Disciplining Modernism by P. Caughie

By P. Caughie

A Poiret gown, a Catholic shrine in France, Thomas Wallis's Hoover manufacturing facility development, an Edna Manley sculpture, the poetry of Bei Dao, the inner combustion engine- what makes such artifacts modernist? Disciplining Modernism explores different methods disciplines conceive modernism and modernity, undisciplining modernist experiences within the procedure.

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Having detailed the formalist ruptures of modernist epistemology, ontology, and representation, he then cites Ihab Hassan’s famous schematic chart asserting the absolute break between modernism and postmodernism over modernism’s supposed alignment with the Cartesian subject and Enlightenment reason (Harvey 42–44). In his splendid book, influential across the disciplines in modernist studies, Harvey slides back and forth between ‘anarchy’ and ‘organization’ as the defining modes of High Modernism with only occasional allusion to the tension between these meanings.

The binary The definitional act itself typically depends upon a binary of inclusion and exclusion. Depending on who does the defining, certain phenomena belong to the category of modern, modernity, or modernism. Other phenomena do not. By definition. ’ Attempts to establish permeable borderlands instead of fixed boundaries and liminal spaces of considerable intermixing between differences diffuse to some extent the territorial imperative of definition but cannot ultimately eliminate the function of categories to demarcate some phenomena in opposition to others which do not belong.

Put another way, the ongoing concern with (re-)defining modernism/modernity/modern is testimony to a desire to preserve the validity of what we do as modernist studies, even as we recognize the necessity and desirability of expanding its contours and reconfiguring accepted understandings. There is a genuine anxiety here, one that keeps us returning to the problem of what, exactly, we are supposed to be working on. The question is pertinent, even if the ways of posing it seem impertinent at times, and demands that we really consider whether we can make what we do modernist studies simply by declaring it to be so—and why it matters so much that it should be modernist studies, after all.

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