All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity - PDF Free Download (2024)

"A vlslonory work which by oil rights ought to hove the lmpoct of such sixties bibles os Growing Up Rbsurd ond Life Rgolnst Death" -Robert Chrlstgou. Thtl VI/loge \blce

All Tl1at Is Solid Mt:lts ll'ltoAir

All That Is S Welts Into Air Marshall Berman

The Experience of Modernity



Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Books USA Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2 Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England First published in the United States of America by Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1982 This edition with a new preface published in Penguin Books 1988 Published simultaneously in Canada 20 19 18 17 16 Copyright© Marshall Berman, 1982, 1988 All rights reserved Parts of All TllaJ Is Solid Melts Into Air were previously published in slightly different form in Dissent magazine, Winter 1978; American Review #19, 1974; and Berkshire &view, October 1981.

The author is gratefulfor permission to use excerpts from the following wor/cs: Mminetti: Selected Writings, edited and with an introduction by R. W Flint, translated by R. W Flint and Arthur A. Coppotelli. Copyright © 1971, 1972 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc., and reprinted with their permission. Beyond Good and Evil by Fredrik Nietzsche, translated by Marianne Cowan, Regnery Gateway, 1967. Futurist Manifestos, English language translation copyright © 1973 by Thames and Hudson, Ltd. Reprinted by permission ofthe Viking Press, Inc. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA

Berman, Marshall, 1940All that is solid melts into air. Bibliography: p. Includes index. I. Civilization, Modern-20th century. 2. Civilization, Modern -19th century. I. Title. CB425.B458 1988 909.82 87-29174 ISBN 0 14 01.0962 5 Printed in the United States of America Set in Baskerville

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

In Memory of Marc Joseph Berman


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This is far from a confessional book. Still, as I carried it for years inside me, I felt that in some sense it was the story of my life. It is impossible here to acknowledge all those who lived through the book with me and who helped make it what it is: the subjects would be too many, the predicates too complex, the emotions too intense; the work of making the list would never begin, or else would never end. What follows is no more than a start. For energy, ideas, support and love, my deepest thanks to Betty and Diane Berman, Morris and Lore Dickstein, Sam Girgus, Todd Gitlin, Denise Green, Irving Howe, Leonard Kriegel, Meredith and Corey Tax, Gaye Tuchman, Michael Walzer; to Georges Borchardt and Michel Radomisli; to Erwin Glikes, Barbara Grossman and Susan Dwyer at Simon and Schuster; to Allen Ballard, George Fischer and Richard Wortman, who gave me special help with St. Petersburg; to my students and colleagues at the City College and the City University of New York, and at Stanford and the University of New Mexico; to the members of the Columbia University seminar in Political and Social Thought, and of the NYU seminar in the Culture of Cities; to the National Endowment for the Humanities; to the Purple Circle Day Care Center; to Lionel Trilling and Henry Pachter, who encouraged me to begin this book, and to keep at it, but who did not live to see it in print; and to many others, not named here, but not forgotten, who helped.

Contents Preface to the Penguin Edition: The Broad and Open Way




Introduction: Modernity-Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow


I. Goethe's Fawt: The Tragedy of Development First Metamorphosis: The Dreamer Second Metamorphosis: The Lover Third Metamorphosis: The Developer Epilogue: The Faustian and Pseudo-Faustian Age II. All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: Marx, Modernism and Modernization

1. 2. 8. 4. 5.

The Melting Vision and Its Dialectic Innovative Self-Destruction Nakedness: The Unaccommodated Man The Metamorphosis of Values The Loss of a Halo Conclusion: Culture and the Contradictions of Capitalism

III. Baudelaire: Modernism in the Streets

1. Pastoral and Counter-Pastoral Modernism 2. The Heroism of Modem Life 8. The Family of Eyes

37 41 51 60 71 87 90 98 105 111 115 120 131 134 142 148

4. The Mire of the Macadam 5. The Twentieth Century: The Halo and the

155 164

Highway IV.


Petersburg: The Modernism of Underdevelopment


1. The Real and Unreal City "Geometry Has Appeared": The City in the Swamps Pushkin's "Bronze Horseman": The Clerk and the Tsar Petersburg Under Nicholas 1: Palace vs. Prospect Gogol: The Real and Surreal Street Words and Shoes: The Young Dostoevsky 2. The 1860s: The New Man in the Street Chernyshevsky: The Street as Frontier The Underground Man in the Street Petersburg vs. Paris: Two Modes of Modernism in the Streets The Political Prospect Afterword: The Crystal Palace, Fact and Symbol 3. The Twentieth Century: The City Rises, the City Fades 1905: More Light, More Shadows Biely's Petersburg: The Shadow Passport Mandelstam: The Blessed Word With No Meaning Conclusion: The Petersburg Prospect

176 176 181 189 195 206 212 215 219 229 232 235 249 249 255 270 284

In the Forest of Symbols: Some Notes on Modernism in New York


1. Robert Moses: The Expressway World

290 312 329

2. The 1960s: A Shout in the Street 3. The 1970s: Bringing It All Back Home Notes





Sold llelts Into Air

Preface To The Penguin Edition: The Broad and Open Way IN All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, I define modernism as any attempt by modern men and women to become subjects as well as objects of modernization, to get a grip on the modern world and make themselves at home in it. This is a broader and more inclusive idea of modernism than those generally found in scholarly books. It implies an open and expansive way of understanding culture; very different from the curatorial approach that breaks up human activity into fragments and locks the fragments into separate cases, labeled by time, place, language, genre and academic discipline. The broad and open way is only one of many possible ways, but it has advantages. It enables us to see all sorts of artistic, intellectual, religious and political activities as part of one dialectical process, and to develop creative interplay among them. It creates conditions for dialogue atnong the past, the present and the future. It cuts across physical and social space, and reveals solidarities between great artists and ordinary people, and between residents of what we clumsily



call the Old, the New and the Third Worlds. It unites people across the bounds of ethnicity and nationality, of sex and class and race. ~t enlarges our vision of our own experience, shows us that there IS more to our lives than we thought, gives our days a new resonance and depth. Certainly this is not the only way to interpret modern culture, or culture in general. But it makes sense if we want culture to be a source of nourishment for ongoing life, rather than a cult of the dead. If we think of modernism as a struggle to make ourselves at home in a constantly changing world, we will realize ~hat no mode. of modernism can ever be definitive. Our most creative constructions and achievements are bound to turn into prisons and whited sepulchres that we or our children, will have to escape or transform if life is to go on. 'Dostoevsky's Underground Man suggests this in his inexhaustible dialogue with himself: You gentlemen perhaps think I am mad? Allow me to defend myself. I agree that man is preeminently a creative ani~al, p~edes­ tined to consciously strive toward a goal, and to engage m engmeering, that is, eternally and incessantly, to build new roads, wherev~r they may lead .... Man loves to create r~a~s, ~at .is beyon~ dispute. But ... may it not be .... that he ~s mstm~uvely afra1? of attaining his goal and completmg the edifice he ~s construcun~? How do you know, perhaps he only likes that edifice from a distance and not at all at a close range, perhaps he only likes to build it, and does not want to live in it.

I experienced the dash of modernisms ~~ry dramatically, a~d indeed participated in it, when I visite~ Braztl m.Au~st 1987 to discuss this book. My first stop was Brasilia, the capital city that was created ex nihilo by fiat of President juscelino Kubitschek, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, in the exact geographical center of the country. It was planned and designed by ~ucio Costa a~d Os~~r Niemeyer, left-wing disciples of Le Corbus1er. From the air, Brasi!Ia looked dynamic and exciting: in fact, it was ?~ilt to resemble the J~t plane from which I (and virtually all other VISitors) first observed It. From the ground level, however, where people live and work, it is one of the most dismal cities in the world. This IS not the place for a detailed account of Brasilia's design, but one's overall

Preface to the Penguin Edition


feeling-confirmed by every Brazilian I met-is of immense empty spaces in which the individual feels lost, as alone as a man on the moon. There is a deliberate absence of public space in which people can meet and talk, or simply look at each other and hang around. The great tradition of Latin urbanism, in which city life is organized around a plaza mayor, is explicitly rejected. Brasilia's design might have made perfect sense for the capital of a military dictatorship, ruled by generals who wanted the people kept at a distance, kept apart and kept down. As the capital of a democracy, however, it is a scandal. If Brazil is going to stay democratic, I argued in public discussions and the mass media, it needs democratic public space where people can come and assemble freely from all over the country, to talk to each other and address their government-because, in a democracy, it is after all their government-and debate their needs and desires, and communicate their will. Before long, Niemeyer began to respond. After saying various uncomplimentary things about me, he made a more interesting statement: Brasilia symbolized the aspirations and hopes of the Brazilian people and any attack on its design was an assault on the people themselves. One of his followers added that I revealed my inner vacuity by pretending to be a modernist while attacking a work that is one of the supreme embodiments of modernism. All this gave me pause. Niemeyer was right about one thing: when Brasilia was conceived and planned, in the 1950s and early 1960s, it really did embody the hopes of the Brazilian people; in particular, their desire for modernity. The great gulf between these hopes and their realization seems to illustrate the Underground Man's point: it can be a creative adventure for modern men to build a palace, and yet a nightmare to have to live in it. This problem is especially acute for a modernism that forecloses or is hostile to change-or, rather, a modernism that seeks one great change, and then no more. Niemeyer and Costa, following Le Corbusier, believed that the modern architect should use technology to construct a material embodiment of certain ideal, eternal classic forms. If this could be done for a whole city, that city would be perfect and complete; its boundaries might extend, but it would never develop from within. Like the Crystal Palace, as it is imagined in Notes from Underground, Costa and Niemeyer's Brasilia left its citizens-and those of the country as a whole-"with nothing left to do."




In 1964, shortly after the new capital opened, Brazilian democracy was overthrown by a military dictatorship. In the years of the dictatorship (which Niemeyer opposed), people had far more grievous crimes to worry about than any defects in the capital's design. But once Brazilians regained their freedom, at the end ofthe 1970s and in the early 1980s, it was inevitable that many of them would come to resent a capital that seemed to be designed to keep them quiet. Niemeyer should have known that a modernist work that deprived people of some of the basic modern prerogatives-to speak, to assemble, to argue, to communicate their needs-would be bound to make numerous enemies. As I spoke in Rio, Sao Paulo, Recife, I found myself serving as a conduit for widespread indignation toward a city that, as so many Brazilians told me, had no place for them. And yet, how much was Niemeyer to blame? If some other architect had won the competition for the city's design, isn't it likely that it would be more or less as alien a scene as it is now? Didn't everything most deadening in Brasilia spring from a worldwide consensus among enlightened planners and designers? It was only in the 1960s and 1970s, after the generation that built proto-Brasilias everywhere-not least in my own country's cities and suburb,-had a chance to live in them, that they discovered how much was missing from the world these modernists had made. Then, like the Underground Man in the Crystal Palace, they (and their children) began to make rude gestures and Bronx cheers, and to create an alternative modernism that would assert the presence and the dignity of all the people who had been left out. My sense of what Brasilia lacked brought me back to one of my book's central themes, a theme that seemed so salient to me that I didn't state it as clearly as it deserved: the importance of communication and dialogue. There may not seem to be anything particularly modern about these activities, which go back to-indeed, which help to define-the beginnings of civilization, and which were celebrated as primary human values by the Prophets and Socrates more than two thousand years ago. But I believe that communication and dialogue have taken on a new specific weight and urgency in modern times, because subjectivity and inwardness have become at once richer and more intensely developed, and more lonely and entrapped, than they ever were before. In such a context, communi-

Preface to the Penguin Edition


cation and di~logue become both a desperate need and a primary sourc~ of dehght. In a world where meanings melt into air, these expenences are among the few solid sources of meaning we can count on. One of the thi~~s t~at can make modern life worth living is the enhanced opportumt1es It offers us-and sometimes even forces on us-to talk together, to reach and understand each other. We need to make the most of these possibilities; they should shape the way we organize our cities and our lives. • Many readers have wondered why I didn't write about all sorts of people: places, ideas and movements that would seem to fit my overall proJect at. least as well as the subjects I chose. Why no Proust or Freud, Berhn or Shanghai, Mishima or Sembene, New York's Abstract Ex~ressionists or the Plastic People of Prague? The simplest a~sw~r IS that I wanted All That Is Solid Melts Into Air to appear m my hfet1me. That meant I had to decide, at a certain point, not so much to end the book as to stop it. Besides, I never intended to write a~ .encyclopedia o~ modernity. I hoped, rather, to develop a series of v1s1on~ and para~1gms ~hat could enable people to explore their own expenence and history m greater detail and depth. I wanted to write a book that would be open and stay open, a book in which readers would be able to write chapters of their own. Some readers may think that I give short shrift to the vast accumul~tion o~ co.ntemporary discourse around the idea of post-modermty. Th1s d1scourse began to emanate from France in the late 1970s largely fr~m disillusioned rebels of.1968, moving in the orbit of post~ structuralism: Roland Barthes, M1chel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Fran~ois Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard and their legions of followers. In the 1980s, post-modernism became a staple of aesthetic and literary discussion in the U.S.A. 1 Post-modernists may be said to have developed a paradigm that ~lashes sharply with the one in this book. I have argued that modern hfe and art and thought have the capacity for perpetual self-critique and self-renewal. Post-modernists maintain that the horizon of modernity is closed, its energies exhausted-in effect, that modernity is yasse. Post-modernist social thought pours scorn on all the collective hopes for moral and social progress, for personal freedom and public happiness, that were bequeathed to us by the modernists of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. These hopes, postmoderns say, have been shown to be bankrupt, at best vain and futile




fantasies, at worst engines of domination and monstrous ens~ave­ ment. Post-modernists claim to see through the "grand narratives" of modern culture, especially "the narrative of humanity as the hero ofliberty." It is the mark of post-modern sophistication to have "lost even nostalgia for the lost narrative."2 Jiirgen Habermas's recent book, The Philosophical Disc~r~e of Modernity, exposes the weaknesses of post-modern thought m mcisive detail. I will be writing more in this vein in the coming year. The best I can do for now is to reaffirm the overall vision of modernity that I have developed in this book. Readers can ask themselves if the world of Goethe, Marx, Baudelaire, Dostoevsky, et al., as I have constructed it, is radically different from our own. Have we really outgrown the dilemmas that arise when "all that is solid melts int~ air," or the dream of a life in which "the free development of each IS the condition of the free development of all"? I do not think so. But I hope this book will better equip readers to make judgments of their own. There is one modern sentiment that I regret not exploring in greater depth. I am talking about the widespread and often .des.P~r­ ate fear of the freedom that modernity opens up for every mdtvtdual, and the desire to escape from freedom (this was Erich Fromm's apt phrase in 1941) by any means possible. This distinctively modern darkness was first mapped by Dostoevsky in his parable of the Grand Inquisitor (The Brothers Karamazov, 1881). "Man pr~fe~s peace," the Inquisitor says, "and even death, to freedom of chmce m the knowledge of good and evil. There is nothing more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing that is a greater cause of suffering." He then steps out of his story, set in Counter-Reformation Seville, and directly addresses Dostoevsky's late-nineteenth-century audience: "Look now, today, people are persuaded that they are freer than ever before, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet." The Grand Inquisitor has cast a somber shadow over the politics of the twentieth century. So many demagogues and demagogic movements have won power and mass adoration by relieving the peoples they rule of the burden offreedom. (Iran's current holy despot even looks like the Grand Inquisitor.) The Fascist regimes of 1922-1945 may turn out to be only a first chapter in the still unfolding history of radical authoritarianism. Many move~en~ in this mold actually celebrate modern technology, commumcattons and

Preface to the Penguin Edition


techniques of mass mobilization, and use them to crush modern freedoms. Some of these movements have won ardent support from great modernists: Ezra Pound, Heidegger, Celine. The paradoxes and perils in all this are dark and deep. It strikes me that an honest modernist needs to look longer and deeper into this abyss than I have done so far. I felt this very acutely in early 1981, asAllThatls SolidMeltsintoAir was going to press and Ronald Reagan was entering the White House. One of the most powerful forces in the coalition that brought Reagan to power was a drive to annihilate all traces of "secular humanism" and turn the U.S.A. into a theocratic police state. The frenzied (and lavishly funded) militancy of this drive convinced many people, including passionate opponents, that it was the wave of the future. But now, seven years later, Reagan's inquisitorial zealots are being decisively rebuffed in Congress, in the courts (even the "Reagan Court") and in the court of public opinion. The American people may have been deluded enough to vote for him, but they are clearly unwilling to lay their freedoms at the President's feet. They will not say goodbye to due process of law (not even in the name of a war on crime), or to civil rights (even if they fear and distrust blacks), or to freedom of expression (even if they don't like p*rnography), or to the right of privacy and the freedom to make sexual choices (even if they disapprove of abortion and abhor hom*osexuals). Even Americans who consider themselves deeply religious have recoiled against a theocratic crusade that would force them to their knees. This resistance-even among Reagan supporters-to the Reagan "social agenda" testifies to the depth of ordinary people's commitment to modernity and its deepest values. It shows, too, that people can be modernists even if they've never heard the word in their lives. In All That Is Solid Melts Into Air I tried to open up a perspective that will reveal all sorts of cultural and political movements as part of one process: modern men and women asserting their dignity in the present-even a wretched and oppressive present-and their right to control their future; striving to make a place for themselves in the modern world, a place where they can feel at home. From this point of view, the struggles for democracy that are going on all over the contemporary world are central to modernism's meaning and power. The masses of anonymous people who are putting their lives on the line-from Gdansk to Manila, from Soweto to Seoul-are



creating new forms of collective expression .. Solid~rity and Peopl~ Power are modernist breakthroughs as stunmng as The Wastela~d or "Guernica." The book is far from closed on the "grand n~rrattve" that presents "humanity as the hero of liberty": new subJeCts and new acts are appearing all the time. . The great critic Lionel Trilling coined a phrase m 1968: "Modernism in the streets." I hope that readers of this book will remember that the streets, our streets, are where modernism belongs. The open way leads to the public square.

