Five Faces of Modernity  

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"It is always hard to date with precision the appearance of a concept, and all the more so when the concept under scrutiny has been throughout its history as controversial and complex as "modernity."--incipit Five Faces of Modernity (1977) by Matei Călinescu

"That is why, while conspicuously absent from the world of pagan antiquity, the idea of modernity was born during the Christian Middle Ages." --Five Faces of Modernity (1977) by Matei Călinescu

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Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism (1987) by Romanian literary critic Matei Călinescu. It is a revised edition of Faces of Modernity (1977).

From the publisher:

Five Faces of Modernity is a series of semantic and cultural biographies of words that have taken on special significance in the last century and a half or so: modernity, avant-garde, decadence, kitsch, and postmodernism. The concept of modernity—the notion that we, the living, are different and somehow superior to our predecessors and that our civilization is likely to be succeeded by one even superior to ours—is a relatively recent Western invention and one whose time may already have passed, if we believe its postmodern challengers. Calinescu documents the rise of cultural modernity and, in tracing the shifting senses of the five terms under scrutiny, illustrates the intricate value judgments, conflicting orientations, and intellectual paradoxes to which it has given rise.
Five Faces of Modernity attempts to do for the foundations of the modernist critical lexicon what earlier terminological studies have done for such complex categories as classicism, baroque, romanticism, realism, or symbolism and thereby fill a gap in literary scholarship. On another, more ambitious level, Calinescu deals at length with the larger issues, dilemmas, ideological tensions, and perplexities brought about by the assertion of modernity.



Stendhal's clear-cut and polemical dichotomy between "le beau ideal antique" and "le beau ideal moderne," which occurs in his Histoire de la peinture en Italie (1817)...



Modern Dwarfs on the Shoulders of Ancient Giants

standing on the shoulders of giants
"That is why, while conspicuously absent from the world of pagan antiquity, the idea of modernity was born during the Christian Middle Ages."

The Problem of Time: Three Eras of Western History

It is We Who Are the Ancients

Montaigne's Essays (1580), Francis Bacon's Advancement of Learning (1605) and Novum Organum (1620), Descartes's Discours de la methode (1634) are some of the important landmarks in the history of modernity's self-assertion.

Comparing the Moderns to the Ancients

"At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the title of one of Leonardo Bruni’s dialogues synthesizes a broader trend: De modernis quibusdam scriptoribus in comparatione ad antiquos.
Boileau, who, in his Reflexions critiques sur Longin (1694; 1710)

From Modern to Gothic to Romantic to Modern

The Two Modernities

The idea of art's autonomy was not a novelty in the 1830s, when the battlecry of Art for Art's Sake became popular in France among circles of young Bohemian poets and painters. The view of art as an autonomous activity had been defended half a century earlier by Kant, who, in his Critique of Judgment (1790), had formulated his paradoxical concept of art's "purposiveness without a purpose" ["Zweckmäßigkeit ohne Zweck"] and thus affirmed art's fundamental disinterestedness.

Baudelaire and the Paradox of Aesthetic Modernity

Passez en revue, analysez tout ce qui est naturel, toutes les actions et les désirs du pur homme naturel, vous ne trouverez rien que d’affreux. Tout ce qui est beau et noble est le résultat de la raison et du calcul. Le crime, dont l’animal humain a puisé le goût dans le ventre de sa mère, est originellement naturel. La vertu, au contraire, est artificielle, surnaturelle, puisqu’il a fallu, dans tous les temps et chez toutes les nations, des dieux et des prophètes pour l’enseigner à l’humanité animalisée, et que l’homme, seul, eût été impuissant à la découvrir. Le mal se fait sans effort, naturellement, par fatalité ; le bien est toujours le produit d’un art.

English excerpt:

"Crime, of which the human animal has learned the taste in his mother's womb, is natural by origin" [1]
  • [Baudelaire] has a clear and highly significant bias in favor of mechanical metaphors, see Machine Age.

Modernity, the Death of God, and Utopia

death of God, utopia

Literary and Other Modernisms

Comparing the Moderns to the Contemporaries



From Modernity to the Avant-Garde

The "Avant-Garde" Metaphor in the Renaissance: A Rhetorical Figure

"Etienne Pasquier (1529-1615) wrote in his Recherches de la France: 'A glorious war was then being waged -against ignorance, a war in which, I would say, Sceve, Beze, and Pelletier constituted the avant-garde; or, if you prefer, they were the fore-runners of the other poets.'"

The Romantic "Avant-Garde": From Politics to the Politics of Culture

Some Mid-Nineteenth-Century Writers and the Avant-Garde

Two Avant-Gardes: Attractions and Repulsions

Avant-Garde and Aesthetic Extremism

The Crisis of Avant-Garde's Concept in the 1960s

Death of the avant-garde

Avant-Garde, Dehumanization and the End of Ideology

Avant-Garde and Postmodernism

Intellectualism, Anarchism, and Stasis


Decadence, Decadent movement

Versions of Decadence

From "Decadence" to "Style of Decadence"

The Decadent Euphoria

Nietzsche on "Decadence" and "Modernity"

Nietzsche read in 1883 Paul Bourget's Essais de psychologie contemporaine, from which he borrowed the French term décadence.

Calinescu mentions Hans Vaihinger's as if philosophy.

Calinescu mentions "The secret of reaping the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment from life is to live dangerously" and Goethe's dictum "What is Classical is healthy; what is Romantic is sick.

The Concept of Decadence in Marxist Criticism

Il Decadentismo



Kitsch and Modernity

Kitsch, Camp, and High Art

Etymology, Contexts of Usage, and the "Law of Aesthetic Inadequacy"

Kitsch and Romanticism

Bad Taste, Ideology, and Hedonism

Some Stylistic Considerations

Kitsch and Cultural Industrialization

The "Kitsch-Man"



A New Face of Modernity

Epistemology and Hermeneutics: From Modernity to Postmodernity

The Silence of the Avant-Garde

The Novelty of the Past: The View from Architecture

Critiques of Postmodernism

Literary Postmodernism: The Shaping of a Corpus

Postmodernist Devices and Their Significance


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