Planetary Modernisms
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Planetary Modernisms

Provocations on Modernity Across Time

Susan Stanford Friedman

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eBook - ePub

Planetary Modernisms

Provocations on Modernity Across Time

Susan Stanford Friedman

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Drawing on a vast archive of world history, anthropology, geography, cultural theory, postcolonial studies, gender studies, literature, and art, Susan Stanford Friedman recasts modernity as a networked, circulating, and recurrent phenomenon producing multiple aesthetic innovations across millennia. Considering cosmopolitan as well as nomadic and oceanic worlds, she radically revises the scope of modernist critique and opens the practice to more integrated study.

Friedman moves from large-scale instances of pre-1500 modernities, such as Tang Dynasty China and the Mongol Empire, to small-scale instances of modernisms, including the poetry of Du Fu and Kabir and Abbasid ceramic art. She maps the interconnected modernisms of the long twentieth century, pairing Joseph Conrad with Tayeb Salih, E. M. Forster with Arundhati Roy, Virginia Woolf with the Tagores, and Aimé Césaire with Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. She reads postcolonial works from Sudan and India and engages with the idea of Négritude. Rejecting the modernist concepts of marginality, othering, and major/minor, Friedman instead favors rupture, mobility, speed, networks, and divergence, elevating the agencies and creative capacities of all cultures not only in the past and present but also in the century to come.