• This theme suggests connections with thinkers like Georg Simmel, Martin Buber and Jilrgen Habermas.

Prefuce For most of my life, since I learned that I was living in "a modern building" and growing up as part of "a modern family," in the Bronx of thirty years ago, I have been fascinated by the meanings of modernity. In this book I have tried to open up some of these dimensions of meaning, to explore and chart the adventures and horrors, the ambiguities and ironies of modern life. The book moves and develops through a number of ways of reading: of texts -Goethe's Faust, the Communist Manifesto, Notes from Underground, and many more; but also I try to read spatial and social environments-small towns, big construction sites, dams and power plants, Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace, Haussmann's Parisian boulevards, Petersburg prospects, Robert Moses' highways through New York; and finally, reading fictional and actual people's lives, from Goethe's time through Marx's and Baudelaire's and into our own. I have tried to show how all these people share, and all these books and environments express, certain distinctively modern concerns. They are moved at once by a will to change-to transform both themselves and their world-and by a terror of disorientation and disintegration, of life falling apart. They all know the thrill and the dread of a world in which "all that is solid melts into air." To be modern is to live a life of paradox and contradiction. It is to be overpowered by the imme_nse bureaucratic organizations that have the power to control and often to destroy all communities, values, lives; and yet to be undeterred in our determination to face these forces, to fight to change theh world and make it our own. It is to be both revolutionary and conservative: alive to new possibil13



ities for experience and adventure, frightened by the nihilistic depths to which so many modern adventures lead, longing to create and to hold on to something real even as everything melts. We might even say that to be fully modern is ~o be anti-~odern:. from Marx's and Dostoevsky's time to our own, 1t has been 1mposs1ble to grasp and embrace the modern wor~d's potentialities wit~?ut loathing and fighting against some of Its most palpable reahues. No wonder then that, as the great modernist and anti-modernist Kierkegaard said, the deepest modern seriousness must express itself through irony. Modern irony animates so many great works of art and thought over the past century; at the same time, it infuses millions of ordinary people's everyday lives. This book aims to bring these works and these lives together, to restore the spiritual wealth of modernist culture to the modern rna~ an~ woman in the street, to show how, for all of us, modermsm IS realism. This will not resolve the contradictions that pervade modern life; but it should help us to understand them, so that we can be clear and honest in facing and sorting out and working through the forces that make us what we are. Shortly after I finished this book, my dear son Marc, five years old, was taken from me. I dedicate All That Is Solid Melts into Air to him. His life and death bring so many of its ideas and themes close to home: the idea that those who are most happily at home in the modern world, as he was, may be most vulnerable to the demons that haunt it; the idea that the daily routine of playgrounds and bicycles, of shopping and eating and cleaning up, of ordinary hugs and kisses, may be not only infinitely joyous and beautiful but also infinitely precarious and fragile; that it may take desperate and heroic struggles to sustain this life, and sometimes we lose. I van Karamazov says that, more than anything else, the death of children makes him want to give back his ticket to the universe. But he does not give it back. He keeps on fighting and loving; he keeps on keeping on. New York City January 1981

Introduction Modernity-Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow ~HERE IS a mode of vital experience-experience of space and time, of the self and others, of life's possibilities and perils-that is shared by men and women all over the world today. I will call this body of experience "modernity." To be modern is to find ourselves in an enviro~ment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world-and, at the same time, that thr~atens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everythmg we are. Modern environments and experiences cut across all boundaries of geography and ethnicity, of class and nati~nality, ~f religion a~d ideology: in this sense, modernity can be s~1d t? u~1te all mankm~. But it is a paradoxical unity, a unity of ~1sumty: 1t pours us all mto a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration ~nd renewal, of stru~gle and contradiction, of ambiguity and angUish. To be modern IS to be part of a universe in which, as Marx said, "all that is solid melts into air." People who find themselves in the midst of this maelstrom are apt to feel that they are the first ones, and maybe the only ones, to be going through it; this feeling has engendered numerous nostalgic myt~s of Paradise Lost. In fact, however, great and ever-mcreasmg numbers of people have been going through 15





it for close to five hundred years. Although most of these people have probably experienced modernity as a radical threat to all their histQry and traditions, it has, in the course of five centuries, developed a rich history and a plenitude of traditions of its own. I want to explore and chart these traditions, to understand the ways in which they can nourish and enrich our own modernity, and the ways in which they may obscure or impoverish our sense of what modernity is and what it can be. The maelstrom of modern life has been fed from many sources: great discoveries in the physical sciences, changing our images of the universe and our place in it; the industrialization of production, which transforms scientific knowledge into technology, creates new human environments and destroys old ones, speeds up the whole tempo of life, generates new forms of corporate power and class struggle~ immense demographic upheavals, severing millions of people from their ancestral habitats, hurtling them halfway across the world into new lives; rapid and often cataclysmic urban growth; systems of mass communication, dynamic in their development, enveloping and binding together the most diverse people and societies; increasingly powerful national states, bureaucratically structured and operated, constantly striving to expand their powers; mass social movements of people, and peoples, challenging their political and economic rulers, striving to gain some control over their lives; finally, bearing and driving all these people and institutions along, an ever-expanding, drastically fluctuating capitalist world market. In the twentieth century, the social processes that bring this maelstrom into being, and keep it in a state of perpetual becoming, have come to be called "modernization." These world-historical processes have nourished an amazing variety of visions and ideas that aim to make men and women the subjects as well as the objects of modernization, to give them the power to change the world that is changing them, to make their way through the maelstrom and make it their own. Over the past century, these visions and values have come to be loosely grouped together under the name of "modernism." This book is a study in the dialectics of modernization and modernism. In the hope of getting a grip on something as vast as the history of modernity, I have divided it into three phases. In the first phase, which goes roughly from the start of the sixteenth century to the end of the eighteenth, people are just beginning to experience



modern life; they hardly know what has hit them. They grope, ~esperately but half blindly, for an adequate vocabulary; they have l1ttl~ o~ no sense of a modern public or community within which the1r trtals and h?pes can be shared. Our second phase begins with the great revolutiOnary wave of the 1790s. With the French Revolution ~nd its reverber~tions, ~great. modern public abruptly and ~ramattcall~ comes to ltfe. Th1s publtc shares the feeling of living ~n a revolu.ttona~y age, an age that generates explosive upheavals m eve~ d1mens1.on of personal, social and political life. At the same .u~e~ the m.neteenth-century modern public can remember what It IS ltke to ltve, materially and spiritually, in worlds that are ~ot modern at al.l. From this inner d~chotomy, this sense of living m two worlds Simultaneously, the 1deas of modernization and m?dernism emerge and unfold. In the twentieth century, our th1rd. an~ final phase, the process of modernization expands to take tn vtrt';lally th~ whole world, and the developing world culture of modermsm ach1eves spectacular triumphs in art and thought. On th~ other hand, as the modern public expands, it shatters into a multttude ?f fragments, speaking incommensurable private languages; the 1dea of modernity, conceived in numerous fragmentary ~ays, los~s much of. its vividness, resonance and depth, and loses Its capac1t~ to orgamze and give meaning to people's lives. As a result of all th1s, we find ourselves today in the midst of a modern age that ha~ lost touch with the roots of its own modernity. If IS one archetypal. modern voice in the early phase of m~dermty, before the Amencan and French revolutions, it is the vo1ce of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau is the first to use the word moderni.ste in the ways in which the nineteenth and twentieth centuries will use it; and he is the source of some of our most vital mod~rn traditio~~· from nostalgic reverie to psychoanalytic selfscrutmy to part1c1patory democracy. Rousseau was, as everyone knows, a dee~ly trou~led man. ~uch of his anguish springs from sources pecultar to h1s own stramed life; but some of it derives from his acute responsiveness to social conditions that were coming to shape millions of people's lives. Rousseau astounded his contemporaries by proclaiming that European society was "at the edge of the abyss," on the verge of the most explosive revolutionary. uph~avals.. H~ experienced everyday life in that society-especially m Pans, Its capital-as a whirlwind, le tourbillon social. 1 How was the self to move and live in the whirlwind?





In Rousseau's romantic novel The New Eloise, his young hero, Saint-Preux, makes an exploratory move-an archetypal move for millions of young people in the centuries to come-from the country to the city. He writes to his love, Julie, from the depths o~ le tourbillon social, and tries to convey his wonder and dread. SamtPreux experiences metropolitan life as "a perpetu~l ~lash of groups and cabals, a continual flux and reflux of p~ejudic~s and conflicting opinions ... Everyone constan~ly places himself m. co~­ tradiction with himself," and "everything IS absurd, but nothmg 1s shocking, because everyone is accustomed to everything." This is a workl in which "the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, truth, virtue, have only a local and limited existence." A multitude. of new experiences offer themselves; but anyone who wants to enJo_y them "must be more pliable than Alcibiades, ready to change h1s principles with his audience, to adjust his spirit with every step." After a few months in this environment, I'm beginning to feel the drunkenness that this agitated, tumultuous life plunges you into. With such a multitude of objects passing before my eyes, I'm getting dizzy. Of all the things that strike me, there is none that holds my heart, yet all of them together disturb my feelings, so that I forget what I am and who I belong to.

He reaffirms his commitment to his first love; yet even as he says it, he fears that "I don't know one day what I'm going to love the next." He longs desperately for something solid to cling to, yet "I see only phantoms that strike my eye, but disapp~ar as soon as I try to grasp them." 2 This atmosphere-of agna~1on and tu~bu­ lence, psychic dizziness and drunkenness, expansiOn of expenenti:al possibilities and destruction of moral boundaries and personal bonds, self-enlargement and self-derangement, phantoms in the street and in the soul-is the atmosphere in which modern sensibility is born. If we move forward a hundred years or so and try to identify the distinctive rhythms and timbres of nineteenth-century modernity, the first thing we will notice is the highly developed, differentiated and dynamic new landscape in which modern experience tak~s place. This is a landscape of steam engines, ~u­ tomatic factories, railroads• vast new industrial zones; of teemmg cities that have grown overnight, often with dreadful human con:



sequences; of daily newspapers, telegraphs, telephones and other mass media, communicating on an ever wider scale; of increasingly strong national states and multinational aggregations of capital; of mass social movements fighting these modernizations from above with their own modes of modernization from below; of an everexpanding world market embracing all, capable of the most spectacular growth, capable of appalling waste and devastation, capable of everything except solidity and stability. The great modernists of the nineteenth century all attack this environment passionately, and strive to tear it down or explode it from within; yet all find themselves remarkably at home in it, alive to its possibilities, affirmative even in their radical negations, playful and ironic even in their moments of gravest seriousness and depth. We can get a feeling for the complexity and richness of nineteenth-century modernism, and for the unities that infuse its diversity, if we listen briefly to two of its most distinctive voices: Nietzsche, who is generally perceived as a primary source of many of the modernisms of our time, and Marx, who is not ordinarily associated with any sort of modernism at all. Here is Marx, speaking in awkward but powerful English in London in 1856. 5 "The so-called revolutions of 1848 were but poor incidents," he begins, "small fractures and fissures in the dry crust of European society. But they denounced the abyss. Beneath the apparently solid surface, they betrayed oceans of liquid matter, only needing expansion to rend into fragments continents of hard rock." The ruling classes of the reactionary 1850s tell the world that all is solid again; but it is not clear if even they themselves believe it. In fact, Marx says, "the atmosphere in which we live weighs upon everyone with a 20,000-pound force, but do you feel it?" One of Marx's most urgent aims is to make people "feel it"; ~his is why his ideas are expressed in such intense and extravagant 1mages-abysses, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, crushing gravitational force-images that will continue to resonate in our own century's modernist art and thought. Marx goes on: "There is one great fact, characteristic of this our nineteenth century, a fact which no party dares deny." The basic fact of modern life, as Marx experiences it, is that this life is radically contradictory at its base: On the one hand, there have started into life industrial and scientific forces which no epoch of human history had ever sus-

20 ALL THAT Is SoLID MELTs INTO AIR pected. On the other hand, there exist symptoms of decay, .far surpassing the horrors of the latter times of the Roman Emp1re. In our days everything seems pregnant with its contrary. Machinery, gifted with the wonderful power of shortening and fructifying human labor, we behold starving and overworking it. The new-fangled sources of wealth, by some weird spell, are turned into sources of want. The victories of art seem bought by the loss of character. At the same pace that mankind masters nature, man seems to become enslaved to other men or to his own infamy. Even the pure light of science seems unable to shine but on the dark background of ignorance. All our invention and progress seem to result in endowing material forces with intellectual life, and stultifying human life into a material force.

These miseries and mysteries fill many moderns with despair. Some would "get rid of modern arts, in order to get rid of modern conflicts"; others will tr'y to balance progress in industry with a neofeudal or neoabsolutist regression in politics. Marx, however, proclaims a paradigmatically modernist faith: "On our part, we do not mistake the shrewd spirit that continues to mark all these contradictions. We know that to work well ... the new-fangled forces of society want only to be mastered by new-fangled men-and such are the working men. They are as much the invention of modern time as machinery itself." Thus a class of "new men," men who are thoroughly modern, will be able to resolve the contradictions of modernity, to overcome the crushing pressures, earthquakes, weird spells, personal and social abysses, in whose midst all modern men and women are forced to live. Having said this, Marx turns abruptly playful and connects his vision of the future with the past-with English folklore, with Shakespeare: "In the signs that bewilder the middle class, the aristocracy and the poor prophets of regression, we recognize our brave friend Robin Goodfellow, the old mole that can work in the earth so fast, that worthy pioneer-the Revolution." Marx's writing is famous for its endings. But if we see him as a modernist, we will notice the dialectical motion that underlies and animates his thought, a motion that is open-ended, and that flows against the current of his own concepts and desires. Thus, in the Communist Manifesto, we see that the revolutionary dynamism that will overthrow _the modern bourgeoisie springs from that bourgeoisie's own deepest impulses and needs:



The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and with them the relations of production, and with them all the relations of society .... Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social relations, everlasting uncertainty and agitation, distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.

This is probably the definitive vision of the modern environment, that environment which has brought forth an amazing plenitude of modernist movements, from Marx's time to our own. The vision unfolds: All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all newformed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and men at last are forced to face ... the real conditions of their lives and their relations with their fellow men. •

Thus the dialectical motion of modernity turns ironically against its prime movers, the bourgeoisie. But it may not stop turning there: after all, all modern movements are caught up in this. ambience-including Marx's own. Suppose, as Marx supposes, that bourgeois forms decompose, and that a communist movement surges into power: what is to keep this new social form from sharing its predecessor's fate and melting down in the modern air? Marx understood this question and suggested some answers, which we will explore later on. But one of the distinctive virtues of modernism is that it leaves its questions echoing in the air long after the questioners themselves, and their answers, have left the scene. If we move a quarter century ahead, to Nietzsche in the 1880s, we will find very different prejudices, allegiances and hopes, yet a surprisingly similar voice and feeling for modern life. For Nietzsche, as for Marx, the currents of modern history were ironic and dialectical: thus Christian ideals of the soul's integrity and the will to truth had come to explode Christianity itself. The results were the traumatic events that Nietzsche called "the death of God" and "the advent of nihilism." Modern mankind found itself in the midst of a great absence and emptiness of values and yet, at the same time, a remarkable abundance of possibilities. Here, in





Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil (1882), we find, just as we found in Marx, a world where everything is pregnant with its contrary: 5 At these turning points in history there shows itself, juxtaposed and often entangled with one another, a magnificent, manifold, jungle-like growing and striving, a sort of tropical tempo in rivalry of development, and an enormous destruction and self-destruction, thanks to egoisms violently opposed to one another, exploding, battling each other for sun and light, unable to find any limitation, any check, any considerateness within the morality at their disposal .... Nothing but new "wherefores," no longer any communal formulas; a new allegiance of misunderstanding and mutual disrespect; decay, vice, and the most superior desires gruesomely bound up with one another, the genius of the race welling up over the cornucopias of good and ill; a fateful simultaneity of spring and autumn .... Again there is danger, the mother of morality-great danger-but this time displaced onto the individual, onto the nearest and dearest, onto the street, onto one's own child, one's own heart, one's own innermost secret recesses of wish and will. At times like these, "the individual dares to individuate himself." On the other hand, this daring individual desperately "needs a set of Jaws of his own, needs his own skills and wiles for self-preservation, self-heightening, self-awakening, self-liberation." The possibilities are at once glorious and ominous. "Our instincts can now run back in all sorts of directions; we ourselves are a kind of chaos." Modern man's sense of himself and his history "really amounts to an instinct for everything, a taste and tongue for everything." So many roads open up from this point. How are modern men and women to find the resources to cope with their "everything"? Nieusche notes that there are plenty of "Little Jack Horners" around whose solution to the chaos of modern life is to try not to live at all: for them," 'Become mediocre' is the only morality that makes sense." Another type of modern throws himself into parodies of the past: he "needs history because it is the storage closet where all the costumes are kept. He notices that none really fits him"-not primitive, not classical, not medieval, not Oriental-"so he keeps trying on more and more," unable to accept the fact that a modern man "can never really look well-dressed," because no social role in mod-



ern times can ever be a perfect fit. Nietzsche's own stance toward the perils of modernity is to embrace them all with joy: "We moderns, we half-barb~rians. We are in the midst of our bliss only when we are most m danger. The only stimulus that tickles us is the infinite, the immeasurable." And yet Nietzsche is not willing to live in t~e ~ids~ of this d~nger forever. As ardently as Marx, he asserts h1s fa1th m a new kmd of man-"the man of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow"-who, "standing in opposition to his today," will have the courage and imagination to "create new values" th~t mo?ern. ~e~ and ~omen need to steer their way through the penlous mfimt1es m wh1ch they live. What is distinctive and remarkable about the voice that Marx and Nietzsche share is not only its breathless pace, its vibrant energy, its imaginative richness, but also its fast and drastic shifts in tone and i~flection, .its readiness to turn on itself, to question and negate ~II It h~s sa1d, to .transform itself into a great r:ange of harmomc or dissonant vmces, and to stretch itself beyond its capacities into a~ en?Iessly wider range, to express and grasp a world where everythmg 1s pregnant with its contrary and "all that is solid melts into air." ~his voice r~sonates at once with self-discovery and self-mockery, wuh self-dehght and self-doubt. It is a voice that knows pain and. dread, but believes in its power to come through. Grave danger IS everywhere, and may strike at any moment, but not even the deepest wounds can stop the flow and overflow o~ its .energy. It i~ ironic and contradictory, polyphonic and dialectical, denouncmg modern life in the name of values that modernity ~t~elf has created, hoping-often against hope-that the modermues of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow will heal the wounds that ~reck the m?dern men and women of today. All the great modermsts of the mneteenth century-spirits as diverse as Marx and Kierkegaard, Whitman and Ibsen, Baudelaire Melville, Carlyle, ~timer, Rimbaud, Strindberg, Dostoevsky, and 'many more-speak m these rhythms and in this range. . What has become of nineteenth-century modernism in the twentieth c~ntury? In some ways it has thrived and grown beyond its own w~ldest hopes. In painting and sculpture, in poetry and the novel, m theater and dance, in architecture and design, in a whole array ?f ~lectronic .media and a wide range of scientific disciplines that d1dn t even exist a century ago, our century has produced an





amazing plenitude of works and ideas of the highest quality. The twentieth century may well be the most brilliantly creative in the history of the world, not least because its creative energies have burst out in every part of the world. The brilliance and depth of living modernism-living in the work of Grass, Garcia Marquez, Fuentes, Cunningham, Nevelson, di Suvero, Kenzo Tange, Fassbinder, Herzog, Sembene, Robert Wilson, Philip Glass, Richard Foreman, Twyla Tharp, Maxine Hong Kingston, and so many more who surround us.......:give us a great deal to be proud of, in a world where there is so much to be ashamed and afraid of. And yet, it seems to me, we don't know how to use our modernism; we have missed or broken the connection between our culture and our lives. jackson Pollock imagined his drip paintings as forests in which spectators might lose (and, of course, find) themselves; but we have mostly lost the art of putting ourselves in the picture, of recognizing ourselves as participants and protagonists in the art and thought of our time. Our century has nourished a spectacular modern art; but we seem to have forgotten how to grasp the modern life from which this art springs. In many ways, modern thought since Marx and Nietzsche has grown and developed; yet our thinking about modernity seems to have stagnated and regressed. If w-e listen closely to twentieth-century writers and thinkers about modernity and compare them to those of a century ago, we will find a radical flattening of perspective and shrinkage of imaginative range. Our nineteenth-century thinkers were simultaneously enthusiasts and enemies of modern life, wrestling inexhaustibly with its ambiguities and contradictions; their selfironies and inner tensions were a primary source of their creative power. Their twentieth<entury successors have lurched far more toward rigid polarities and flat totalizations. Modernity is either embraced with a blind and uncritical enthusiasm, or else condemned with a neo-Olympian remoteness and contempt; in either case, it is conceived as a closed monolith, incapable of being shaped or changed by modern men. Open visions of modern life have been supplanted by closed ones, Both/And by Either/Or. The basic polarizations take place at the very start of our century. Here are the Italian futurists, passionate partisans of modernity in the years before the First World War: "Comrades, we tell you now that the triumphant progress of science makes



changes in humanity inevitable, changes that are hacking an abyss between those docile slaves of tradition and us free moderns who are confident in the radiant splendor of our future." 6 There are no ambiguities here: "tradition"-all the world's traditions thrown together-simply equals docile slavery, and modernity equals freedom; there are no loose ends. "Take up your pickaxes, your axes and hammers, and wreck, wreck the venerable cities, pitilessly! Come on! set fire to the library shelves! Turn aside the canals to flood the museums! ... So let them come, the gay incendiaries with charred fingers! Here they are! Here they are!" Now, Marx and Nietzsche could also rejoice in the modern destruction of traditional structures; but they knew the human costs of this progress, and knew that modernity would have a long way to go before its wounds could be healed. ~e will si~g ~f great crowds_excited by work, by pleasure and by not; we wdl smg of the mulucolored, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals; we will sing of the nightly fervor of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; gr~edy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factones hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke· bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in th; sun with a glitter of knives; adventurous steamers ... deepch~sted locomotives ... and the sleek light of planes [etc., etc.].'

Seventy years later, we can still feel stirred by the futurists' youthful verve and enthusiasm, by their desire to merge their energies with modern technology and create the world anew. But so much is left out of this new world! We can see it even in that marvelous metaphor "the multicolored, polyphonic tides of revolution." It is a real expansion of human sensibility to be able to experience political upheaval in an aesthetic (musical, painterly) way. On the other hand, what happens to all the people who get swept away in those tides? Their experience is nowhere in the futurist picture. It appears that some very important kinds of human feeling are dying, even as machines are coming to life. Indeed, in later futurist writing, "we look for the creation of a non.human type in whom moral suffering, goodness of heart, affection, ,and love, those corrosive poisons of vital energy, interrupters of our powerful bodily electricity, will be abolished." 8 On



this note, the young futurists ardently threw ~hemselves i.nt~ what they called "war, the world's only. ~ygiene," 1~ 1914. W1thm two years, their two most creative spmts-the p~mter-sculptor ~m­ berto Boccioni, the architect Antonio Sant'Eha-would be ktlled by the machines they loved. The rest survived to become cultural hacks in Mussolini's mills, pulverized by the dead hand of the future. The futurists carried the celebration of modern technology to a grotesque and self-destructive extreme, which en~ured t?~t their extravagances would never be repeated. But the1r uncnucal romance of machines, fused with their utter remoteness ~rom people, would be reincarnat~d in modes that wo~ld be less b1zarre and longer-lived. We find th1s mode ~f mo?ermsm a~te~. World War One in the refined forms of the machme aestheuc, the technocratic pastorals of the Bauhaus, Gropius and Mies van d~r Ro~e, Le Corbusier and Leger, the Ballet Mecanique_. We find tt aga~n, after another World War, in the spaced-out h1gh-tech rhapsodtes of Buckminster Fuller and Marshall McLuhan and in Alvin Toffler's Future Shock. Here, in McLuhan's Understanding Media, published in 1964, The computer, in short, promise.s by techn~logy a Penteco~tal condition of universal understandmg and umty. The next logtcal step would seem to be ... to bypass lan~~ages i~ fa~or of a gen.: era! cosmic consciousness ... The condltlon of weightlessness, that biologists say promises a physical immortality, may be paralleled by the condition of speechlessness that could confer a perpetuity of collective harmony and peace. 9

This modernism underlay the models of modernization wh~ch postwar American social scientists, often working under lav1sh government and foundation subsidies, developed for export to the Third World. Here, for instance, is a hymn to the modern factory by the social psychologist Alex Inkeles: A factory guided by modern managem~nt and per~onnel po~icies

will set its workers an example of rauonal behav1or, emotional balance, open communication, and respect for the opinions, the feelings, and,the dignity of the worker, which can be a powerful example of the principles and practices of modern living.'"



The futurists might deplore the low intensity of this prose, but they would surely be delighted with the vision of the factory as an exemplary human being which men and women should take as a model for their lives. Inkeles' essay is entitled "The Modernization of Man," and is meant to show the importance of human desire and initiative in modern life. But its problem, and the problem of all modernisms in the futurist tradition, is that, with brilliant machines and mechanical systems playing all the leading roles-just as the factory is the subject in the quotation above-there is precious little for modern man to do except to plug in. If we move to the OJiposite pole of twentieth-century thought, which says a decisive "No!" to modern life, we find a surprisingly similar vision of what that life is like. At the climax of Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, written in 1904, the whole "mighty cosmos of the modern economic order" is seen as "an iron cage." This inexorable order, capitalistic, legalistic and bureaucratic, "determines the lives of all individuals who are born into this mechanism ... with irresistible force." It is bound to "determine man's fate until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt out." Now, Marx and Nietzsche-and Tocqueville and Carlyle and Mill and Kierkegaard and all the other great nineteenth-century critics -also understood the ways in which modern technology and social organization determined man's fate. But they all believed that modern individuals had the capacity both to understand this fate and, once they understood it, to fight it. Hence, even in the midst of a wretched present, they could imagine an open future. Twentieth-century critics of modernity almost entirely lack this empathy with, and faith in, their fellow modern men and women. To Weber, his contemporaries are nothing but "specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; and this nullity is caught in the delusion that it has achieved a level of development never before attained by mankind." 11 Thus, not only is modern society a cage, but all the people in it are shaped by its bars; we are beings without spirit, without heart, without sexual or personal identity ("this nullity ... caught in the delusion that it has achieved ... ")-we might almost say without being. Here, just as in futurist and techno-pastoral forms of modernism, modern man as a subjectas a living being capable of response, judgment and action in and on the world-has disappeared. Ironically, twentieth-century critics of "the iron cage" adopt the perspective of the cage's keep-





ers: since those inside are devoid of inner freedom or dignity, the cage is not a prison; it merely furnishes a race of nullities with the emptiness they crave and need.* Weber had little faith in the people, but even less in their ruling classes, whether aristocratic or bourgeois, bureaucratic or revolutionary. Hence his political stance, at least in the last years of his life, was a perpetually embattled liberalism. But when the' Weberian remoteness and contempt for modern men and women were split off from Weberian skepticism and critical insight, the result was a politics far to the right of Weber's own. Many twentiethcentury thinkers have seen things this way: the swarming masses who press upon us in the street and in the state have no sensitivity, spirituality or dignity like our own; isn't it absurd, then, that these "mass men" (or "hollow men") should have not only the right to govern themselves but also, through their mass majorities, the power to govern us? In the ideas and intellectual gestures of Ortega, Spengler, Maurras, T. S. Eliot and Allen Tate, we see Weber's neo-Olympian perspective appropriated, distorted and magnified by the modern mandarins and would-be aristocrats of the twentieth-century right. What is more surprising, and more disturbing, is the extent to which this perspective thrived among some of the participatory democrats of the recent New Left. But this is what happened, at least for a time, at the very end of the 1960s, when Herbert Marcuse's "One-Dimensional Man" became the dominant paradigm in critical thought. According to this paradigm, both Marx and Freud are obsolete: not only class and social struggles but also psychological conflicts and contradictions have been abolished by the state of "total administration." The masses have no egos, no ids, their souls are devoid of inner tension or dynamism: their ideas, their needs, even their dreams, are "not their own"; their inner lives are "totally • A more dialectical perspective may be found in some of Weber's later essays, for instance "Politics as a Vocation" and "Science as a Vocation" (in Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills, editors and translators, From Max Weber, Oxford, 1946). Weber's contemporary and friend Georg Simmel intimates, but never really develops, what is probably the closest thing to a twentieth-century dialectical theory of modernity. See, for example, "The Conflict in Modern Culture," "The Metropolis and Mental Life," "Group Expansion and the Development of Individuality," in Georg Simmel on Individuality and Social Forms, edited by Donald Levine (University of Chicago, 1971). In Simmel-and later in his youthful followers Georg Lukacs, T. W. Adorno and Walter Benjamin-dialectical vision and depth are always entangled, often in the same sentence, with monolithic cultural despair.



admini~tered," program~ed to produce exactly those desires that the soc1al sy.stem ~an satisfy, ~?d no more. "The people recognize themselves m the1r commod1t1es; they find their soul in their automobiles: ~i-fi sets,_ ~plit-level_ homes, kitchen equipment." 12 Now this 1s a fam1har twentieth-century refrain, shared by those who ~ove the ~odern :world and those who hate it: modernity is constituted by 1ts machmes, of which modern men and women are merely mechanical reproductions. But it is a travesty of the nineteenth-century modern tradition in whose orbit Marcuse claimed to move, the critical tradition of Hegel and Marx. To invoke those thinke~s while reJe~ting t.heir ~ision of history as restless activity, d~na~mc contrad~ct1on, dialectical struggle and progress, is to retam httle but the1r names. Meanwhile, even as the young radicals of the 1960s fought for changes that would enable the people a~ound the~ to control their lives, the "one-dimensional" paradigm procla1med that no change was possible and that, indeed, these people· weren't even really alive. Two roads opened up from ~his ~oi?,t. One was t?e se~rch for a vanguard that was wholly outside modern soc1ety: the substratum of outcasts and outsiders, the exploited and persecuted of other races and other colors, the .unempl~ye,d and the une~ployabl~.'' 13 These groups, whether m Amenca s ghettos and pnsons or m the Third World could qualify as a revolutionary vanguard because they were sup~ posedly untouched by modernity's kiss of death. Of course, such a search is doomed to futility; no one in the contemporary world is orca~ be "~utside." Fo~ radicals who understood this, yet took the one-d1mens1onal parad1gm to heart, it seemed that the only thing left was futility and despair. The volatile atmosphere of the 1960s generated a large and vital body of. thought and controversy over the ultimate meaning of modermty. Much of the most interesting of this thought revolved around the nature of modernism. Modernism in the 1960s can be roughly divided into three tendencies, based on attitudes toward ~o~~rn life as a whole: affirmative, negative and withdrawn. This div1s1?n may sound crude, but recent attitudes toward modernity have m fact tended to be cruder and simpler, less subtle and dialectical than those of a century ago. The first of these modernisms, the one that strives to withdraw from m~de~n life, was proclaimed most forcefully by Roland Barthes m hterature and Clement Greenberg in the visual arts.



Greenberg argued that thf' only legitimate concern of modernist art was art itself; furthermore, the only rightful focus for an artist in any given form or genre was the nature and limits of that genre: the medium is the message. Thus~ for instance, the only permissible subject for a modernist painter was the flatness of the surface (canvas, etc.) on which the painting takes place, because "flatness alone is unique and exclusive to the art." 14 Modernism, then, was the quest for the pure, self-referential art object. And that ~as ~ll it was: the proper relationship of modern art to modern socral hfe was no relationship at all. Barthes put this absence in a positive, even a heroic light: the modern writer "turns his back on society and confronts the world of objects without going through any of the forms of History or social life." 15 Modernism thus appeared as a great attempt to free modern artists from the impurities, vulgarities of modern life. Many artists and writers-and, even more, art and literary critics-have been grateful to this modernism for establishing the autonomy and dignity of their vocations. But very few modern artists or writers have stayed with this modernism for long: an art without personal feelings or social relationships is bound to seem arid and lifeless after a little while. The freedom it confers is the freedom of a beautifully formed, perfectly sealed tomb. Then there was the vision of modernism as an unending permanent revolution against the totality of modern existence: it was "a tradition of overthrowing tradition" (Harold Rosenberg), 16 an "adversary culture" (Lionel Trilling), 17 a "culture of negation" (Renato Poggioli). 18 The modern work of art was said to "molest us with. an aggressive absurdity" (Leo Steinberg). 19 It seeks the violent overthrow of all our values, and cares little about reconstructing the worlds it destroys. This image gained force and credence as the 1960s progressed and the political climate heated up: in some circles, "modernism" became a code word for all the forces in revolt. 20 This obviously tells part of the truth, but it leaves far too much out. It leaves out the great romance of construction, a crucial force in modernism from Carlyle and Marx to Tatlin and Calder, Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, Mark di Suvero and Robert Smithson. It leaves out all the affirmative and lifesustaining force that in the greatest modernists is always interwoven with assault and revolt: the erotic joy, natural beauty and human tenderness in D. H. Lawrence, always locked in mortal embrace with his nihilistic rage and despair; the figures in Picasso's



Guernica, struggling to keep life itself alive even as they shriek their death; the triumphant last choruses of Coltrane's A Love Supreme;

Alyosha Karamazov, in the midst of chaos and anguish, kissing and embracing the earth; Molly Bloom bringing the archetypal modernist book to an end with "yes I said yes I will Yes." There is a further problem with the idea of modernism as nothing but trouble: it tends to posit a model of modern society as one that is in itself devoid of trouble. It leaves out all the "uninterrupted disturbances of all social relations, everlasting uncertainty and agitation" that have for two hundred years been basic facts of modern life. When students at Columbia University rebelled in 1968, some of their conservative professors described their action as "modernism in the streets." Presumably those streets would have been calm and orderly~in the middle of Manhattan, yet!if only modern culture could somehow have been kept off them, and confined to university classrooms and libraries and Museums of Modern Art. 21 Had the professors learned their own lessons, they would have remembered how much of modernism-Baudelaire, Boccioni, Joyce, Mayakovsky, Leger, et al.-has nourished itself on the real trouble in the modern streets, and transformed their noise and dissonance into beauty and truth. Ironically, the radical image of modernism as pure subversion helped to nourish the neoconservative fantasy of a world purified of modernist subversion. "Modernism has been the seducer," Daniel Bell wrote in The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. "The modern movement disrupts the unity of culture," "shatters the 'rational cosmology' that underlay the bourgeois world view of an ordered relation between space and time," etc., etc. 22 If only the modernist snake could be expelled from the modern garden, space, time and the cosmos would straighten themselves out. Then, presumably, a techno-pastoral golden age would return, and men and machines could lie down together happily forevermore. The affirmative vision of modernism was developed in the 1960s by a heterogeneous group of writers, including John Cage, Lawrence Alloway, Marshall McLuhan, Leslie Fiedler, Susan Sontag, Richard Poirier, Robert Venturi. It coincided loosely with the emergence of pop art in the early 1960s. Its dominant themes were that we must "wake up to the very life we're living" (Cage), and "cross the border, close the gap" (Fiedler). 23 This meant, for one thing, breaking down the barriers between "art" and other human activities, such as commercial entertainment, industrial





technology, fashion and design, politics. It also encouraged writers, painters, dancers, composers and filmmakers to break down the boundaries of their specializations and work together on mixed-media productions and performances that would create richer and more multivalent arts. For modernists of this variety, who sometimes called themselves "post-modernists," the modernism of pure form and the modernism of pure revolt were both too narrow, too self-righteous, too constricting to the modern spirit. Their ideal was to open oneself to the immense variety and richness of things, materials and ideas that the modern world inexhaustibly brought forth. They breathed fresh air and playfulness into a cultural ambience which in the 1950s had become unbearably solemn, rigid and closed. Pop modernism recreated the openness to the world, the generosity of vision, of some of the great modernists of the past-Baudelaire, Whitman, Apollinaire, Mayakovs~y. William Carlos Williams. But if this modernism matched their imaginative sympathy, it never learned to recapture their critical bite. When a creative spirit like John Cage accepted the support of the Shah of Iran, and performed modernist spectacles a few miles from where political prisoners shrieked and died, the failure of moral imagination was not his alone. The trouble was that pop modernism never developed a critical perspective which might have clarified the point where openness to the modern world has got to stop, and the point where the modern artist needs to see and to say that some of the powers of this world have got to go.* • For pop nihilism in its most insouciant form, consider this black-comic monologue by the architect Philip Johnson, who is being interviewed by Susan Sontag for the BBC in 1965: SONTAG: I think, I think in New York your aesthetic sense is in a curious, very modern way more developed than anywhere else. If you are ex peri· encing things morally one is in a state of continual indignation and horror, but [they laugh] but if one has a very modern kind of ... JOHNSON: Do you suppose that will change the sense of morals, the fact that we can't use morals as a means of judging this city because we couldn't stand it? And that we're changing our whole moral system to suit the fact that we're living in a ridiculous way? SONTAG: Well I think we are learning the limitations of, of moral experience of things. I think it's possible to be aesthetic .... JOHNSON: To merely, to enjoy things as they are-we see entirely different beauty from what [Lewis] Mumford could possibly see. SONTAG: Welf, I think, I see for myself that I just now see things in a kind of split-level way, both morally and ...



