Tuesday, January 1, 2013
On Modernism: When Nietzsche wrote "The world is a work of art that gives birth to itself" in the 1880s, he captured modernism's central thrust. Even the above painting (Salvador Dalí's surrealist piece The Persistence of Memory - 1931) defined the modernist ethos of breaking down time and space. In doing so, modernists sought to dissolve rationality itself. The primal superseded the rational, especially since modernists believed it existed before reason along the scale of evolutionary consciousness. Generally speaking, modernism was a distinct period of cultural history grounded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Art, literature, and philosophy all underwent massive shifts in directional thinking. The rigid societal norms of Victorianism provided the reactionary backdrop for many British and American modernists, while Bismarck's Second Reich served a similar purpose for German modernists. As the world's population surpassed one billion around 1850, many people questioned how they would continue to exist. Although advances in agricultural, medical, and transportation technologies (mechanical reapers, anesthetics, and trains) helped people survive the nineteenth century, they frightened modernists because each innovation effectively re-instituted the primacy of time and space.