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What is modernity? What is or was modernism? Why is the energetic, expanding, multidisciplinary field of modernist studies so filled with contestation over the very ground of study? Definitional activities are fictionalizing processes, however much they sound like rational categorization. As such, I will begin with three stories, allegorized but rooted in my own experience in an evolving field.1
STORY 1: WHERE HAVE ALL THE REBELS GONE?
Imagine a young woman starting graduate school in 1965 in an American land-grant university. Remember the suburban dream of the 1950s for middle-class (white) girls: the penny loafers and saddle shoes, the poodle skirts and prom chiffon, the cheerleaders and Elvis screamers, college for the MRS degree, the station wagon and four kids. No books. No art. No ideas. No passion. Conformity was the name of the game. Conformity and materialism. Then. The first butts of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. Fuck. Shit. Sex. Pot. Buttons. Pierced ears. Long hair. Unisex style. Civil Rights. Vietnam. Pigs. Feminism. Gay Rights. Welfare Rights. Union Rights. What was “modernism” to a graduate student in English and American literature in the heady days of the 1960s? Modernism was rebellion. Modernism was “make it new.”2 Modernism was resistance, rupture. To its progenitors. To its students. Modernism was the antidote to the poison of tradition, obligation.
STORY 2: WHAT DOES A CYBERPUNK REALLY WANT?
Picture an aging scholar in 1995, past the half-century mark, entering into her first graduate seminar on modernism in a land-grant university. “What was modernism?” she asks. A circle of eyes and silences. A couple to the side shift uncomfortably. She has cropped purple hair and kohled eyes. He wears fishnet stockings and thick buckled Pilgrim heels. A tidy tail of silky golden hair flows down his back. So thin in black, so pale in whiteface, they are their own shadows. They know “what modernism was.” Modernism was elitism. Modernism was the Establishment. “High Culture” lifting its skirts against the taint of the “low,” the masses, the popular. Modernism was the supreme fiction, the master narrative, the great white hope. To its pomo descendents, modernism is the enemy. Postmodernism is the antidote to the poison of tradition, obligation.
STORY 3: WHAT’S A POOR STUDENT TO DO?
Listen in on an exchange between two scholars, the one graying and the other balding in the wisdom of their seniorities—she a cultural critic, he a social scientist. Children of the 1960s, teachers of the 1990s. It is 1995; their manuscripts pass back and forth through snail mail. “What was modernism?” they ask, both acknowledging it as a historical phenomenon but neither willing to assert that it is fully over and done with. For both, modernism both was and is. But what was modernism? She knows. It is the (illusory) break with the past, a willed forgetting of tradition, continuity, order. It is the embrace of chaos. It is the crisis of representation, fragmentation, alienation. It is indeterminacy, the rupture of certainty—material and symbolic. It is the poetics of modernity—change—and the aesthetic inscriptions thereof. (Pace cyberpunks, for whom modernism no longer “is” as it recedes into the deadness of postmodernism’s past.)
He knows too. Modernism is state planning. Modernism is totalization, centralized system. Modernism is the Enlightenment’s rational schemata. “Progress”—“Science”—“Reason”—“Truth.” Modernism is the ideology of post-Renaissance modernity—conquest—and the inscriptions thereof. (Pace cyborgs, modernism still lives in the danger of ever-forming centralized hegemonies and utopian totalitarianisms.)
Moral of the Stories
Just what is modernism in an exchange where the word means not just different things but precisely opposite things?
∞∞∞
The opposition of meanings produced over time (from story 1 to story 2) morphs into a binary of oppositions existing across space (story 3). In toto, the stories represent a conjuncture of temporal and spatial oppositions. So. Let’s move from storytelling to another kind of conjuncture: parataxis—the juxtaposition of things without providing connectives. Parataxis: a common aesthetic strategy in modernist writing and art, developed to disrupt and fragment conventional sequencing, causality, and perspective. Parataxis: the opposite of hypotaxis in linguistics, thus the opposite of hierarchical relationships of syntactic units. Parataxis: a mechanism of the “dream work” in Freud’s grammar for the unconscious processes of disguised expression of the forbidden, indicating unresolved or conflicting desires.
PARATAXIS 1
• “Modernism … is the one art that responds to the scenario of our chaos.”3
• “‘Who says modernity says organization,’ it has been remarked.”4
PARATAXIS 2
• “We have seen that the creators of modernist works are negative demystifiers: they unmask absolutism, rationalism, idealism—and all illusions.”5
• “But I do not think we shall begin to understand modernism unless we look at the way it was seemingly compelled, over and over, at moments it knew were both testing ground and breaking point, to set it self…the task of Enlightenment, or the task of bourgeois philosophy, in its ruthless, world-breaking and world-making mode.”6
PARATAXIS 3
• “Indeed Modernism would seem to be the point at which the idea of the radical and innovating arts, the experimental, technical, aesthetic ideal that had been growing forward from Romanticism, reaches formal crisis—in which myth, structure and organization in a traditional sense collapse, and not only for formal reasons. The crisis is a crisis of culture.”7
• “What is ‘high modernism’ then? It is best conceived as a strong, one might say muscle-bound, version of the beliefs in scientific and technical progress associated with the process of industrialization in Western Europe and North America from roughly 1830 until the First World War. At its center was a supreme self-confidence about continued linear progress, the development of scientific and technical knowledge, the expansion of production, the rational design of social order, the growing satisfaction of human needs, and, not least, an increasing control over nature (including human nature) commensurate with scientific understanding of natural laws. High modernism is thus a particularly comprehensive vision of how the benefits of technical and scientific progress might be applied—usually through the state—in every field of human activity.”8