All the modernisms and anti-modernisms of the 1960s then ~ere ~eriously ~a~ed. But their sheer plenitude, along with thei; mtens1ty and hvebness of expression, generated a common langu~ge, a vibrant ambience, a shared horizon of experience and des1re. All these visions and revisions of modernity were active orientations toward history, attempts to connect the turbulent present with a past and a future, to help men and women all over the contemporary world to make themselves at home in this world. ~~ese init~ative~ al! failed, but they sprang from a largeness of v1s1on and 1rnagmat1on, and from an ardent desire to seize the day. It was the absence of these generous visions and initiatives that made the 1970s such a bleak decade. Virtually no one today seems to want to make the large human connections that the idea of mode~nity entails ..Hence. discourse and controversy over the mea~mg of modermty, so hvely a decade ago, have virtually ceased to ex1st today. Many artistic and literary intellectuals have immersed themselve~ in the world o_f structuralism, a world that simply wipes the question o_f modermty-along with all other questions about the self and h1story:-off t~e mal?. Others have embraced a mystique o~ post-modermsm, wh1ch stnves to cultivate ignorance of modern h1story and cultu~e, and speaks as .if all human feeling, expressiveness, play, sexuality and commumty have only just been invented -by the post-modernists-and were unknown, even inconceivable, before last week. 24 Meanwhile, social scientists embarrassed by critical attacks on their techno-pastoral models, have fled from the task of building a model that might be truer to modern life. Instead, t~ey hav~ ~pli~ modernity into a series of separate components-mdustnah~auon, sta~e-building, urbanization, develop~ent of mark~ts, ebte formatiOn-and resisted any attempt to mtegra~e t~em mto a whole. This has freed them from extravagant g~nerahzauons an~ vague totalities-but also from thought that m1ght engage the1r own lives an
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hidden subsidies from the state-all accompanied by paeans in praise of the free market. Moreover, even among the few who really do believe in free exchange, there are fewer still who would extend free competition to ideas as well as things.* Wilhelm von Humboldt, J. S. Mill, Justices Holmes and Brandeis· and Douglas and Black have been still, small voices in bourgeois society, embattled and marginal at best. A more typical bourgeois pattern is to praise freedom when in opposition and to repress it when in power. Here Marx may be in danger-a surprising danger for him-of getting carried away by what bourgeois ideologues say, and losing touch with what the men with money and power actually do. This is a serious problem, because if the members of the bourgeoisie really don't give a damn about freedom, then they will work to keep the societies they control closed against new ideas, and it will be harder than ever for communism to take root. Marx would say that their need for progress and innovation will force them to open up their societies even to ideas they dread. Yet their ingenuity might avoid this through a truly insidious innovation: a consensus of mutually enforced mediocrity, designed to protect each individual bourgeois from the risks of competition, and bourgeois society as a whole from the risks of change. t Another problem in Marx's dialectic of the free market is that it

* T~e most trenchant statement of this principle-that free trade and competition entad free thought and culture-may be found, surprisingly, in Baudelaire. His Preface to the Salon of 18~6, dedicated "To the Bourgeois," asserts a special affinity between mode~n ~nterpnse ~nd modern art: both are striving "to realize the idea of the future m Its most d1verse forms-political, industrial, artistic"; both are thwarted by ·:the aristocrats of thought, the monopolists of things of the mind," who would sufle the energy and progress of modern life. (Art in Paris 1845-62 translated and edited by Jonathan Mayne, Phaidon, 1965, 41-43.) Baudelaire wili be discussed_ at length i~ t?e following chapter. But it is worth noting here that arguments hke Baudela1re s make perfect sense to large numbers of people in dynamic and progressive periods like the 1840s-or the 1960s. On the other hand in periods of reaction and stagnation, like the 1850s or the 1970s, this sort of argument is apt to sound unthinkably bizarre, if not monstrous, to many bourgeois who embraced it enthusiastically just a few years before. t In th~ c!imactic chapt~r ~~ the first volume of Capital, "The Historical Tendency of Cap1tahst Accumulation, Marx says that when a system of social relations acts as a. fetter on "the free development of productive forces," that social system has ~1mply got to ~o: ."It must be annihilated; it is annihilated." But what would happen 1f, somehow, It d1dn't get annihilated? Marx lets himself imagine this for barely an instant, only to dismiss the possibility. "To perpetuate" such a social system, he says, would be "to decree universal mediocrity." (MER 437) This is perhaps the one thing that Marx is utterly incapable of imagining.




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entails a strange collusion between bourgeoi_s societ~ a~d its m?st radical opponents. This society is driven by us unprmc1pled p~m­ ciple of free exchange to open itself to ~ovements for rad1cal change. The enemies of capitalism_ may enJOY a great dea~ of freedom to do their work-to read, wnte, speak, meet, orgamze, den;tonstrate, strike, elect. But their freedom to move transforms. the1r movement into an enterprise, and they find themselves ~ast m ~he paradoxical role of merchants a_nd ~romoters ~f revolution, wh1ch necessarily becomes a commod1ty hke. ev~~ythmg e~se. ~arx does not seem to be disturbed by the amb1gmues of th1s soc1al r~le­ maybe because he is sure that it will ~eco~e obsolete before 1~ can ossify, that the revolutionary enterpnse wdl be put out of bus~ness by its rapid success. A century later, we can see how the busmess of promoting revolution is open to_ the same abuses _and temptations, manipulative frauds and w1shful self-deceptions, as any other promotional line. , . Finally, our skeptical doubts about promoters prom1ses must lead us to question one of the primary promises in Marx's work: the promise that communism, while upholding and a~tually deepening the freedoms that capitalism has brought ~s, w1l! fre_e us from the horrors of bourgeois nihilism. If bourgeois society _1s really the maelstrom Marx thinks it is, how can he expect all _1ts currents to flow only one way, toward peaceful harmony and mtegration? Even if a triumphant communism should someday flow through the floodgates that free trade o~ns ~P· w~o ~nows what dreadful impulses might flow in along w1th It, ?r m 1ts w~ke, or impacted inside? It is easy to imagine ho~ a society c~mm1tted _to the free development of each and all m1ght de~elo~ 1-t~ own _distinctive varieties of nihilism. Indeed, a commumst mh1hsm m1ght turn out to be far more explosive and disintegrative than its bourgeois precursor-though ~lso ~ore da_ri~~- and original-~ecau~e, while capitalism cuts the mfimte poss1bd1Ues of modern hfe w1th the limits of the bottom line, Marx's communism might launch the liberated self into immense unknown human spaces with no limits at all. 15



The Loss of a Halo ambiguities in Marx's thought are crystallized in one of his most luminous images, the last one we will explore here: "The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every activity hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has transformed the doctor, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science [Mann der Wissenschaft*], into its paid wage-laborers." (476) The halo, for Marx, is a primary symbol of religious experience, the experience of something holy. For Marx, as for his contemporary Kierkegaard, experience, rather than belief or dogma or theology, forms the core of religious life. The halo splits life into sacred and profane: it creates an aura of holy dread and radiance around the figure who wears it; the sanctified figure is torn from the matrix of the human condition, split off inexorably from the needs and pressures that animate the men and women who surround it. Marx believes that capitalism tends to destroy this mode of experience for everybody: "all that is holy is profaned"; nothing is sacred, no one is untouchable, life becomes thoroughly desanctified. In some ways, Marx knows, this is frightful: modern men and women may well stop at nothing, with no dread to hold them back; free from fear and trembling, they are free to trample down everyone in their way if self-interest drives them to it. But Marx also sees the virtue of a life without auras: it brings about a condition of spiritual equality. Thus the modern bourgeoisie may hold vast material powers over the workers and everybody else, but it will ALL THE

*The word Wissenschaft may be translated in many ways, narrowly as "science" or more broadly as "knowledge," "learning," "scholarship" or any sustained and serious intellectual pursuit. Whatever word we use, it is crucial to remember that Marx is talking here about the predicament of his own group, and hence about himself. I have intermittently used the word "intellectuals" as shorthand for the diverse occupational groups Marx brings together here. I realize the word is anachronistic to Marx's time-it stems from Nietzsche's generation-but it has the advantage of bringing together, as Marx aims to do, people in diverse occupations who, despite their differences, all work with their minds.





never achieve the spiritual ascendancy that earlier ruling classes could take for granted. For the first time in history, all confront themselves and each other on a single plane of being. We must remember that Marx is writing at a historical moment when, especially in England and France (the Manifes,to really has more to do with them than with the Germany of Marx's time), disenchantment with capitalism is pervasive and intense, and almost ready to flare up in revolutionary forms. In the next twenty years or so, the bourgeoisie will prove remarkably inventive in constructing haloes of its own. Marx will try to strip these away in the first volume of Capital, in his analysis of "The Fetishism of Commodities"-a mystique that disguises the intersubjective relations between men in a market society as purely physical, "objective," unalterable relations between things. 16 In the climate of 1848, this bourgeois pseudo-religiosity had not yet established itself. Marx's targets here are, for both him and us, a lot closer to home: those professionals and intellectuals-"the doctor, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science"-":ho think the~ have the power to live on a higher plane than ordmary humamty, to transcend capitalism in life and work. Why does Marx place that halo on the heads of modern professionals and intellectuals in the first place? To bring out one of the paradoxes of their historical role: even though they tend to ~ride themselves on their emancipated and thoroughly secular mmds, they turn out to be just about the only moderns who really believe that they are called to their vocations and that their work is holy. It is obvious to any reader of Marx that in his commitment to his work he shares this faith. And yet he is suggesting here that in some sense it is a bad faith, a self-deception. This passage is so arresting because, as we see Marx identifying himself with the critical force and insight of the bourgeoisie, and reaching out to tear the haloes from modern intellectuals' heads, we realize that in some sense it is his own head he is laying bare. The basic fact of life for these intellectuals, as Marx sees them, is that they are "paid wage-laborers" of the bourgeoisie, members of"the modern working class, the proletariat." They may deny this identity-after all, who wants to belong to the proletariat?-but they are thrown into the working class by the historically defined conditions under which they are forced to work. When Marx describes intellectuals as wage earners, he is trying to make us see

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modern culture as part of modern industry. Art, physical science, social theory like Marx's own, all are modes of prodJ.lction; the bourgeoisie controls the means of production in culture, as in everything else, and anyone who wants to create must work in the orbit of its power. Modern professionals, intellectuals and artists, insofar as they are members of the proletariat, live only so long as they find work, and ... find work only so long as their labor increases capital. These workers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market. [479]

Thus they can write books, paint pictures, discover physical or historical laws, save lives, only if someone with capital will pay them. But the pressures of bourgeois society are such that no one will pay them unless it pays to pay them-that is, unless their works somehow help to "increase capital." They must "sell themselves piecemeal" to an employer willing to exploit their brains for profit. They must scheme and hustle to present themselves in a maximally profitable light; they must compete (often brutally and unscrupulously) for the privilege of being bought, simply in order to go on with their work. Once the work is done they are, like all other workers, separated from the products of their labor. Their goods and services go on sale, and it is "the vicissitudes of competition, the fluctuations of the market," rather than any intrinsic truth or beauty or value-or, for that matter, any lack of truth or beauty or value-that will determine their fate. Marx does not expect that great ideas and works will fall stillborn for want of a market: the modern bourgeoisie is remarkably resourceful in wringing profit out of thought. What will happen instead is that creative processes and products will be used and transformed in ways that will dumfound or horrify their creators. But the creators will be powerless to resist, because they must sell their labor power in order to live. Intellectuals occupy a peculiar position in the working class, one that generates special privileges, but also special ironies. They are beneficiaries of the bourgeois demand for perpetual innovation, which vastly expands the market for their products and skills,





often stimulates their creative audacity and imagination, and-if they are shrewd enough and lucky enough to exploit the need for brains-enables them to escape the chronic poverty in which most workers live. On the other hand, because they are personally involved in their work-unlike most wage laborers, who a~e alienated and indifferent-the fluctuations of the market place strike them in a far deeper way. In "selling themselves piecemeal," they are selling not merely their physical energy but their minds, their sensibilities, their deepest feelings, their visionary and imaginative powers, virtually the whole of themselves. Goethe's Faust gave us the archetype of a modern intellectual forced to "sell himself" in order to make a difference in the world. Faust also embodied a complex of needs endemic to intellectuals: they are driven not only by a need to live, which they share with all men, but by a desire to communicate, to engage in dialogue with their fellow men. But the cultural commodity market offers the only media in which dialogue on a public scale can take place: no idea can reach or change moderns unless it can be marketed and sold to them. Hence they turn out to be dependent on the market not for bread alone but for spiritual sustenance-a sustenance they know the market cannot be counted on to provide. It is easy to see why modern intellectuals, trapped in these ambiguities, would imagine radical ways out: in their situation, revolutionary ideas would spring from the most direct and intense personal needs. But the social conditions that inspire their radicalism also serve to frustrate it. We saw that even the most subversive ideas must manifest themselves through the media of the market. Insofar as these ideas attract and arouse people, they will expand and enrich the market, and so "increase capital." Now, if Marx's vision of bourgeois society is at all accurate, there is every reason to think that it will generate a market for radical ideas. This system requires constant revolutionizing, disturbance, agitation; it needs to be perpetually pushed and pressed in order to maintain its elasticity and resilience·, to appropriate and assimilate new energies, to drive itself to new heights of activity and growth. This means, however, that men and movements that proclaim their enmity to capitalism may be just the sort of stimulants capitalism needs. Bourgeois society, through its insatiable drive for destruction and development, and its need to satisfy the insatiable needs it creates, inevitably produces radical ideas and movements that

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aim to destroy it. But its very capacity for development enables it to negate its own inner negations: to nourish itself and thrive on opposition, to become stronger amid pressure and crisis than it could ever be in peace, to transform enmity into intimacy and attackers into inadvertent allies. In this climate, then, radical intellectuals encounter radical obstacles: their ideas and movements are in danger of melting into the same modern air that decomposes the bourgeois order they are working to overcome. To surround oneself with a halo in this climate is to try to destroy danger by denying it. The intellectuals of Marx's time were particularly susceptible to this sort of bad faith. Even as Marx was discovering socialism in the Paris of the 1840s, Gautier and Flaubert were developing their mystique of "art for art's sake," while the circle around Auguste Comte was constructing its own parallel mystique of "pure science." Both these groups-sometimes in conflict with each other, sometime'! interfused-sanctified themselves as avant-gardes. They were at once perceptive and trenchant in their critiques of capitalism, and, at the same time, absurdly complacent in their faith that they had the power to transcend it, that they could live and work freely beyond its norms and demands. 17 Marx's point in tearing the haloes from their heads is that nobody in bourgeois society can be so pure or safe or free. The networks and ambiguities of the market are such that everybody is caught up and entangled in them. Intellectuals must recognize the depths of their own dependence-spiritual as well as economic dependence-on the bourgeois world they despise. It will never be possible to overcome these contradictions unless we confront them directly and openly. This is what stripping away the haloes means. 18 This image, like all the great images in the history of literature and thought, contains depths that its creator could not have foreseen. First of all, Marx's indictment of the nineteenth-century artistic and scientific avant-gardes cuts just as deeply against the twentieth-century Leninist "vanguards" who make an identicaland equally groundless-claim to transcend the vulgar world of need, interest, egoistical calculation and brutal exploitation. Next, however, it raises questions about Marx's own romantic image of the working class. If being a paid wage laborer is the antithesis of having a halo, how can Marx speak of the proletariat



as a class of new men, uniquely equipped to transcend the contradictions of modern life? Indeed, we can carry this questioning a step further. If we have followed Marx's unfolding vision of modernity, and confronted all its endemic ironies and ambiguities, how can we expect anybody to transcend all this? Once again we encounter a problem we have met before: the tension between Marx's critical insights and his radical hopes. My emphases in this essay have leaned toward the skeptical and selfcritical undercurrents in Marx's thought. Some readers may be inclined to take only the criticism and self-criticism to heart, and throw out the hopes as Utopian and naive. To do this, however, would be to miss what Marx saw as the essential point of critical thinking. Criticism, as he understood it, was part of an ongoing dialectical process. It was meant to be dynamic, to drive and inspire the person criticized to overcome both his critics and himself, to propel both parties toward a new synthesis. Thus, to unmask phony claims of transcendence is to demand and fight for real transcendence. To give up the quest for transcendence is to erect a halo around one's own stagnation and resignation, and to betray not only Marx but ourselves. We need to strive for the precarious, dynamic balance that Antonio Gramsci, one of the great communist writers and leaders of our century, described as "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will." 19

