modernism, modernization, and modernity:
Modernity can be thought of
1. as a category of historical periodization: a distinct period in time.
2. as a quality of social experience, ("our" modernity), and as the experience of a qualitative difference in historical time.
3. as a project, which is perhaps incomplete. (Habermas, Foucault, Deleuze (?) ) Perhaps also as a crisis.
1. What is the modern period?
2. In The Politics of Time, Peter Osborne describes modernity as meaning both the "present moment" and as something qualitatively new, distanced even from the recent past. In most accounts, the "modern moment" is experienced as a rupture with the past, which occurred at a specific moment in history and involves a deliberate forgetting. Paul de Man invites us to consider "the idea of modernity" as "consisting in a desire to wipe out what came earlier, in the hope of reaching at last a point that would be called a true present, a point of origin that marks a new departure."
Modernity becomes a permanent transition, and, according to Adorno, represses duration in the desire for the new. "Modernity is a qualitative, not a chronological, category." (Adorno, from Minima Moralia) This notion of modernity abstracts the logical structure of the process of change from its concrete historical determinants.
Frederic Jameson describes modernity as the way "modern" people think about themselves -- the way they try to make sense out of the relation between modernization as a social process and modernism as cultural form. Thus the modern feeling would seem to consist in the conviction that we ourselves are somehow new, that a new age is beginning, that everything is possible, and that nothing can ever be the same again. (Postmodernism, p. 310) Thus to feel postmodern is to feel that the word new no longer has the same resonance.
3. In New German Critique, no. 22, Winter 1981, Jürgen Habermas retraced some earlier moments in the history of the concept of the modern. It was first used in the 5th Century to distinguish the Christian present from the Roman and pagan past. The history of the term through the Renaissance and 17th century France is a succession of moments in Europe when the consciousness of a new epoch formed itself through a renewed relationship to the ancients. (when antiquity was considered a model to be recovered through some kind of imitation, so that a contemporary transformation could be seen as a renewal) According to Habermas, the "spell" of the classics was first dissolved in the French Enlightenment. The idea of the modern was no longer defined in relation to the ancients, but was now inspired by modern science and by the progressivist idea of infinite advance towards social and moral betterment.
According to Habermas' account, the romantic modernists of the 19th century found inspiration in the idealized Middle Ages, but the later modernism of the mid 19th century was based on a more abstract opposition between tradition and the present. The distinguishing mark of the modern became the "new".
For Habermas, this sense of modernity creates its own self-enclosed canons of being classic. Thus "a modern work becomes a classic it has once been authentically modern." (p.4) The relation between "modern" and "classical" has definitely lost a fixed historical reference. In fact, for Frederic Jameson, the "great modernist works" became reified, that is to say that while they may have been produced as figures for the unblocking of human energy, they were eventually received in a way that shut out any sympathetic participation in their production.
Habermas characterizes the various projects of modernity as a set of responses to the "problems of modernity's self-reassurance," the problem of an " anxiety caused by the fact that a modernity without models had to stabilize itself on the basis of the very diremptions it had wrought." (diremption: violent tearing apart) Following Max Weber, Habermas describes the "project of modernity" (which is also the "Project of Enlightenment") as the separation of religion and metaphysics into three autonomous spheres: science, morality, and art. As a result, each domain of culture could be made to correspond to cultural professions, in which special experts, separating themselves from the larger public, could develop objective science, universal morality and law, and autonomous art according to their "inner logic". Thus modernity was marked by the "loss" (or simply the increasing impotence) of successive transcendental justifications (God as Reason and later, under Enlightenment, Reason as God) under the spur of increasing internal differentiation into separate, immanent spheres of knowledge, where none can lay absolute claim to authority over the operations or self-understanding of any other. (William Rasch and Cary Wolfe, Observing Complexity, Introduction) According to Niklas Luhmann, the transition to modern society is characterized by the movement away from stratified and hierarchical organization to a "functionally differentiated" one, in which different function systems exist on the same plane.
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, following Deleuze and Guattari, call the discovery of the plane of immanence as the primary event of modernity.
