Monday, November 19, 2007

Rutten, Tim. "Review of MODERNISM: THE LURE OF HERESY by Peter Gay." LOS ANGELES TIMES November 14, 2007.

Peter Gay is perhaps our leading historian of culture and ideas, and in Modernism: The Lure of Heresy: From Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond he sets himself an interesting -- personally felt -- task. It is not, as he writes in his introduction, to give a comprehensive history of the movement. Rather, Gay undertakes a reconstruction of modernism's origins in the lives and work of various seminal artists -- Charles Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, their supporters and friends. Then he moves through a series of essay-like chapters devoted to modernism's workings in each of the arts -- painting, sculpture, literature, music, dance, architecture and so on. Gay, who has undergone formal psychoanalytic training, is a leading, though undogmatic, practitioner of what has come to be called psychohistory -- and Sigmund Freud's shadow lies across many of these essays. He is a generally helpful presence because Gay, as his subtitle suggests, convincingly locates the modernist impulse in the talented individual's struggle against convention and orthodoxy. This focus on the protean artist makes broad descriptions difficult, since, as Gay points out, "Whatever cultural symptoms of modernism we explore, the particular threatens to overpower the general." Still, he maintains, modernism "produced a fresh way of seeing society and the artist's role in it, a fresh way of valuing works of culture and their makers. In short, what I am calling the modernist style was a climate of thought, feeling and opinion."Its defining characteristics, according to Gay, were two: "First, the lure of heresy that impelled [artists'] actions as they confronted conventional sensibilities; and, second, a commitment to a principled self-scrutiny." Read the rest of the review here:,0,203673.story?coll=la-books-headlines.

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