Conclusion: Culture and the Contradictions of Capitalism I HAVE been trying in this essay to define a space in which Marx's thought and the modernist tradition converge. First of all, both are attempts to evoke and to grasp a distinctively modern experience. Both confront this realm with mixed emotions, awe and elation fused with a sense of horror. Both see modern life as shot through with contradictory impulsions and potentialities, and both

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embrace a vision of ultimate or ultramodernity-Marx's "new-fangled men ... as much the invention of modern time as machinery itself"; Rimbaud's "Il faut etre absolument moderne"-as the way through and beyond these contradictions. In the spirit of convergence, I have tried to read Marx as a modernist writer, to bring out the vividness and richness of his language, the depth and complexity of his imagery-clothes and nakedness, veils, haloes, heat, cold-and to show how brilliantly he develops the themes by which modernism will come to define itself: the glory of modern energy and dynamism, the ravages of modern disintegration and nihilism, the strange intimacy between them; the sense of being caught in a vortex where all facts and values are whirled, exploded, decomposed, recombined; a basic uncertainty about what is basic, what is valuable, even what is real; a flaring up of the most radical hopes in the midst of their radical negations. At the same time, I have tried to read modernism in a Marxist way, to suggest how its characteristic energies, insights and anxieties spring from the drives and strains of modern economic life: from its relentless and insatiable pressure for growth and progress; its expansion of human desires beyond local, national and moral bounds; its demands on people to exploit not only their fellow men but also themselves; the volatility and endless metamorphosis of all its values in the maelstrom of the world market; its pitiless destruction of everything and everyone it cannot useso much of the pre-modern world, but so much of itself and its own modern world as well-and its capacity to exploit crisis and chaos as a springboard for still more development, to feed itself on its own self-destruction. I don't pretend to be the first to bring Marxism and modernism together. In fact, they have come together on their own at several points over the past century, most dramatically at moments of historical crisis and revolutionary hope. We can see their fusion in Baudelaire, Wagner, Courbet, as well as Marx, in 1848; in the expressionists, futurists, dadaists and constructivists of 1914-25; in the ferment and agitation in Eastern Europe after Stalin's death; in the radical initiatives of the 1960s, from Prague to Paris and throughout the U.S.A. But as revolutions have been suppressed or betrayed, radical fusion has given way to fission; both Marxism and modernism have congealed into orthodoxies and


gone their separate and mut.ually distrustful.ways.* So-called orthodox Marxists have at best 1gnored modermsm, but all too often worked to repress it, out of fear, perhaps, that (in Nietzsche's phrase) if they kept looking into the abyss ~he abyss wo~ld start looking back into them. 211 Orthodox modermsts, meanwhile, have spared no expense of spirit in refashioning fo~ themsel~es the hal~ of an unconditioned "pure" art, free from society and history. Th1s essay tries to close off an exit route for orthodox Ma~xi~ts by sh?wing how the abyss they fear and flee opens up w1thm Marx1sm itself. But Marxism's strength has always lain in its willingness to start from frightening social realities, to work through them and work them through; to abandon this primary source of strength leaves Marxism with little but the name. As for the orthodox modernists who avoid Marxist thought for fear that it might strip them of their haloes, they need to learn that it could give them back something better in exchange: a heightened capacity to imagine and express the endlessly rich, complex and ironic relationships between them and the "modern bourgeois society" that they try to deny or defy. A fusion of Marx with modernism should melt the too-solid body of Marxism-or at least warm it up and thaw it out -and, at the same time, give modernist art and thought a new solidity and invest its creations with an unsuspected resonance and depth. It would reveal modernism as the realism of our time. I want in this concluding section to bring the ideas I have developed here to bear on some contemporary debates concerning Marx, modernism and modernization. I will begin by considering the conservative indictments of modernism that developed at the end of the 1960s, and that have flourished in the reactionary ambience of the past decade. According to Daniel Bell, the most serious of these polemicists, "Modernism has been the seducer," enticing contemporary men and women (and even children) to desert their moral, political and economic stations and duties. Capitalism, for writers like Bell, is wholly innocent in this affair: it is • Marxism and modernism may also come together as a Utopian .fantasy in a period of political quiescence: cf. the surrealism of the 19~0s and the work of American thinkers like Paul Goodman and Norman 0. Brown m the 1950s. Herben Marcuse spans both generations, especially in his most original work, Eros and CiviliUilion (1955). Another sort of convergence pervades the ~orks of men .like Mayak?~sky, Brecht, Benjamin, Adorno and Sartre, who experaence modermsm .as. a spmtual maelstrom, Marxism as tin'feslt Burg of solid rock, and who spend the1r bves plunging between them, but who often create brilliant syntheses in spite of themselves.

Marx, Modernism and Modernization


portrayed as a kind of Charles Bovary, unexciting but decent and dutiful, working hard to fulfill his wayward wife's insatiable desires and to pay her insupportable debts. This portrait of capitalist innocence has a fine pastoral charm; but no capitalist could afford to take it seriously if he hoped to survive for even a week in the real world that capitalism has made. (On the other hand, capitalists can certainly enjoy this picture as a fine piece of public relations, and laugh all the way to the bank.) Then, too, we must admire Bell's ingenuity in taking one of the most persistent of modernist orthodoxies-the autonomy of culture, the artist's superiority to all the norms and needs that bind the ordinary mortals around him-and turning it against modernism itself. 21 But what is masked here, by modernists and anti-modernists alike, is the fact that these spiritual and cultural movements, for all their eruptive power, have been bubbles on the surface of a social and economic cauldron that has been teeming and boiling for more than a hundred years. It is modern capitalism, not modern art and culture, that has set and kept the pot boiling-reluctant as capitalism may be to face the heat. The drug-crazed nihilism of William Burroughs, a favorite bete noire in anti-modernist polemics, is a pale reproduction of his ancestral trust, whose profits financed his avant-garde career: the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, now Burroughs International, sober nihilists of the bottom line. In addition to these polemical attacks, modernism has always elicited objections of a very different order. Marx in the Manifesto took up Goethe's idea of an emerging "world literature," and explained how modern bourgeois society was bringing a world culture into being: In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence. And as in material, so in spiritual [geistige] production. The spiritual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrowmindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures there arises a world literature. [4 76-77]



Marx's scenario can serve as a perfect program for the international modernism that has flourished from his era to our own: a culture that is broad-minded and many-sided, that expresses the universal scope of modern desires, and that, despite the mediations of the bourgeois economy, is the "common property" of mankind. But what if this culture were not universal after all, as Marx thought it would be? What if it turned out to be an exclusively and parochially Western affair? This possibility was first proposed in the middle of the nineteenth century by various Russian populists. They argued that the explosive atmosphere of modernization in the West-the breakdown of communities and the psychic isolation of the individual, mass impoverishment and class polarization, a cultural creativity that sprang from desperate moral and spiritual anarchy-might be a cultural peculiarity rather than an iron necessity inexorably awaiting the whole of mankind. Why should not other nations and civilizations achieve more harmonious fusions of traditional ways of life with modern potentialities and needs? In short-sometimes this belief was expressed as a complacent dogma, sometimes as a desperate hope-it was only in the West that "all that is solid melts into air." The twentieth century has seen a great variety of attempts to realize nineteenth-century populist dreams, as revolutionary regimes have come to power all over the underdeveloped world. These regimes have all tried, in many different ways, to achieve what nineteenth-century Russians called the leap from feudalism to socialism: in other words, by heroic exertions, to attain the heights of modern community without ever going through the depths of modern fragmentation and disunity. This is no place to explore the many different modes of modernization that are available in the world today. But it is relevant to point out the fact that, in spite of the enormous differences among political systems today, so many seem to share a fervent desire to wipe modern culture off their respective maps. Their hope is that, if only the people can be protected from this culture, then they can be mobilized in a solid front to pursue common national aims, instead of going off in a multitude of directions to pursue volatile and uncontrollable aims of their own. Now it would be stupid to deny that modernization can proceed along a number of different roads. (Indeed, the whole point of modernization theory is to chart these roads.) There is no reason

Marx, Modernism and Modernization


that every modern city must look and think like New York or Los Angeles or Tokyo. Nevertheless, we need to scrutinize the aims and interests of those who would protect their people from modernism for their own good. If this culture were really exclusively Western, and hence as irrelevant to the Third World as most of its governments say, would these governments need to expend as much energy repressing it as they do? What they are projecting onto aliens, and prohibiting as "Western decadence," is in fact their own people's energies and desires and critical spirit. When government spokesmen and propagandists proclaim their various countries to be free of this alien influence, what they really mean is merely that they have managed to keep a political and spiritual lid on their people so far. When the lid comes off, or is blown off, the modernist spirit is one of the first things to come out: it is the return of the repressed. It is this spirit, at once lyrical and ironical, corrosive and committed, fantastic and realistic, that has made Latin American literature the most exciting in the world today-though it is also this spirit that forces Latin American writers to write from European or North American exile, on the run from their own censors and political police. It is this spirit that speaks from the dissident wall posters in Peking and Shanghai, proclaiming the rights of free individuality in a country that-so we were told only yesterday by China's Maoist mandarins and their comrades in the West-isn't even supposed to have a word for individuality. It is the culture of modernism that inspires the hauntingly intense electronic rock music of the Plastic People of Prague, music that is played in thousands of barricaded rooms on bootlegged cassettes even as the musicians languish in prison camps. It is modernist culture that keeps critical thought and free imagination alive in much of the non-Western world today. Governments don't like it, but it is likely that in the long run they can't help it. So long as they are forced to sink or swim in the maelstrom of the world market, forced to strive desperately to accumulate capital, forced to develop or disintegrate-or rather, as it generally turns out, to develop and disintegrate-so long as they are, as Octavio Paz says, "condemned to modernity," they are bound to produce cultures that will show them what they are doing and what they are. Thus, as the Third World is increasingly caught up in the dynamics of modernization, modernism, far



from exhausting itself, is only just beginning to come into its own.* In closing, I want to comment briefly on two indictments of Marx, by Herbert Marcuse and Hannah Arendt, which raise some of the central issues of this book. Marcuse and Arendt formulated their critiques in America in the 1950s, but seem to have conceived them in the 1920s, in the milieu of German romantic existentialism. In a sense their arguments go back to the debates between Marx and the Young Hegelians in the 1840s; nevertheless, the issues they raise are as relevant as ever today. The basic premise is that Marx uncritically celebrates the values of labor and production, and neglects other human activities and modes of being that are ultimately at least as important.t Marx is reproached here, in other words, for a failure of moral imagination. Marcuse's most trenchant criticism of Marx occurs in Eros and Civilization, in which Marx's presence is evident on every page, but strangely never mentioned by name. However, in a passage ·like the one that follows, where Marx's favorite culture hero, Prometheus, is attacked, it is obvious what is being said between the lines: Prometheus is the culture-hero of toil, productivity, and progress through repression ... the trickster and (suffering) rebel against the gods, who creates culture at the price of perpetual pain. He symbolizes productiveness, the unceasing effort to master life. . . . Prometheus is the archetypal hero of the performance-principle. Marcuse proceeds to nominate alternate mythological figures, whom he considers more worthy of idealization: Orpheus, Narcissus, and Dionysus-and Baudelaire and Rilke, whom Marcuse sees as their modern votaries. [They] stand for a very different reality .... Theirs is the image of joy and fulfillment, the voice that does not command but sings, the deed which is peace and ends the labor of conquest: the • Alternating Current, 196-98. Paz argues that the Third World desperately needs the imaginative and critical energy of modernism. Without it, "the revolt of the Third World ... has degenerated into different vari~ties of frenzied Caesa.rism, or languishes beneath the stranglehold of bureaucracies that are both cymcal and fuzzy-minded." _ . t This criticism might best be summed up by T. W. Adorno's ~emark .<which he never put in print) that Marx wanted to turn the whole world mto a g~ant workhouse."

Marx, Modernism and Modernization


liberty from time that unites man with god, man with nature ... the redemption of pleasure, the halt of time, the absorption of death: silence, sleep, night, paradise-the Nirvana-principle not as death but life."' What the Promethean/Marxian VISion fails to see is the joys of peacefulness and passivity, sensual languor, mystical rapture, a state of oneness with nature rather than achieved mastery over it. There is something to this-certainly "luxe, calme et volupte" is far from the center of Marx's imagination-but less than there may at first seem to be. If Marx is fetishistic about anything, it is not work and production but rather the far more complex and comprehensive ideal of development-"the free development of physical and spiritual energies" (1844 manuscripts); "development of a totality of capacities in the individuals themselves" (German Ideology); "the free development of each will be the condition for the free development of all" (Manifesto); "the universality of individual needs, capacities, pleasures, productive forces, etc." (Grundrisse); "the fully developed individual" (Capital). The experiences and human qualities that Marcuse values would certainly be included in this agenda, though there is no guarantee that they would head the list. Marx wants to embrace Prometheus and Orpheus; he considers communism worth fighting for, because for the first time in history it could enable men to have both . He might also argue that it is only against a background of Promethean striving that Orphic rapture gains moral or psychic value; "luxe, calme et volupte" by themselves are merely boring, as Baudelaire knew well. Finally, it is valuable for Marcuse to proclaim, as the Frankfurt School has always proclaimed, the ideal of harmony between man and nature. But it is equally important for us to realize that, whatever the concrete content of this balance and harmony might be -a difficult enough question in its own right-it would take an immense amount of Promethean activity and striving to create it. Moreover, even if it could be created, it would still have to be maintained; and given the dynamism of the modern economy, mankind would have to work incessantly-like Sisyphus, but constantly striving to develop new measures and new means-to keep its precarious balance from being swept away and melting in foul au. Arendt, in The Human Condition, understands something that





liberal critics of Marx generally miss: the real problem in his thought is not a draconic authoritarianism but its radical opposite, the lack of a basis for any authority at all. "Marx predicted correctly, though with an unjustified glee, the 'withering away' of the public realm under the conditions of the unhampered development of 'the productive forces of society.'" The members of his communist society would find themselves, ironically, "caught in the fulfillment of needs that nobody can share and which nobody can fully communicate.'' Arendt understands the depth of the individualism that underlies Marx's communism, and understands, too, the nihilistic directions in which that individualism may lead. In a communist society where the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all, what is going to hold these freely developing individuals together? They might share a common quest for infinite experiential wealth; but this would be "no true public realm, but only private activities displayed in the open.'' A society like this might well come to feel a sense of collective futility: "the futility of a life which does not fix or realize itself in any permanent subject that endures after its labor is past." 24 This critique of Marx poses an authentic and urgent human problem. But Arendt comes no closer than Marx to resolving the problem. Here, as in many of her works, she weaves a splendid rhetoric of public life and action, but leaves it quite unclear what this life and action are supposed to consist of-except that political life is not supposed to include what people do all day, their work and production relationships. (These are consigned to "the cares of the household," a subpolitical realm which Arendt considers to be devoid of the capacity to create human value.) Arendt never makes it clear what, besides lofty rhetoric, modern men can or ought to share. She is right to say that Marx never developed a theory of political community, and right that this is a serious problem. But the problem is that, given the nihilistic thrust of modern personal and social development, it is not at all clear what political bonds modern men can create. Thus the trouble in Marx's thought turns out to be a trouble that runs through the whole structure of modern life itself. I have been arguing that those of us who are most critical of modern life need modernism most, to show us where we are and where we can begin to change our circ*mstances and ourselves. In

Marx, Modernism and Modernization


search of a place to begin, I have gone back to one of the first and greatest of modernists, Karl Marx. I have gone to him not so much for his answers as for his questions. The great gift he can give us today, it seems to me, is not a way out of the contradictions of modern life but a surer and deeper way into these contradictions. He knew that the way beyond the contradictions would have to lead through modernity, not out of it. He knew we must start where we are: psychically naked, stripped of all religious, aesthetic, moral haloes and sentimental veils, thrown back on our individual will and energy, forced to exploit each other and ourselves in order to survive; and yet, in spite of all, thrown together by the same forces that pull us apart, dimly aware of all we might be together, ready to stretch ourselves to grasp new human possibilities, to develop identities and mutual bonds that can help us hold together as the fierce modern air blows hot and cold through us all.