PARATAXIS 4
• “To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world—and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are…. To be modern is to be part of a universe in which, as Marx said, ‘all that is solid melts into air.’”9
• “The paramount figure in modernism is that of the static and abstract model separated from the dynamic ebb and flow of reality. This figure is that of the Cartesian ‘I,’ of the abstract natural rights of the French Revolution, of Kantian reason, of the unsuccessful blueprints of the worst of orthodox Marxism, of city grids, of Corbusier’s machine à habiter, of Habermas’s ideal speech situation.”10
PARATAXIS 5
• “Intrinsic to the condition of modernity….has been a rejection by and within those [Enlightenment] narratives of what seem to have been the strongest pillars of their history: Anthropomorphism, Humanism, and Truth…. In France, such rethinking has involved, above all, a reincorporation and reconceptualization of that which has been the master narratives’ own ‘non-knowledge,’ what has eluded them, what has engulfed them. This other-than-themselves is almost always a ‘space’ of some kind … coded as feminine, as woman.”11
• “I will use the term modern to designate any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse … making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth … : this is the Enlightenment narrative, in which the hero of knowledge works toward a good ethico-political end—universal peace….”12
PARATAXIS 6
• “If it is possible to talk about ‘modernism’ as the major movement in Western literature (and art in general) of the first half of the twentieth century, I would argue that it is also possible to talk about ‘modernist form,’ a shorthand term used to designate that cluster of stylistic practices … : (1) aesthetic self-consciousness; (2) simultaneity, juxtaposition, or ‘montage’ [and] … ‘fragmentation’; (3) paradox, ambiguity, and uncertainty; and (4) … the demise of the integrated or unified subject…. I would add … : abstraction and highly conscious artifice, taking us behind familiar reality, breaking away from familiar functions of language and conventions of form … the shock, the violation of expected continuities, the element of de-creation and crisis….”13
• “… certain schematic differences …”
Modernism
Postmodernism
Romanticism/Symbolism
Pataphysics/Dadaism
Form (conjunctive, closed)
Antiform (disjunctive, open)
Purpose
Play
Design
Chance
Hierarchy
Anarchy
Mastery/Logos
Exhaustion/Silence
Art Object/Finished Work
Process/Performance/Happening
Creation/Totalization
Decreation/Deconstruction
Synthesis
Antithesis
Presence
Absence
Centering
Dispersal
Genre/Boundary
Text/Intertext …
Hypotaxis
Parataxis …
Signified
Signifier
Narrative/Grande Histoire
Antinarrative/Petite Histoire
Master Code
Idiolect
Genital/Phallic
Polymorphous/Androgynous
Origin/Cause
Difference-Differance/Trace …
Metaphysics
Irony
Determinacy
Indeterminacy
Transcendence
Immanence14
PARATAXIS 7
• “Modernity, therefore, not only entails a ruthless break with any or all preceding historical conditions, but is characterized by a never-ending process of internal ruptures and fragmentations within itself.”15
• “The belief ‘in linear progress, absolute truths, and rational planning of ideal social orders’ under standardized conditions of knowledge and production was particularly strong. The modernism that resulted was, as a result, ‘positivist, technocratic, and rationalistic’ at the same time as it was imposed as the work of an elite avant-garde of planners, artists, architects, critics, and other guardians of high taste.”16
Moral 1
As terms in an evolving scholarly discourse, modernity and modernism constitute a critical Tower of Babel, a cacophony of categories that become increasingly useless the more inconsistently they are used. We can regard them as a parody of critical discourse in which everyone keeps talking at the same time in a language without common meanings. When terms mean radically different or contradictory things to people, then their use appears to threaten the project of scholarship/teaching altogether.
Moral 2
As contradictory terms resisting consensual definition, modernity and modernism form a fertile terrain for interrogation, providing ever more sites for examination with each new meaning spawned. As parody of rational discourse, their contradictions highlight the production of meaning possible by attention to what will not be tamed, by what refuses consistency and homogenization. Their use ensures the open-ended ongoingness of the scholarly/pedagogical project whose first task is to sustain the continuation of interrogation, to ensure, in short, its own perpetuation.
∞∞∞
Modernisms is one thing, but modernism as absolute contradiction is quite another. Definitions spawn plurality in the very act of attempting to herd meaning inside consensual boundaries. Definitions mean to fence in, to fix, and to stabilize. But...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Planetary Modernisms
APA 6 Citation
Friedman, S. S. (2015). Planetary Modernisms ([edition unavailable]). Columbia University Press. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/773635/planetary-modernisms-provocations-on-modernity-across-time-pdf (Original work published 2015)
Chicago Citation
Friedman, Susan Stanford. (2015) 2015. Planetary Modernisms. [Edition unavailable]. Columbia University Press. https://www.perlego.com/book/773635/planetary-modernisms-provocations-on-modernity-across-time-pdf.
Harvard Citation
Friedman, S. S. (2015) Planetary Modernisms. [edition unavailable]. Columbia University Press. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/773635/planetary-modernisms-provocations-on-modernity-across-time-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Friedman, Susan Stanford. Planetary Modernisms. [edition unavailable]. Columbia University Press, 2015. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.