Modernism Essays

Modernism Essays-41
Driven by visions of an alternative society that was to be realised through the widening of consciousness with the help of aesthetic and psychedelic experimentation, the critique of the institutionalisation of art, and the search for an alternative modern tradition beyond the classical canon, the notion of pop at work in culture at the time certainly had a very different connotation compared to what the likes of Adorno tended to associate it with.More specifically, Huyssen argues that the 60s pop sensibility may be characterised in terms of four different components: firstly, a temporal imagination oriented towards a future that was conceived of in terms of a radical rupture from the present; secondly, a critique of aesthetic elitism (so-called ‘aestheticism’) and the institutionalisation of high modernist art; thirdly, a novel technological optimism that grew out of the new media technologies (television, video and the computer) and media theory at the time (Mc Luhan in particular); and finally, the inclusion of the various minority-cultures (e.g.The concept of popular modernism was coined by Mark in order to theorise the culture that he grew up with in post-war Britain and that formed him as an individual.

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In that regard, they need to be sharply distinguished from realism, but also from mere fantasy – which tend to either simply affirm the world as it is (cognition), or invoke worlds and (non-) realities that have nothing to do with our own (estrangement).

Contra mere cognition or estrangement, it is precisely the between the two that is crucial here – between a desire to constantly expand reality as we know it, but without lapsing into the supernatural.

– cognitive estrangement also turns out to be a useful resource for pinpointing the utopian underpinnings of (popular) modernist culture.

In a discussion of the concept of utopia, Freedman – drawing upon the major utopian thinker Ernst Bloch – points out that the aesthetic potency of utopia lies in how certain works of art are capable of estranging the empirical reality of the present by introducing fragments of other realities that are radically different from our world as we know it.

Particular modernist techniques were not only disseminated but collectively reworked and extended, just as the modernist task of producing forms which were adequate to the present moment was taken up and renewed.

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But beyond Mark’s personal experiences, popular modernism is also an important concept insofar as it encompasses much of what was culturally progressive during the post-war decades – and in that way indexes an internal shift that took place in popular culture roughly from the 60s and onwards.For the Frankfurt School, popular culture – what they famously referred to as the ‘culture industry’ – is simply an extension of capitalism’s drive towards total control and domination into the realm of leisure time.However, while it may be tempting today to simply dismiss these ideas as representative of some kind of old-school elitism, it is important to remember when they first where articulated – during World War II, when the members of the Frankfurt School were forced to live in exile in the US, among other places, because of their Jewish heritage.Neither part of the conventions of the high modernism cherished by the Frankfurt School, nor simply another piece of mass culture, the post-war decades saw the emergence of aesthetic forms and cultural ecologies that do not fit into the cultural high-/low-distinction established by canonical modernist thinkers such as Theodor Adorno and Clement Greenberg.But they are also not compatible with the postmodern frameworks that have been constructed in critical response to high modernism, and – while useful for drawing out some of its most severe limitations – too often ended up in a disappointingly bland ‘anything goes’ kind of relativism.Popular modernism is arguably one of the key concepts of Mark Fisher’s critical project; yet it was never extensively defined in his published writings.In this essay, Jon Lindblom elaborates on the concept by looking at the dialectic of the popular and the modernist beyond Fisher’s usage of it within a UK-specific context.There was thus a significant sense of totalitarian domination in the air at the time – both because of political dictators and entertainment and consumer culture (this was during the golden age of the Hollywood studio-system, for instance) – which undoubtedly had major impact on the Frankfurt School’s bleak analyses of popular culture and Western society as a whole (perhaps most notably in Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s influential from 1947).But with that said, the Frankfurt School’s sharp distinction between modernism and popular culture has proven increasingly difficult to defend after a number of post-war decades in which widespread modernist experimentation in popular cultural formats were flourishing in ways that do not sit easily with the idea of popular culture as a mere instrument of social oppression.As he puts it in his most extensive discussion of the concept in his book In popular modernism, the elitist project of modernism was retrospectively vindicated.At the same time, popular culture definitely established that it did not have to be populist.


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