Baudelaire: Modernisn1 in the Streets But now imllfine a city liM Paril ... imllfine tlail metropolil of the world ••• where lailtory confronts us on every street corner. -Goethe to Eckermann, 3 May 1827

It il not merely in /ail "" of imagery of common life, not merely in the imagery of the sordicllife of a great metropolil, but in the elevation of such imagery to first intenaity--pr11enting it M it il, and yet mtding it represent something beyond it,lf-tlu:Jt Baudelaire laM created a mode of reka" and ~re11ion for other men. -T. S. Eliot, "Baudelaire," 1930

IN THE past three decades, an immense amount of energy has been expended all over the world in exploring and unraveling the meanings of modernity. Much of this energy has fragmented itself in perverse and self-defeating ways. Our vision of modern life tends to split into material and spiritual planes: some people devote themselves to "modernism," which they see as a species of pure spirit, evolving in accord with its autonomous artistic and






intellectual imperatives; other people work within the orbit of "modernization," a complex of material structures and processes -political, economic, social-which, su~pos~dly, once. it has got under way, runs on its own momentum with httle or no mput from human minds or souls. This dualism, pervasive in contemporary culture, cuts us all off from one of the pervasive facts of modern life: the interfusion of its material and spiritual forces, the intimate unity of the modern self and the modern environment. But the first great wave of writers and thinkers about modernity-Goethe, Hegel and Marx, Stendhal and, Ca~lyle and J?icke.ns, Herzen and Dostoevsky-had an mstmcuve feehng for this umty; it gave their visions a richness and depth that contemporary writing about modernity sadly lacks. This chapter is built around Baudelaire, who did more than anyone in the nineteenth century to make the men an? women of his century aware of themselves as moderns. Modermty, modern life, modern art-these terms occur incessantly in Baudelaire's work; and two of his great essays, the short "Heroism of Modern Life" and the longer "Painter of Modern Life" (1859-60, published in 1863), have set agendas for a whole century of art and thought. In 1865, when Baudelaire was living in poverty, illness and obscurity, the youthful Paul Verlaine tried to revive interest in him by stressing his modernity as a primary source of his greatness: "Baudelaire's originality is to portray, powerfully and originally, modern man ... as the refinemen~s o~ an excessiv~ civilization have made him, modern man with h1s acute and VIbrant senses, his painfully subtle spirit, his brain saturated with tobacco, his blood burning with alcohol. ... Baudelaire portrays this sensitive individual as a type, a hero." 1 The poet Theodore de Banville developed this theme two years later in a moving tribute at Baudelaire's grave: He accepted modern man in his entirety, with his weaknesses, his aspirations and his despair. He had thus been able to give beauty to sights that did not possess beauty in themselves, not by making them romantically picturesque, but by bringing to light the portion of the human soul hidden in them; he had thus revealed the sad and often tragic heart of the modern city. That was why he haunted, ana would always haunt, the minds of modern men, and move them when other artists left them cold. 2

Modernism in the Streets


Baudelaire's reputation in the century since his death has developed along the lines de Banville suggests: the more seriously Western culture is concerned with the issue of modernity, the more we appreciate Baudelaire's originality and courage as a prophet and pioneer. If we had to nominate a first modernist, Baudelaire would surely be the man. And yet, one salient quality of Baudelaire's many writings on modern life and art is that the meaning of the modern is surprisingly elusive and hard to pin down. Take, for instance, one of his most famous dicta, from 'The Painter of Modern Life": "By 'modernity' I mean the ephemeral, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is eternal and immutable." The painter (or novelist or philosopher) of modern life is one who concentrates his vision and energy on "its fashions, its morals, its emotions," on "the passing moment and all the suggestions of eternity that it contains." This concept of modernity is meant to cut against the antiquarian classical fixations that dominate French culture. "We are struck by a general tendency among artists to dress all their subjects in the garments of the past." The sterile faith that archaic costumes and gestures will produce eternal verities leaves French art stuck in "an abyss of abstract and indeterminate beauty," and deprives it of "originality," which can only come from "the seal that Time imprints on all our generations."* We can see what Baudelaire is driving at here; but this purely formal criterion for modernity-whatever is unique about any period-in fact takes him directly away from where he wants to go. By this criterion, as Baudelaire says, "Every old master has his own modernity," insofar as he captures the look and feeling of his own era. But this empties the idea of modernity of all its specific weight, its concrete historical content. It makes any and all times "modern times"; ironically, by spreading modernity through all history, it leads us away from the special qualities of our own modern history. 3 The first categorical imperative· of Baudelaire's modernism is to

* Marx, in the same decade, was complaining, in terms surprisingly similar to Baudelaire's, about classical and antique fixations in the politics of the left: "The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when men seem engaged in revolutionizing themselves and things, in creating something entirely new ... they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past and borrow from them names, battle slogans and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honored disguise and this borrowed language." The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1851-52, MER, 595.

Modernism in the Streets

134 ALL THAT Is SoLID MELTS INTO AIR orient ourselves toward the primary forces of modern life; but Baudelaire does not make it immediately clear what these forces are, or what our stance toward them is supposed to be. Nevertheless, if we go through Baudelaire's work, we will find that it contains several distinctive visions of modernity. These visions often seem to be violently opposed to one another, and Baudelaire does not always seem to be aware of the tensions between them. Still, he presents them all with verve and brilliance, and often elaborates them with great originality and depth. Moreover, all of Baudelaire's modern visions, and all his contradictory critical attitudes toward modernity, have taken on lives of their own, long past his death and into our own time. This essay will start from Baudelaire's most simplistic and uncritical interpretations of modernity: his lyrical celebrations of modern life that created distinctively modern modes of pastoral; his vehement denunciations of modernity, which generated modern forms of counter-pastoral. Baudelaire's pastoral visions of modernity would be elaborated in our century under the name of "modernolatry"; his counter-pastorals would turn into what the twentieth century would call "cultural despair." 4 From these limited visions, we will move on, for most of the essay, to a Baudelairean perspective that is far deeper and more interestingthough probably less well known and less influential-a perspective that resists all final resolutions, aesthetic or political, that wrestles boldly with its own inner contradictions, and that can illuminate not only Baudelaire's modernity but our own.


Pastoral and CounterPastoral Modernism LET us start with Baudelaire's modern pastorals. The earliest version occurs in the Preface to Baudelaire's "Salon of 1846," his


critical review of the year's showing of new art. This preface is entitled "To the Bourgeois." 5 Contemporary readers who are accustomed to think of Baudelaire as a lifelong sworn enemy of the bourgeois and all their works are in for a shock. 6 Here Baudelaire not only celebrates the bourgeois, but even flatters them, for their intelligence, willpower and creativity in industry, trade and finance. It is not entirely clear of whom this class is meant to consist: "You are the majority-in number and intelligence; therefore you are the power-which is justice." If the bourgeoisie constitutes a majority of the population, what has become of the working class, let alone the peasantry? However, we must remind ourselves, we are in a pastoral world. In this world, when the bourgeois undertake immense enterprises-"you have combined together, you have formed companies, you have raised loans" -it is not, as some might think, to make lots of money, but for a far loftier purpose: "to realize the idea of the future in all its diverse forms-political, industrial, artistic." The fundamental bourgeois motive here is the desire for infinite human progress, not just in the economy, but universally, in the spheres of politics and culture as well. Baudelaire is appealing to what he sees as their innate creativity and universality of vision: since they are animated by the drive for progress in i~dustry and politics, it would be unworthy of their dignity to stand still and accept stagnation in art. Baudelaire also appeals, as Mill will appeal a generation later (and even Marx in the Communist Manifesto), to the bourgeois belief in free trade, and demands that this ideal be extended to the sphere of culture: just as chartered monopolies are (presumably) a drag on economic life and energy, so "the aristocrats of thought, the monopolists of things of the mind," will suffocate the life of the spirit, and deprive the bourgeoisie of the rich resources of modern art and thought. Baudelaire's faith in the bourgeoisie neglects all the darker potentialities of its economic and political drives-that is why I call it a pastoral vision. Nevertheless, the naivete of "To the Bourgeois" springs from a fine openness and generosity of spirit. It will not-it could not-survive June 1848 or December 1851; but, in a spirit as biner as Baudelaire's, it is lovely while it lasts. In any case, this pastoral vision proclaims a natural affinity between material and spiritual modernization; it holds that the groups that are most dynamic and innovative in economic and political life will be most open to intellectual and





artistic creativity-"to realize the idea of the future in all its diverse forms"; it sees both economic and cultural change as unprob7 lematical progress for mankind. Baudelaire's 1859-60 essay "The Painter of Modern Life" presents a very different mode of pastoral: ~ere modern life ap.p~ars as a great fashion show, a system of da~zlmg appe~rances, bnlhant facades, glittering triumphs of decoration and destgn. Th~ heroes of this pageant are the painter and illustrator Constantm Guys, and Baudelaire's archetypal figure of the Dandy. In the world Guys portrays, the spectator "marvels at the ·... a~azing ~arr~ony of life in capital cities, a harmony so provtdenttally mamtamed amid the turmoil of human freedom." Readers familiar with Baudelaire will be startled to hear him sound like Dr. Pangloss; we wonder what's the joke, until we conclude ruefully that there isn't any. "The kind of subject preferred by our arti~t ... is th~ pageantry of life [la pompe de la vie] as it is t?.be se~n m the capttals of the civilized world; the pageantry of mtlttary hfe, of fashton, and of love [la vie militaire, la vie elegante, la vie galante]." If we turn to Guys's slick renderings of the "beautiful people" and their ~orld, we will see only an array of dashing costumes, filled by hfeless mannequins with emp~y faces. However, it ~s.n't Guys's f~ult th~t his art resembles nothmg so much as Bonwtt s or Bloommgdale s ads. What is really sad is that Baudelaire has written pages of prose that go only too well with them: He [the painter of modern life] delights in fine carriages and proud horses, the dazzling smartness of the grooms, the expertness of the footmen, the sinuous gait of the women, the beauty of the children, happy to be alive and well dressed-in a word, he delights in universal life. If a fashion or the cut of a garment has been slightly modified, if bows and curls have bee? supplanted by co*ckades, if bavolets have been enlarged and c~1gn~ns have dropped a fraction toward the nape of the neck, 1f waists have been raised and skirts have become fuller, be very sure that his eagle eye will have spotted it."

If this is, as Baudelaire says, "universal life," what is universal death? Those who love Baudelaire will think it a pity that, as long as he was writing advertising copy, he couldn't arrange to get paid for it. (He could have used the money, though of course he would never have dori"e it for money.) But this mode of pastoral plays an

Modernism in the Streets


important role not merely in Baudelaire's own career but in the century of modern culture between his time and our own. There is an important body of modern writing, often by the most serious writers, that sounds a great deal like advertising copy. This writing sees the whole spiritual adventure of modernity incarnated in the latest fashion, the latest machine, or-and here it gets sinisterthe latest model regiment. A regiment passes, on its way, as it may be, to the ends of the earth, tossing into the air of the boulevards its trumpet-calls as winged and stirring as hope; and in an instant Monsieur G. will already have seen, examined and analyzed the bearing of the · external aspect of that company. Glittering equipment, music, bold, determined glances, heavy, solemn mustaches-he absorbs it all pell-mell, and in a few moments the resulting "poem" will be virtually composed. See how his soul lives with the soul of that regiment, marching like a single animal, a proud image of joy and obedience.•

These are the soldiers who killed 25,000 Parisians in June 1848 and who opened the way for Napoleon III in December of 1851. On both those occasions Baudelaire went into the streets to fight against-and could easily have been killed by-the men whose animal-like '1oy in obedience" so thrills him now. 10 The passage above should alert us to a fact of modern life that students of poetry and art could easily forget: the tremendous importance of military display-psychological as well as political importanceand its power to captivate even the freest spirits. Armies on parade, from Baudelaire's time to our own, play a central role in the pastoral vision of modernity: glittering hardware, gaudy colors, flowing lines, fast and graceful movements, modernity without tears. Perhaps the strangest thing about Baudelaire's pastoral vision -it typifies his perverse sense of irony, but also his peculiar integrity-is that the vision leaves him out. All the social and spiritual dissonances of Parisian life have been cleaned off these streets. Baudelaire's own turbulent inwardness, anguish and yearningand his whole creative achievement in representing what Banville called "modern man in his entirety, with his weakness, his aspirations and his despair"-are completely out of this world. We


should be able to see now that, when Baudelaire chooses Constantin Guys, rather than Courbet or Daumier or Manet (all of whom he knew and loved), as the archetypal "painter of modern life," it is not merely a lapse in taste but a profound rejection and abasem*nt of himself. His encounter with Guys, pathetic as it is, does convey something true and important about modernity: its power to generate forms of "outward show," brilliant designs, glamorous spectacles, so dazzling that they can blind even the most incisive self to the radiance of its own darker life within. Baudelaire's most vivid counter-pastoral images of modernity belong to the late 1850s, the same period as "The Painter of Modern Life": if there is a contradiction between the two visions, Baudelaire is wholly unaware of it. The counter-pastoral theme first emerges in an 1855 essay "On the Modern Idea of Progress as Applied to the Fine Arts." 11 Here Baudelaire uses familiar reactionary rhetoric to pour scorn not merely on the modern idea of progress but on modern thought and life as a whole: There is yet another and very fashionable error which I am anxious to avoid like the very devil. I refer to the idea of "progress." This obscure beacon, invention of present-day philosophizing, licensed without guarantee of Nature or God-this modern lantern throws a stream of chaos on all objects of knowledge; liberty melts away, punishment [chatiment] disappears. Anyone who wants to see history clearly must first of all put out this treacherous light. This grotesque idea, which has flowered on the soil of modern fatuity, has discharged each man from his duty, has delivered the soul from responsibility, has released the will from all the bonds imposed on it by the love of beauty .... Such an infatuation is a symptom of an already too visible decadence. Here beauty appears as something static, unchanging, wholly external to the self, demanding rigid obedience and imposing punishments on its recalcitrant modern subjects, extinguishing all forms of Enlightenment, functioning as a kind of spiritual police in the service of a counter-revolutionary Church and State. Baudelaire resorts to this reactionary bombast because he is worried about an increasing "confusion of material order with spiritual order" thaf the modern romance of progress spreads. Thus,

Modernism in the Streets


Take any good Frenchman who reads his newspaper in his cafe, and ask him what he understands by progress, and he will answer that it is steam, electricity and gaslight, miracles unknown to the Romans, whose discovery bears full witness to our superiority over the ancients. Such is the darkness that has gathered in that unhappy brain! Baudelaire is perfectly reasonable in fighting the confusion of material progress with spiritual progress-a confusion that persists in our century, and becomes especially rampant in periods of economic boom. But he is as silly as the straw man in the cafe when he leaps to the opposite pole, and defines art in a way that seems to have no connection with the material world at all: The poor man has become so Americanized by zoocratic and industrial philosophies that he has lost all notion of the differences between the phenomena of the physical world and those of the moral world, between the natural and the supernatural. This dualism bears some resemblance to the Kantian dissociation of the noumenal and phenomenal realms, but it goes a lot further than Kant, for whom noumenal experiences and activities-art, rel.igion, ethics-still operate in a material world of time and space. It Is not at all clear where, or on what, this Baudelairean artist can work. Baudelaire goes further: he disconnects his artist not only from the material world of steam, electricity and gas, but even from the whole past and future history of art. Thus, he says, it is wrong to even think about an artist's forerunners or the influences on him. "Every efflorescence [in art] is spontaneous, individual. ... T.he artist ste~s only from himself.... He stands security only for h1mself. He d1es ch1ldless. He has been his own king, his own priest, his own God." 12 Baudelaire leaps into a transcendence that leaves Kant far behind: this artist becomes a walking Ding-an-sich. Thus, in Baudelaire's mercurial and paradoxical sensibility, the counter-pastoral image of the modern world generates a remarkably pastoral vision of the modern artist who floats, untouched, freely above it. The dualism first sketched here-counter-pastoral vision of the modern world, pastoral vision of the modern artist and his art-is extended and deepened in Baudelaire's famous 1859 essay, "The



Souo MELTs


Modern Public and Photography." ~ Baudelaire begins by complaining that "the exclusive taste for the True (so noble a thing when limited to its proper applications) oppresses the taste for the Beautiful." This is the rhetoric of balance, resisting exclusive emphases: truth is essential, only it shouldn't stifle the desire for beauty. But the sense of balance doesn't last long: "Where one ' should see nothing but Beauty (I mean in a beautiful painting) our public looks only for Truth." Because photography has the capacity to reproduce reality more precisely than ever before-to show the "Truth"-this new medium is "art's mortal enemy"; and insofar as the development of photography is a product of technological progress, then "Poetry and progress are like two ambitious men who hate each other. When they meet on the same road, one or the other must give way." But why this mortal enmity? Why should the presence of reality, of "truth" in a work of art, undermine or destroy its beauty? The apparent answer, which Baudelaire believes so vehem~ntly (at l~ast he believes it at this moment) that he doesn't even thmk of saymg it clearly, is that modern reality is utterly loathsome, empty not only of beauty but of even the potential for beauty. A categorical, nearly hysterical contempt for modern men and their life animates statements like these: "The idolatrous mob demanded an ideal appropriate to itself and worthy of its nature." From the mo~ent that photography was developed, "our squalid society, Narcissus to a man, rushed to gaze at its trivial image on a scrap of metal." Baudelaire's serious critical discussion of the representation of reality in modern art is crippled here by an uncritical loathing for the real modern people around him. This leads him once more to a pastoral conception of art: it is "useless and tedious to represent what exists, because nothing that exists satisfies me .... I prefer the monsters of my fantasy to what is positively trivial." Even worse than the photographers, Baudelaire says, are the modern painters who are influenced by photography: more and more, the modern painter "is given to painting not what he dreams, but what he sees." What makes this pastoral, and uncritical, is the radical dualism, and the utter lack of awareness that there can be rich and complex relations, mutual influences and interfusions, between what an artist (or anyone else) dreams and what he sees. Baudelaire's polemic against photography was extremely influential in defining a distinctive mode of aesthetic modernism, per1

