odernism: The Lure of Heresy
by Peter Gay
Despite all that’s already been written about Picasso and T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf and Igor Stravinsky, said Terry Teachout in Commentary, Gay’s 600-page survey is the first to attempt “a comprehensive chronicle” of modernism across all disciplines. It’s not an easy task. Gay deserves much credit merely for being able to write “almost as fluently” about music and dance as he does about literature and the visual arts. “For general readers looking to reacquaint themselves” with many of the crucial moments and figures of the period, said Kate Bolick in The Boston Globe, it will be a treat to do so in the company of an author who is so “winningly erudite.”
But Gay’s guided tour unfortunately “ends up leading nowhere,” said Adam Kirsch in The New York Sun. He fails to investigate how modernism may have “doomed” all artists since to a futile effort to re-create “the shock of the new.” Worse, his exploration of individualized “subjectivity” neither meshes with his first theme nor explains why modernists including Ezra Pound and Knut Hamsun were attracted to authoritarianism. Somewhere along the way he should have figured out that the impulse linking both the foes and friends of liberty was the “idolatry of art.” Living in the so-called twilight of the idols, their “frail hope” was that art by itself could provide “a sufficient source of value for human life.”
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