How we learned to stop worrying and love modernism (again)

James Joyce and his publisher Sylvia Beach Modernism had all but retreated into its ivory tower – until the publishing world discovered that readers aren’t frightened of “difficult” books after all. On or about July 2010 the literary world experienced a small but far-reaching tremor. That was the month Gabriel Josipovici’s What Ever Happened to Modernism? was published. Much like the first Velvet Underground record, while it wasn’t a bestseller, it galvanised many of those who encountered it – in this case, to begin their own exploration of modernism’s legacy. Some critics claimed Josipovici’s quest was as quixotic as the art he lauded. His book is more personal than academic – it’s a love letter to the trauma and tribulations that, for him, were at the core of modernist art. Now, seven years later, modernism has slipped back into our lives, back onto the shelves of bookstores, and back into the vernacular of authors who are looking back in order to look forward. The debate that Josipovici started was not dissimilar to others in the past which had briefly flared up and then settled down. James Purdon wrote in a sympathetic review of Josipovici’s book that to answer why […]

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