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vasive in our century-e.g., in Pound, Wyndham Lewis, and their many followers-in which modern people and life are endlessly abused, while modern artists and their works are exalted to the skies, without any suspicion that these artists may be more human, and more deeply implicated in la vie moderne, than they would like to think. Other twentieth-century artists like Kandinsky and Mondrian have created marvelous works out of the dream of a dematerialized, unconditioned, "pure" art. (Kandinsky's 1912 manifesto, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, is full of echoes of Baudelaire.) But one artist whom this vision wholly leaves out, alas, is Baudelaire himself. For his poetic genius and achievement, as much as any poet before or after him, is bound up with a particular material reality: the everyday life-and night life-of the streets, cafes, cellars and garrets of Paris. Even his visions of transcendence are rooted in a concrete time and place. One thing that marks Baudelaire off radically from his romantic precursors, and from his symbolist and twentieth-century successors, is the way in which what he dreams is inspired by what he sees. Baudelaire must have known this, at least unconsciously; whenever he is in the midst of sealing off modern art from modern life, he keeps reaching out to trip himself up and bring the two together again. Thus he stops in the midst of the 1855 "Progress" essay to tell a story, which he says is "an excellent lesson in criticism": The story is told of M. Balzac (and who would not listen with respect to any anecdote, no matter how trivial, concerning that great genius?) that one day he found himself in front of a beautiful picture-a melancholy winter-scene, heavy with hoarfrost and thinly sprinkled with cottages and mean-looking peasants; and that after gazing at a little house from which a thin wisp of smoke was rising, "How beautiful it is!" he cried, "But what are they doing in that cottage? What are their thoughts? What are their sorrows? Has it been a good harvest? No doubt they have bills to pay?" [Baudelaire's emphasis]

The lesson for Baudelaire, which we will unfold in the following sections of this essay, is that modern life has a distinctive and authentic beauty, which, however, is inseparable from its innate misery and anxiety, from the bills that modern man has to pay. A




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couple of pages later, in the midst of fulminating complacently against the modern idiots who think themselves capable of spiritual progress, he becomes suddenly serious and cuts sharply from a patronizing certainty that the modern idea of progress is illusory into an intense anxiety over the possibility that this progress is real. ihere follows a brief and brilliant meditation on the real terror that progress creates: I leave aside the question of whether, by continually refining

humanity in proportion to the new enjoyments it offers, indefinite progress might not be its most cruel and ingenious torture; whether, proceeding as it does by a negation of itself, it would not turn out to be a perpetually renewed form of suicide, and whether, shut up in the fiery circle of divine logic, it would not be like the scorpion that stings itself with its own tail-progress, that eternal desideratum that is its own eternal despair! •• Here Baudelaire is intensely personal, yet close to universal. He wrestles with paradoxes that engage and enrage all modern men, and envelop their politics, their economic activities, their most intimate desires, and whatever art they create. This sentence has a kinetic tension and excitement that re-enact the modern condition it describes; the reader who arrives at the end of this sentence feels he has really been somewhere. This is what Baudelaire's best writing on modern life, far less well-known than his pastorals, is like. We are now ready for more of it.


.The Heroism of Modern Life AT THE very e11d of his review of the Salon of 1845, Baudelaire complains that the painters of the day are too inattentive to the


present: "and yet the heroism of modern life surrounds and presses in on us." He goes·on: T~ere

is n? lack o~ subjects, or of colors, to make epics. The true painter were lookmg for will be one who can snatch from the life of today its epic quality, and make us feel how great and poetic we are in our cravats and our patent-leather boots. Next year let's hope that the true seekers may grant us the extraordinary delight of celebrating the advent of the new! •• These thoughts are not very well developed, but two things are worth noting here. First, Baudelaire's irony in the "cravats" passage: some people might think that the juxtaposition of heroism with cravats is a joke; it is, but the joke is precisely that modern men. really are heroic, despite their lack of the paraphernalia of hermsm; mdeed, they are all the more heroic without paraphernalia to puff up their b~dies and souls.* Second, the tendency of modermty to make all thmgs new: next year's modern life will look and feel different from this year's; still, both will be part of the same modern age; but the fact that you can't step into the same modernity twice will make modern life especially elusive and hard to grasp. Baudelaire goes deeper into modern heroism a year later in his short essay of that name. 16 Here he gets more concrete: "The spectacle of fashionable life [La vie elegante] and the thousands of floating existences-criminals and kept women-that drift about in the underworlds [souterrains] of a great city; the Gazette des Tribunaux and the Moniteur all prove to us that we need only open our ey~s t~ rec~gnize our heroism." The fashionable world is here, just as It will be m the essay on Guys; only here it appears in a decidedly nonpastoral form, linked with the underworld, with dark desires and deeds, with crime and punishment; it has a human depth far more arresting than the pallid fashion plates of "The Painter of Modern Life." The crucial point about modern heroism, as Bau*See Baud~laire's comments, in the "Heroism" essay, on the gray or black suit that was becom~ng ~he standard _modern man's outfit: it expresses "not only political beauty,. wh1ch IS an e~press1~n of universal equality, but also poetic beauty, an expressiOn of_ the pubhc S?ul. The emerging standard outfit is "the necessary garb of our suffermg age, wh1ch wears the symbol of perpetual mourning on its thin black shoulders."( liS) ·



delaire sees it here, is that it emerges in conflict, in situations of conflict that pervade everyday life in the modern world. Baudelaire gives examples from bourgeois. life a~ .w.ell as from the fashionable high and low life: the hermc pohuc1an,. t~e g~vernment minister in the Assembly beating back the opposition w1th a searing and stirring speech, vindicating his poli~ies and hims~lf; the heroic businessman, like Balzac's perfumer B1rotteau, fightmg th~ specter of bankruptcy, striving t~ reh~bilitate not only his cre~ht but his life, his whole personal Identity; respectable rascals hke Rastignac, capable of anything-of the meanest a~ well as.the n~­ blest actions-as he fights his way to the top; Vautnn, who mhab1ts the heights of the government as well as the depths of the un~er­ world and who shows the essential intimacy of these two metzers. "All these exude a new and special beauty, which is neither that of Achilles nor yet that of Agamemnon." Indeed, ~audelai~e .s~ys­ in rhetoric guaranteed to outrage the neoclass1ca.l sens1b1hty of many of his French readers-"the heroes of the Ihad are as pygmies compared to you, Vautrin, Rastignac, Birotteau ... an~ you, Honore de Balzac, you, the most heroic, the most extraordmary, most romantic and most poetic of all the characters you h.a~e p~o­ duced from your womb." In general, contemporary Pans1an hfe "is rich in poetic and marvelous subjects. Th~ ma~v~~ous envelops and soaks us like an atmosphere, but we don t see 1t. There are several important things to notice here. First, the wide range of Baudelaire's sympathy and generosity, so different fr?m the standard image of an avant-garde snob who exudes nothmg but scorn for ordinary people and their travails. We should note in this context that Balzac, the one artist in Baudelaire's gallery of modern heroes, is not one who strives to distance himself f~om ordinary people, but rather the one who has plunged deeper mto their life than any artist has ever done before, and who has come up with a vision of that life's hidden heroism. Finally, it is crucial to note Baudelaire's use of fluidity ("floating existences") and gaseousness ("envelops and soaks us like an atmosphere") as symbols for the distinctive quality of modern life. Fluidity and vaporousness will become primary qualities in the self-consciously moder~­ ist painting, architecture and design, music and literat.ure, that w1ll emerge at the end of the nineteenth century. We w1ll. enc~unter them, too, in the thought of the deepest moral and soc1al thmkers of Baudelaire's generation and after-Marx, Kierkegaard, Dos-

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toevsky, Nietzsche-for whom the basic fact of modern life is the fact that, as the Communist Manifesto says, "all that is solid melts into air." Baudelaire's "Painter of Modern Life" is undermined by its pastoral romance with the vapidities of the vie elegante. Nevertheless, it offers some brilliant and arresting images, poles away from pastoral, of what modern art should seek to capture in modern life. First of all, he says, the modern artist should "set up his house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of motion, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite," in the midst of the metropolitan crowd. "His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd"-"epouser la Joule." Baudelaire gives special emphasis to this strange, haunting image. This "lover of universal life" must "enter into the crowd as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy .... Or we might compare him to a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness." He must "express at once the attitude and the gesture of living beings, whether solemn or grotesque, and their luminous explosion in space." Electrical energy, the kaleidoscope, explosion: modern art must recreate for itself the immense transformations of matter and energy that modern science and technology-physics, optics, chemistry, engineering-have brought about. The point is not that the artist should utilize these innovations (though, in his "Photography" essay, Baudelaire says he approves this-so long as the new techniques are kept in their subordinate place). The real point for the modern artist is to re-enact these processes, to put his own soul and sensibility through these transformations, and to bring these explosive forces to life in his work. But how? I don't think Baudelaire, or anyone else in the nineteenth century, had a clear grasp of how to do this. Not until the early twentieth century will these images begin to realize themselves-in cubist painting, collage and montage, the cinema, the stream of consciousness in the novel, the free verse of Eliot and Pound and Apollinaire, futurism, vorticism, constructivism, dada, poems that accelerate like cars, paintings that explode like bombs. And yet Baudelaire knows something that his twentieth-century modernist successors tend to forget. It is suggested in the extraordinary emphasis he gives to the verb epouser, as a primary symbol for the relationship between the artist and the people around him. Whether this word is used in its literal sense, to marry, or in a



figurative sense, to sexually embrace, it is one of the most ordinary of: human experiences, and one of the most universal: it is, as the songs say, what makes the world go round. One of the fundamental problems of twentieth-century modernism is the way this art tends to lose touch with people's everyday lives. This is not, of course, univetsal'ly true-Joyce's Ulysses may be the noblest exception-but it is true enough to be noticed by everyone who cares about modern life and art. For Baudelaire, however, an art that is not epouse with the lives of men and women in the crowd is not properly modern art at all. Sauddaire's richest and deepest thought about modernity begins just after "The Painter of Modern Life," in the early 1860s, and continues through the decade until the point, not long before his death in 1867, when he became too ill to write. This work is contained in a series of prose poems that he planned to bring out under the title of Paris Spleen. Baudelaire did not live to finish the series or publish it as a whole, but he did complete fifty of these poems, plus a Preface and an Epilogue, and they appeared in 1868,j'ust after his death. Walter Benjamin, in his series of brilliant essays on Baudelaire and Paris, was the first to grasp the great depth and richness of these prose poems. 18 All my work is in the vein Benjamin opened up, though I have found different elements and compounds from the ones he brought out. Benjamin's Parisian writings constitute a remarkable dramatic performance, surprisingly similar to Greta Garbo's in Ninotchka. His heart and his sensibility draw him irresistibly toward the city's bright lights, beautiful women, fashion, luxury, its play of dazzling surfaces and radiant scenes; meanwhile his MaFxist conscience wrenches him insistently away from these temptations, instructs him that this whole glittering world is decadent, hollow, vicious, spiritually empty, oppressive to the proletariat, condemned by history. He makes repeated ideological resolutions to forsake the Parisian temptation-and to forbear leading his readers into temptation-but he cannot resist one last look down the boulevard or under the arcade; he wants to be saved, but not yet. These inner contradictions, acted out on page afteT page, give Benjamin's work a luminous energy and poignant charm. Ernst Lubitsch, Ninotchka's scenarist and director, came out of the same B~rlin Jewish bourgeois world as Benjamin, and also

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14 7

sympathized with the left; he would have appreciated the drama a?d the charm, but would doubtless have rewarded it with a happier denouement than Benjamin's own. My own work in this vein is less compelling as drama, but perhaps more coherent as history. Where Benjamin lurches between total merger of the modern self (Baudelaire's, his own) with the modern city, and total alienation from it, I try to recapture the more constant currents of metabolic and dialectical How. In the following two sections, I want to read, in detail and in depth, two of Baudelaire's late prose poems: "The Eyes of the Poor" (1864) and "The Loss of a Halo" (1865)} 9 We will see at once, from these poems, why Baudelaire is universally acclaimed as one of the great urban writers. In Paris Spleen, the city of Paris plays a central !?le in his sp~ritual ?~ama. Here Baudelaire belongs to a great tradition of Par~stan wr~tmg that reaches back to Villon, runs through Montesquieu and Diderot, Restif de Ia Bretonne and Sebastien Mercier, and into the nineteenth century with Balzac and Hugo and Eugene Sue. But Baudelaire also expresses a radical b.reak. in t?is tradition. His best Parisian writing belongs to the precise h1stor~cal r:noment when, under the authority of Napoleon III and the d1recuon of Haussmann, the city was being systematically torn apart and rebuilt. Even as Baudelaire worked in Paris, the wo.rk of its modernization was going on alongside him and over h1s head and under his feet. He saw himself not only as a spectat~r, but as ~.participant and a protagonist in this ongoing work; h1s own Par1s1an work expresses its drama and trauma. Baudelaire shows us something that no other writer sees so well: how the modernization of the city at once inspires and enforces the modernization of its citizens' souls. It_ is important to note the form in which the prose poems of Pans Spleen first appeared: as feuilletons that Baudelaire compos~d for the daily or weekly mass-circulation Paris press. The feUilleton was roughly equivalent to an Op-Ed piece in the newspapers It normally appeared on the paper's first or center page, JUSt below or opposite the editorial, and it was meant to be one o~ the very first things the reader would read. It was generally Written by an outsider, in an evocative or reflective tone inten?ed a~ a contrast to the editorial's combativeness-though th~ p1ece m1gh~ well be chosen to reinforce (often subliminally) the editor's polemical point. By Baudelaire's time, the feuilleton was





an extremely popular urban genre, featured in hundreds of ~u­ ropean and American newspapers. Many of the greatest mneteenth-century writers used this form to present themselves to a mass public: Balzac, Gogol and Poe in the generation before Ba'!delaire; Marx and Engels, Dickens, Whitman and Dostoevsky ~n his own generation. It is crucial to remember that the poems m Paris Spleen do not present themselves as verse, an established art . t h e C'1ormat o f news. 20. form, but as prose, m . . In the Preface to Paris Spleen, Baudelaire proclaims that la vte moderne requires a new language: "a poetic prose, musical without rhythm and without rhyme, .supJ;>le enough and rugge~ enough to adapt itself to the soul's lyncal Impulses, the undulations ~f rev~ erie, the leaps and jolts of consciousness [soubresauts de .conmence]. He emphasizes that "it was above all from the ~xplorauon of enormous cities and from the convergence of their mnumerable co~­ nections [du croisem*nt de leurs innomb~ables rappor~] th~t th~s obsessive ideal was born." What Baudelaire commumcates m this language, above all, is what I will call primal m?dern scenes: e~­ periences that arise from the concrete eve~yday hfe of Bonaparte s and Haussmann's Paris but carry a mythic resonance and depth that propel them beyond their place and time and transform them into archetypes of modern life.


The Family of Eyes primal scene emerges in "The Eyes of the Poor.:· (Paris Spleen #26) This poem takes the form of a lover's complam~: the narrator is explaining to the woman he loves why h~ feels distant and bitter toward her. He reminds her of an expenence they recently shared. It was the evening of a long and lovely day that they had spent alone together. They sat down on the terrace "in front of a new cafe that formed the corner of a new boulevard." The


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boulevard was "still littered with rubble," but the cafe "already displayed proudly its unfinished splendors." Its most splendid quality was a flood of new light: "The cafe was dazzling. Even the gas burned with the ardor of a debut; with all its power it lit the blinding whiteness of the walls, the expanse of mirrors, the gold cornices and moldings." Less dazzling was the decorated interior that the gaslight lit up: a ridiculous profusion of Hebes and Ganymedes, hounds and falcons; "nymphs and goddesses bearing piles of fruits, pates and game on their heads," a melange of "all history and all mythology pandering to gluttony." In other circ*mstances the narrator might recoil from this commercialized grossness; in love, however, he can laugh affectionately, and enjoy its vulgar appeal-our age would call it Camp. As the lovers sit gazing happily into each other's eyes, suddenly they are confronted with other people's eyes. A poor family dressed in rags-a graybearded father, a young son, and a baby -come to a stop directly in front of them and gaze raptly at the bright new world that is just inside. "The three faces were extraordinarily serious, and those six eyes contemplated the new cafe fixedly with an equal admiration, differing only according to age." No words are spoken, but the narrator tries to read their eyes. The father's eyes seem to say, "How beautiful it is! All the gold of the poor world must have found its way onto these walls." The son's eyes seem to say, "How beautiful it is! But it is a house where only people who are not like us can go." The baby's eyes "were too fascinated to express anything but joy, stupid and profound." Their fascination carries no hostile undertones; their vision of the gulf between the two worlds is sorrowful, not militant, not resentful but resigned. In spite of this, or maybe because of it, the narrator begins to feel uneasy, "a little ashamed of our glasses and decanters, too big for our thirst." fie is "touched by this family of eyes," and feels some sort of kinship with them. But when, a moment later, "I turned my eyes to look into yours, dear love, to read my thoughts there" (Baudelaire's italics), she says, "Those people with their great saucer eyes are unbearable! Can't you go tell the manager to get them away from here?" This is why he hates her today, he says. He adds that the incident has made him sad as well as angry: he sees now "how hard it is for people to understand each other, how incommunicable thought is"-so the poem ends-"even between people in love."

