Art for Art's Sake & Literary Life: How Politics and Markets Helped Shape the Ideology & Culture of Aestheticism, 1790-1990

By Gene H. Bell-Villada | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
The Modernist Internationale and the Market

"Modernism" is the encompassing term whereby Anglophone critics now denote a long list of "-isms," as well as a constellation of original geniuses, who, from Dublin to Petersburg, Oslo to Rome, burgeoned across Europe from approximately 1860 to 1930. In its strictly aesthetic acceptation, however, "Modernism" began achieving common currency only sometime in the 1950s. Previously, "Modernism" had been a theological term, designating certain nineteenth-century efforts to reinterpret Church faith and dogma in the light of the new social, behavioral, and historical sciences; the movement was condemned by the Vatican in 1907.

While the chief American dictionaries today include the artistic one as their most recent of definitions for our "M" word, the major encyclopedias -- the Americana, the Britannica, and most notably the first two editions of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics -- do not even provide a separate entry for "Modernism." Such reticence suggests that, among generalists and critics both, consensus may be lacking as to what "Modernism" is and is not. Alternately, it may be that the word simply presents a semantic field too vast to be adequately summed up within the column inches of a reference book.

At any rate, until not too long ago cultural commentators routinely alluded to the authors, painters, and composers of that era under the general rubric of "avant-garde" or "vanguard" or, less frequently, "experimental." Meanwhile literary critics were characterizing novelists as disparate as Joyce, Proust, and Kafka as symbolist writers. Not accidentally, American undergraduates in literature courses in the 1930s picked up an analytical vocabulary of "symbolism," and many a scholarly volume with origins in those years bears some variant of the word "symbol" in its title. Later, during the 1950s, informal popular speech -- especially speech by young practitioners

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