Modern and Postmodern, the Bickering Twins

Where are the manifestoes of yesteryear? There was a time when declarations of aesthetic commitment were commonplace. There was Futurism (as foreseen by its prophet, Filippo Marinetti, in 1909): ''Except in struggle, there is no more beauty.'' There was Cubism (as proclaimed by Apollinaire in 1913): ''We are moving toward an entirely new art which will stand, with respect to painting as envisaged heretofore, as music stands to literature.'' There was Dadaism (heralded by Tristan Tzara in 1918): ''Every man must shout: There is great destructive, negative work to be done.'' And there was Serialism, Surrealism, Neo-Classicism. Arching over them all was something that came to be called Modernism, a movement that wasn't really a movement, but that somehow combined all the isms under a single label, while also accommodating such odd couples as Pound and Brecht, Schoenberg and Stravinsky, Picasso and Duchamp. Today, the only label that claims our attention is postmodernism, and it does so in a peculiar fashion. While Modernism thrived on multiple manifestos, postmodernism's manifesto might be that no manifesto is possible: all doctrines are created equal. Postmodernism is almost impossible to pin down; like a blob of mercury, it slips away under the slightest pressure, only to pop up again in original form. Pomo, as it is affectionately called on college campuses, celebrates its own novelty and superiority, but it still can't help defining itself in opposition to Modernism, which may be as important to 21st-century culture as Greek civilization was to the Renaissance. Modernism is a source of myth; it provides a model to be imitated or rejected. But as we enter an era that could well be po-pomo, questions are increasingly being asked about just what Modernism was or even whether it was really anything at all. It is almost as if Modernism were now being recast in the image of pomo. Modernism, in these reinterpretations, is gnomic, ironic, wavering. A recent anthology of historical documents, ''Modernism,'' edited by Vassiliki Kolocotroni, Jane Goldman, and Olga Taxidou, proposes to reveal Modernism's ''contradictions and diversities,'' rejecting any coherent theory of its development. The art historian T. J. Clark, in ''Farewell to an Idea,'' is also interested in disrupting standard interpretations of Modernism by meticulously disclosing the uneasiness and discomfort latent in important paintings: ''The modernist past is a ruin, the logic of whose architecture we do not remotely grasp.'' In another book, ''Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature and Other Arts,'' Daniel Albright, a professor of Humanities at the University of Rochester, smartly argues that one of the distinguishing characteristics of Modernism was its exploration of the relationships between the arts: the way in which Stravinsky juxtaposed the music of ''Renard'' with the story's staging, or the way in which Pound's little-known opera, ''Le Testament'' uses troubadour esque music to disclose themes of modernist poetry. These books try to redefine the familiar interpretation of Modernism that flourished during the last century. The coming of the 20th century, goes this mainstream view, coincided with a crisis in the arts. Music had exhausted the possibilities of the tonal system that lay behind centuries of masterpieces; painting, if it remained pictorial, was doomed to turn into kitsch; and literature could no longer rely on the narrative of the novel and the rhythm and rhyme of verse for its energy. The world had changed politically and socially so the arts would have to change as well. The most influential aesthetic interpretation of this change was offered by the art critic Clement Greenberg. The highest achievements of Modernism, he suggested, reflect a rigorous idealism, an exploration of the principles of each art form. Modernist painting unveiled the nature of painting itself,