This project of modernity requires a universally assumed but nowhere concretely localizable lifeworld. In Modernity at Large, Arjun Appadurai describes the "self-fulfilling and self-justifying" quality of modernity in this way: "Whatever else the project of Enlightenment may have created, it aspired to create persons who would, after the fact, have wished to become modern." (p1)(see imagination)
Michel Foucault's analyses of the practical and discursive spaces of modernity show ways in which human beings "problematize what they are." (Use of Pleasure, p.10)
"Habermas associates himself with the bourgeois Enlightenment and its still universalizing and Utopian spirit. With Adorno himself, Habermas seeks to rescue and recommemorate what both see as the essentially negative, critical, and Utopian power of the great high modernisms. On the other hand, his attempt to associate these last with the spirit of eighteenth-century Enlightenment marks a decisive break indeed with Adorno and Horkheimer's somber Dialectic of Enlightenment, in which the scientific ethos of the philosophes is dramatized as a misguided will to power and domination over nature, and their desacralizing program as the first stage in the development of a sheerly instrumentalizing worldview which will lead straight to Auschwitz." (Jameson, Postmodernism, p.58)
Modernization: A whole set of transformations that are identified as modernization include urbanization, the technological transformations of agriculture, manufacture, the rise of bureaucracies...etc.
If there is a distinction between modernity and modernism , it is perhaps better articulated as a distinction between the social process of modernization and the culture of modernity, or in Appadurai's terms, between modernization as a fact and modernization as a theory. This distinction has often served as an ideological "wedge" used for different purposes. The adherents of a (left) oppostional "culture of negation" have seen the culture of modernity as "the medium of hibernation in bad times" (Adorno, quoted by Schulte-Sasse, in his preface to Bürger, p.xviii). Critics from the right, such as Daniel Bell, have blamed the "adversary culture" for crises of developed societies and the destruction of a moral basis for the rational conduct of life. Jonathan Crary reminds us that "visual modernism took shape within an already reconfigured field of techniques and discourses about visuality and an observing subject." (Suspensions of Perception, intro. p. 6) (see visuality )
Modernism is a set of aesthetic ideas and techniques that lay claim to the modern present. In "Modernist Painting", (reprinted in Modern Art and Modernism) Clement Greenberg tautologically describes modernism as "almost the whole of what is truly alive in our culture." Greenbergian modernism, if not modernism per se, depends on the distinction between high art and mass culture, or kitsch. (see popular culture)
For Greenberg, the essence of modernism, which starts with Kant, is in the intensification of the self-critical tendency of Western civilization. This essence "lies...in the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself -- not in order to subvert it, but to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence." (cf negation, role of Dada etc) Thus Kant's "immanent" criticism used philosophical logic to both reduce the scope of philosophy's jurisdiction and to provide it with a more secure posession of what remained to it.
On the face of it, this definition of modernism seems identical with Habermas' description of the "project of modernity." (and of the Enlightenment) Indeed, Greenberg's argument continues to describe the "rational justification of social activity" that came to be demanded of each art. For Greenberg, what had to be "exhibited and made explicit was that which was unique and irreducible not only to art in general, but to each particular art." Just like Kant's philosophical project, "Each art had to determine, through the operations peculiar to itself, the effects peculiar and and exclusive to itself. By so doing each art would, to be sure, narrow its area of competence, but at the same time it would make its posession of this area all the more secure"
In 1965, when that essay was written, Greenberg had narrowed down the specificity of painting to "flatness." The history of painting modernist painting which progressively focussed on this attribute of painting started with Manet (cf the completely different treatment of Manet's "Olympia" by T.J. Clark) and proceeded through the Impressionists, the Cubists, through Mondrian to Hans Hofmann (and by extension to the painters such as Olitski, Stella, and Noland that Michael Fried championed.) It is important to note that for Greenberg modernism did not imply rupture. It might mean an unravelling of anterior tradition, but it also meant its continuation. Like science, it "converts theoretical possiblities into empirical ones." Interestingly enough, when he describes Mondrian's "pushing back" of the limiting conditions of painting, he points out that "the further back these limits are pushed, the more explicitly they have to be observed." (it is in this respect, I believe, that Greenberg comes to equate Modernism with Formalism.)
Thus Modernism "takes its place ... in the intelligible continuity of taste and tradition."