The Concept of Modernism

The Concept of Modernism

The term "modernism" is central to any discussion of twentieth-century literature and critical theory. Astradur Eysteinsson here maintains that the concept of modernism does not emerge directly from the literature it subsumes, but is in fact a product of critical practices relating to nontraditional literature. Intervening in these practices, and correlating them with modernist works and with modern literary theory, Eysteinsson undertakes a comprehensive reexamination of the idea of modernism.

Eysteinsson critically explores various manifestations of modernism in a rich array of American, British, and European literature, criticism, and theory. He first examines many modernist paradigms, detecting in them a conflict between modernism's culturally subversive potential and its relatively conservative status as a formalist project. He then considers these paradigms as interpretations-and fabrications-of literary history. Seen in this light, modernism both signals a historical change on the literary scene and implies the context of that change. Laden with the implications of tradition and modernity, modernism fills its major function: that of highlighting and defining the complex relations between history and postrealist literature. Eysteinsson focuses on the ways in which the concept of modernism directs our understanding of literature and literary history and influences our judgment of experimental and postrealist works in literature and art. He discusses in detail the relation of modernism to the key concepts postmodernism, the avant-garde, and realism. Enacting a crisis of subject and reference, modernism is not so much a form of discourse, he asserts, as its interruption-a possible "other" modernity that reveals critical aspects of our social and linguistic experience in Western culture.

Comparatists, literary theorists, cultural historians, and others interested in twentieth-century literature and art will profit from this provocative book.