'' Mr. its attitude ironic. was realized by Arnold Schoenberg. In this sense. but still tried to preserve the privileged status of art works. Modernism's revolutionary potential. great art a pretense. Wyndham Lewis) or Communism (Picasso. So postmodernism refuses to take anything too seriously. Each work declares: greatness is a delusion. Modernism. the futility of their desire. creating sentimental pastiche. in his discussion of Modernism. the music could reveal the conflicts and contradictions latent in modern Western society. Both also grew out of the Marxist intellectual tradition. There is no progress.the impossibility of greatness. an entertainer. Jasper Johns's various flags -. became editor of Partisan Review in 1940. This notion of progress.'' analyzed music by decoding its attitudes toward the social order. had two major strands. in part. only plunder. disenchantment means that any authority is open to question. In fact. In Modernism there is a perspective. If Modernism began a revolution. like Cezanne's ''Large Bathers. the masquerade involved in art -. both rejected demands that art serve decorative or illustrative or sentimental functions. who began as a modernist architect. is precisely what was discarded in the recent postmodern rebellion against Modernism. Even Mr. though. It portrayed a world without certainty but declared itself certain. who. The charge against Modernism is that it did not go far enough. Adorno suggested. who. Dos Passos). Adorno argued. invokes Max Weber's characterization of the Modern as the ''disenchantment of the world. a frame of reference. for Greenberg. the progress was political and technical. History had direction and meaning. Schoenberg's opera ''Moses und Aron'' is about the difficulties in creating a new form of law. postmodernism was to complete it. Eliot's ''Waste Land'' is concerned with the difficulties of reconstituting poetry. in postmodernism there is no frame. Modernism anticipated postmodernist arguments. For Adorno. But in Modernism. and tradition cannot be relied upon for guidance. he suggested. In close analyses of particular artworks. but both actually were mandarin in their tastes and rigorous in their demands.these were. There was a notion that something was at stake. stripped away illusion with his rigorous technique. Some sought refuge in premodern religious faith (Eliot) or declared allegiance to a premodern folkish past (Bartok). To a careful listener. Composers like John Adams and John Corigliano playfully plundered earlier styles. It rejected the burden of tradition. though. So Modernist works are scarred by a sense of uncertainty. retrograde strand was represented by Stravinsky. while modernist sculpture revealed the means by which art related to space. A more political interpretation was offered by the philosopher Theodor Adorno. later converted to pomo.was already accepted and anticipated by the Modernist movement. that sense of bewilderment was taken seriously. it already showed how difficult and perhaps impossible the attempt to re-enchant the world may be. but it also took tradition seriously. arguments against Modernism and its beliefs. formal concerns with Marxism and its interest in economics and the working class). Postmodernism objected. Andy Warhol's Pop Art. The reconciliation was not all that difficult. Greenberg. The odd thing is that this very declaration -. who.'' or Picasso's ''Man With Guitar.'' Here. in fact.for example. Clark. and here's the demonstration. no stability: tradition is a collection of trivia. Clark reveals how the tensions between a yearning for certainty and a certainty of its impossibility are inscribed in the images. Philip Johnson. because one underlying assumption in many of the manifestoes of Modernism was that ''progress'' could be clearly defined. coyly mixing elements of styles past. a journal that was trying to reconcile Modernism and its stern. Clark. and deeply felt. the progress was aesthetic and intellectual. The inauthentic. who tried to distract the listener from more serious concerns. the effort to reconstitute a tradition and re-enchant the world could be the central preoccupation of the work itself. who calls himself a Marxist. Mr. has his refuge: his . But that is precisely what gives the works their power. Modernism wanted to overturn the past. was all flash and little substance. Adorno and Greenberg might seem to have had very little in common. Its mode is play. Their subject is partly the difficulty of their project. The urgency of this preoccupation by Modernism may be one reason that so many of its adherents fell prey to the temptations of extreme certainties like Fascism (Pound. in ''The Philosophy of Modern Music. he was an acrobat.

both of them postmodernists who refuse to take anything too seriously. Is it possible. Above. London). the composer John Adams. how is Modernism to be understood? Artistic progress has proved to be an illusion. ''Brillo Box'' by Andy Warhol and at left. Cezanne's Modernist ''Large Bathers. then. (National Gallery. Now that this is a po-pomo world. unavoidably present. (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). Modernism.'' ''the accumulation of capital and the spread of capitalist markets. Pomo said. (Christine Alicino/Nonesuch).narrative includes what he calls a ''Satan. it's impossible and doesn't matter anyway. that the culture is still immersed in Modernism? That the struggle and search continue despite Pomo's best efforts to say they don't matter? Po-Pomo may turn out to be just a variety of Mo. Photos: Postmodernism rebelled against Modernists' notion of progress and went on to plunder their styles. The Modernist Igor Stravinsky. in retrospect. Manifestoes have become impossible. making a mockery of pomo irony. can even seem a bit obsessive (Joyce's ''Finnegans Wake'') or overwrought (Schoenberg's ''Erwartung''). who explored the relationships between the arts.'' At far left. Yet there it remains. (Joseph Nettis) .'' But this search for certainties only emphasizes the main point: Modernism was haunted by a struggle with disenchantment and a search for new bearings.