Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
– Leonard Cohen
Modernism is a broad term depicting a late 19th to mid-20th-century movement in literature, art, architecture, music, thought and theology.
This movement challenged preexisting beliefs and conventions while exploring new avenues of creative synthesis.
Wielding a kind of double-edged sword, modernist intellectuals and artists cut through the apparent certainty of the Enlightenment along with the dogmas and rigidity of religion.
Modernism is also seen as a time of de-centering, as illustrated in the artistic move to cubism, works like T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and The Hollow Men,¹ the 12-tone compositions of Arnold Schoenberg² and the potent rhetoric of Friedrich Nietzsche.
Some see modernism in C. G. Jung’s challenges to Freud (about the libido and parapsychology) and traditional Christianity (as an apparently stale, ossified structure). Jung certainly was affected by James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), which is often upheld as an exemplar of modernism and he reported a dream in which a huge turd falls on the Christian Church.
However, many also portray Freud as a modern, especially in his beliefs about the unconscious, antisocial impulses, and childhood sexuality. And several contemporary thinkers now see Jung as an early postmodern, in addition to his unique linking of depth psychology and spirituality.³
Like any term trying to connect the dots of history, modernism is somewhat arbitrary, selective and replete with debatable subcategories and elaborations.
In Western society, the idea of modernism was propelled by the horrors of The Great War (WW-I) and the rapid rise of industrialism but its roots are traceable to the philosophical works of Immanuel Kant and the violent and terrifying French Revolution.
¹ Ezra Pound and W. B. Yeats are two other prominent modernist poets.
² Along with the radical departures of Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Olivier Messiaen and others.
³ Jung’s emphasis on a center of the psyche makes it difficult to classify him as a modern.
On the Web
- “Synchronicity and Poststructuralism: C. G. Jung’s Secularization of the Supramundane,” Ph.D. thesis by Michael W. Clark (PDF 21.25 mb)