portions of) the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but of the 'long modern', a period first conceptualized by the Enlightenment but later consecrated by Jacob Burckhardt's vastly influential The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy ( 1860) as beginning in Italy in a 300-year Renaissance. Barely overlapping with this chronology is the traditional usage of philosophy, which has long had it that Descartes inaugurates modern philosophy in the early seventeenth century. In this context the debate over 'the postmodern' -- it is no longer a question of the discrete aesthetic movement (Modernism) of several decades, but of a much more global project of several centuries -- has both higher stakes and open-endedness.

In the discussion of the 'long modern' -- as suggested by the difference between Burckhardt's and academic philosophy's chronologies -- differing starting-points are in evidence -- and so, of

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