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What makes this encounter distinctively modern? What marks it off from a multitude of earlier Parisian scenes of love and class struggle? The difference lies in the urban sp~ce whe~e our scene . takes place: "Toward evening you wanted to sit down m front of a new cafe that formed the corner of a new boulevard, still piled with rubble but already displaying its unfinished splendors." The difference, in one word, is the boulevard: the new Parisian boulevard was the most spectacular urban inno.vation of the n~ne~eenth century, and the decisive breakthrough m the modermzauon of the traditional city. In the late 1850s and through the 1860s, while Baudelaire was working on Paris Spleen, Georges Eu~ene Ha~ssma.nn, the Prefect of Paris and its environs, armed w1th the 1mpenal mandate of Napoleon Ill, was blasting a vast network of boulevards through the heart of the old medieval city. 21 Napoleon and Haussmann envisioned the new roads as arteries in an urban circulatory system. These images, commonplace today, were revolutionary in the context of nineteenth-century urban life. The new boulevards would enable traffic to flow through the center of the city, and to move straight ahead from end to end-~ ~uixotic and virtually unimaginable enterprise till then. In .~~dition, t~ey would clear slums and open up "breathing space m the m1dst of layers of darkness and choked congestion. They would stimulate a tremendous expansion of local business at every level, and ~bus help to defray the immense municipal demolition, compensation ~nd construction costs. They would pacify the masses by employmg ~e~s of thousands of them-at times as much as a quarter of the c1ty s labor force-on long-term public works, which in turn would generate thousands more jobs in the private sector. Finally, they would create long and broad corridors in w~ich troops and artill~ry could move effectively against future barncades and popular msurrections. The boulevards were only one part of a comprehensive system of urban planning that included central markets, bridges, sewers, water supply, the Opera and other cultural pala~es, a great n~~: work of parks. "Let it be said to Baron Haussmann s etern~l credit -so wrote Robert Moses, his most illustrious and notonous successor, in 1942-"that he grasped the problem of step-by-step large-scale city _modernization." The new construction wrecked hundreds of buildings, displaced uncounted thousands of people,


destroyed whole neighborhoods that had lived for centuries. But it opened up the whole of the city, for the first time in its history, to all its inhabitants. Now, at last, it was possible to move not only within neighborhoods, but through them. Now, after centuries of life as a cluster of isolated cells, Paris was becoming a unified physical and human space.* The Napoleon-Haussmann boulevards.created new bases-economic, social, aesthetic-for bringing enormous numbers of people together. At the street level they were lined with small businesses and shops of all kinds, with every corner zoned for restaurants and terraced sidewalk cafes. These cafes, like the one where Baudelaire's lovers and his family in rags come to look, soon came to be seen all over the world as symbols of Ia vie parisienne. Haussmann's sidewalks, like the boulevards themselves, were extravagantly wide, lined with benches, lush with trees. 22 Pedestrian islands were installed to make crossing easier, to separate local from through traffic and to open up alternate routes for promenades. Great sweeping vistas were designed, with monuments at the boulevards' ends, so that each walk led toward a dramatic climax. All these qualities helped to make the new Paris a uniquely enticing spectacle, a visual and sensual feast. Five generations of modern painters, writers and photographers (and, a little later, filmmakers), starting with the impressionists in the 1860s, would nourish themselves on the life and energy that flowed .along the boulevards. By the 1880s, the Haussmann pattern was generally

* In Laboring Classes and Dangerous Classes, cited in note 21, Louis Chevalier, the venerable historian of Paris, gives a horrific, excruciatingly detailed account of the ravages to which the old central neighborhoods in the pre-Haussmann decades were subjected: demographic bombardment, which doubled the population while the erection of luxury housing and government buildings sharply reduced the overall housing stock; recurrent mass unemployment, which in a pre-welfare era led directly to starvation; dreadful epidemics of typhus and cholera, which took their greatest toll in the old quartiers. All this suggests why the Parisian poor, who fought so bravely on so many fronts in the nineteenth century, put up no resistance to the destruction of their neighborhoods: they may well have been willing to go, as Baudelaire said in another context, anywhere out of their world. The little-known essay by Robert Moses, also cited in note 21, is a special treat for all those who savor the ironies of urban history. In the course of giving a lucid and balanced overview of Haussmann's accomplishments, Moses crowns himself as his successor, and implicitly bids for still more Haussmann-type authority to carry out even more gigantic projects after the war. The piece ends with an admirably incisive and trenchant critique that anticipates, with amazing precision and deadly accuracy. the criticism that would be directed a generation later against Moses himself, and that would finally help to drive Haussmann's greatest disciple from public life.




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acclaimed as the very model of modern urbanism. As such, it was soon stamped on emerging and expanding cities in every corner of the world, from Santiago to Saigon. What did the boulevards do to the people who came to fill them? Baudelaire shows us some of the most striking things. For lovers, like the ones in "The Eyes of the Poor," the boulevards created a new primal scene: a space where they could beprivate ~n public, intimately together without being physically alone. Movmg along the boulevard, caught up in its immense and endless flux, they could feel their love more vividly than ever as the still point of a turning world. They could display their love _be~ore the bo~le­ vard's endless parade of strangers-indeed, withm a generation Paris would be world-famous for this sort of amorous displayand draw different forms of joy from them all. They could weave veils of fantasy around the multitude of passers-by: who were these people, where did they come from and where were they going, what did they want, whom did they love? The more they saw of others and showed themselves to others-the more they participated in the extended "family of eyes" -the richer became their vision of themselves. In this environment, urban realities could easily become dreamy and magical. The bright lights of street _and cafe on_!~ heightened the joy; in the next generations, the commg of electne1ty a_n_d ne_on would heighten it still more. Even the most blatant vulganues, hke those cafe nymphs with fruits and pates on their head~, turn~d lovely in this romantic glow. Anyone who has ever been m love m a great city knows the feeling, and_ it is ~elebrat~d in_ a hundred sentimental songs. In fact, these pnvate JOys sprmg directly from the modernization of public urban space. Baudelaire shows us a new private and public world at the very moment wh~n it is co_ming into being. From this moment on, the boulevard w1ll be as v1tal as the boudoir in the making of modern love. But primal scenes, for Baudelaire as later on for Freud,_ cannot be idyllic. They may contain idyllic material, but at th~ chmax ?f the scene a repressed reality creaks through, a revelauon or discovery takes place: "a new boulevard, still littered with rubble ... displayed its unfinished splendors." Alongside the glitter, the ~ub­ ble: the ruins of a dozen inner-city neighborhoods-the cny's oldest, darkest, densest, most wretched and most frightening neighborhoods, home to tens of thousands of Parisians-razed to



the ground. Where would all these people go? Those in charge of demolition and reconstruction did not particularly concern themselves. They were opening up vast new tracts for development on the northern and eastern fringes of the city; in the meantime, the poor would make do, somehow, as they always did. Baudelaire's family in rags step out from behind the rubble and place themselves in the center of the scene. The trouble is not that they are angry or demanding. The trouble is simply that they will not go away. They, too, want a place in the light. This primal scene reveals some of the deepest ironies and contradictions in modern dty life. The setting that makes all urban humanity a great extended "family of eyes" also brings forth the discarded stepchildren of that family. The physical and social transformations that drove the poor out of sight now bring them back directly into everyone's line of vision. Haussmann, in tearing down the old medieval slums, inadvertently broke down the selfenclosed and hermetically sealed world of traditional urban poverty. The boulevards, blasting great holes through the poorest neighborhoods, enable the poor to walk through the holes and out of their ravaged neighborhoods, to discover for the first time what the rest of their city and the rest of life is like. And as they see, they are seen: the vision, the epiphany, flows both ways. In the midst of the great spaces, under the bright lights, there is no way to look away. The glitter lights up the rubble, and illuminates the dark lives of the people at whose expense the bright lights shine.* Balzac had compared those old neighborhoods to the darkest jungles of Africa; for Eugene Sue they epitomized "The Mysteries of Paris." Haussmann's boulevards transform the exotic into the immediate; the misery that was once a mystery is now a fact. The manifestation of class divisions in the modern city opens up new divisions within the modern self. How should the lovers regard the ragged people who are suddenly in their midst? At this point, modern love loses its innocence. The presence of the poor *See Engels, in his pamphlet The Housing Question (1872), on "the method called 'Haussmann' ... I mean the practice, .which has now become general, of making breaches in working-class quarters of our big cities, especially in those that are centrally situated .... The result is everywhere the same: the most scandalous alleys and lanes disappear, to the accompaniment of lavish self-glorification by the bourgeoisie on account of this tremendous success-but they appear at once somewhere else, and often in the immediate neighborhood." Marx-Engels Selected Worhs, 2 volumes (Moscow, 1955), I, 559,606-9.


casts an inexorable shadow over the city's luminosity. The setting that magically inspired romance now works a contrary magic, and pulls the lovers out of their romantic enclosure, into wider and less idyllic networks. In this new light, their personal happiness appears as class privilege. The boulevard forces them to react politically. The man's response vibrates in the direction of the liberal left: he feels guilty about his happiness, akin to those who can see but cannot share it; he wishes, sentimentally, to make them part of his family. The woman's affinities-in this instant, at least-are with the right, the Party of Order: we have something, they want it, so we'd better "prier le maitre," call somebody with the power to get rid of them. Thus the distance between the lovers is not merely a gap in communication, but a radical opposition in ideolo~ and politics. Should the barricades go up on the boulevard-as m fact they will in 1871, seven years after the poem's appearance, four years after Baudelaire's death-the lovers could well find themselves on opposite sides. That a loving couple should find themselves split by politics is reason enough to be sad. But there may be other reasons: maybe, when he looked deeply into her eyes, he really did, as he hoped to do, "read my thoughts there." Maybe, even as he nobly- affirms his kinship in the universal family of eyes, he shares her nasty desire to deny the poor relations, to put them out of sight and out of mind. Maybe he hates the woman he loves because her eyes have shown him a part of himself that he hates to face. Maybe the deepest split is not between the narrator and his love but within the man himself. If this is so, it shows us how the contradictions that animate the modern city street resonate in the inner life of the man on the street. Baudelaire knows that the man's and the woman's responses, liberal sentimentality and reactionary ruthlessness, are equally futile. On one hand, there is no way to assimilate the poor into any family of the comfortable; on the other hand, there is no form of repression that can get rid of them for long-they'll always be back. Only the most radical reconstruction of modern society could even begin to heal the wounds-personal as much as social wounds-that the boulevards bring to light. And yet, too often, the radical solution seems to be dissolution: tear the boulevards down, turn off the bright lights, expel and resettle the people, kill the sources of beauty and joy that the modern city has brought

Modernism in the Streets


into being. We can hope, as Baudelaire ~ometimes hoped, for a future in which the joy and beauty, like the city lights, will be shared by all. But our hope is bound to be suffused by the selfironic sadness that permeates Baudelaire's city air.


The Mire of the Macadam OuR NExT archetypal modern scene is found in the prose poem "Loss of a Halo" (Paris Spleen #46), written in 1865 but rejected by the press and not published until after Baudelaire's death. Like "The Eyes of the Poor," this poem is set on the boulevard; it presents a confrontation that the setting forces on the subject; and it ends (as its title suggests) in a loss of innocence. Here, however, the encounter is not between one person and another, or between people of different social classes, but rather between an isolated individual and social forces that are abstract yet concretely dangerous. Here, the ambience, imagery and emotional tone are puzzling and elusive; the poet seems intent on keeping his readers off balance, and he may be off balance himself. "Loss of a Halo" develops as a. dialogue between a poet and an "ordinary man" who bump into each other in un mauvais lieu, a disreputable or sinister place, probably a brothel, to the embarrassment of both. The ordinary man, who has always cherished an exalted idea of the artist, is aghast to find one here: "What! you here, my friend? you in a place like this? you, the eater of ambrosia, the drinker of quintessences! I'm amazed!"

The poet then proceeds to explain himself: "My friend, you know how terrified I am of horses and vehicles? Well, just now as I was crossing the boulevard in a great hurry,





splashing through the mud, in the ~idst of a moving chaos, with death galloping at me from every s1de, I made a sudden move [un mouvement brusque], and my halo slipped off my head an~ fe~l into the mire of the macadam. I was much too scared to p1ck It up. I thought it was less unpleasant to lose my insignia than to get my bones broken. Besides, I said to.mysel~. every cloud ~as a silver lining. Now I can walk around mc~gmto, do low th1~gs, throw myself into every kind of filth [me l1vrer a la cr~pule], JUSt like ordinary mortals [simples mortels]. So here I am, JUSt as you see me, just like yourself!"

The straight man plays along, a little uneasily: "But aren't you going to advertise for your halo? or notify the police?"

No: the poet is triumphant in what we recognize as a new selfdefinition: "God forbid! I like it here. You're the only one who's recognized me. Besides, dignity bores me. What's more, it:s fu.n to think of some bad poet picking it up and brazenly puttmg It on. What a pleasure to make somebody happy! especially somebody yo~ c~n laugh at. Think of X! Think of Z! Don't you see how funny It will be?"

It is a strange poem, and we are apt to feel like th~ straight .~an,

knowing something's happening here but not knowmg what It IS. One of the' first mysteries here is that halo its~lf. What's it d?i~g on a modern poet's head in the first place? It 1s there .to saur~ze and to criticize one of Baudelaire's own most fervent behefs: behef in the holiness of art. We can find a quasi-religious devotion to art throughout his poetry and prose. Thus: in 1855: "T~e artist stems only from himself.... He stands sec*nty o~ly for hu~self. ·... He dies childless. He has been his own king, h1s own pnest, h1s own God."25 "Loss of a Halo" is about how Baudelaire's own God fails. But we must understand that this God is worshipped not only by artists but equally by many "ordinary people" who believe that art and artists exist on a plane far above them. "Loss of a ~alo" takes place at the point at which the world of art and the ordmary world

Modernism in the Streets


converge. This is not only a spiritual point but a physical one, a point in the landscape of the modern city. It is the point where the history of modernization and the history of modernism fuse into one. Walter Benjamin seems to have been the first to suggest the deep affinities between Baudelaire and Marx. Although Benjamin does not make this particular connection, readers familiar with Marx will notice the striking similarity of Baudelaire's central image here to one of the primary images of the Communist Manifesto: "The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every activity hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has transformed the doctor, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage-laborers." 24 For both men, one of the crucial experiences endemic to modern life, and one of the central themes for modern art and thought, is desanctification. Marx's theory locates this experience in a world-historical context; Baudelaire's poetry shows how it feels from inside. But the two men respond to this experience with rather different emotions. In the Manifesto, the drama of desanctification is terrible and tragic: Marx looks back to, and his vision embraces, heroic figures like Oedipus at Colonnus, Lear on the heath, contending against the elements, stripped and scorned but not subdued, creating a new dignity out of desolation. "Eyes of the Poor" contains its own drama of desanctification, but there the scale is intimate rather than monumental, the emotions are melancholy and romantic rather than tragic and heroic. Still, "Eyes of the Poor" and the Manifesto belong to the same spiritual world. "Loss of a Halo" confronts us with a very different spirit: here the drama is essentially comic, the mode of expression is ironic, and the comic irony is so successful that it masks the seriousness of the unmasking that is going on. Baudelaire's denouement, in which the hero's halo slips off his head and rolls through the mud-rather than being torn off with a violent grand geste, as it was for Marx (and Burke and Blake and Shakespeare)-evokes vaudeville, slapstick, the metaphysical pratfalls of Chaplin and Keaton. It points forward to a century whose heroes will come dressed as anti-heroes, and whose most solemn moments of truth will· be not only described but actually experienced as clown shows, music-hall or nightclub routines-shticks. The setting plays the same sort of decisive role in Baudelaire's black comedy that it will play in Chaplin's and Keaton's later on.





"Loss of a Halo" is set on the same new boulevard as "Eyes of the Poor." But although the two poems are separated physically by only a few feet, spiritually they spring from different worlds. The gulf that separates them is the step from the sidewalk into the gutter. On the sidewalk, people of all kinds and all classes k_now themselves by comparing themselves to each other as they s1t or walk. In the gutter, people are forced to forget what they are as they run for their lives. The new force that the boulevards have brought into being, the force that sweeps the hero's halo away and drives him into a new state of mind, is modern traffic. When Haussmann's work on the boulevards began, no one understood why he wanted them so wide: from a hundred feet to a hundred yards across. It was only when the job was done that people began to see that these roads, immensely wide, straight as arrows, running on for miles, would be ideal speedways for heavy traffic. Macadam, the surface with which the bOulevards were paved, was remarkably smooth, and provided perfect traction for horses' hooves. For the first time, riders and drivers in the heart of the city could whip their horses up to full speed. Improved road conditions not only speeded up previously existing traffic but-as twentieth-century highways would do on a larger scale-helped to generate a volume of new traffic far greater than anyone, apart from Haussmann and his engineers, had anticipated. Between 1850 and 1870, while the central city population (excluding newly incorporated suburbs) grew by about 25 percent, from about 1.3 million to 1.65 million, inner-city traffic seems to have tripled or quadrupled. This growth exposed a contradiction at the heart of Napoleon's and Haussmann's urbanism. As David Pinkney says in his authoritative study, Napoleon III and the Rebuilding of Paris, the arterial boulevards "were from the start burdened with a dual function: to carry the main streams of traffic across the city and to serve as major shopping and business streets; and as the volume of traffic increased, the two proved to be ill-compatible." The situation was especially trying and terrifying to the vast majority of Parisians who walked. The macadam pavements, a source of special pride to the Emperor-who never walked-were dusty in the dry months of summer, and muddy in the rain and snow. Haussmann, who clashed with Napoleon over macadam (one of the few things they ever fought about), and who administratively sabotaged imperial plans to cover the whole city with it, said that this

Modernism in the Streets


s~rfa~~5 required P~risians "either to keep a carriage or to walk on Th~s the hfe of the boulevards, more radiant and exciting


~han urban l~fe had ever been, was also more risky and frightening

or t~e mulut~des of m~n and women who moved on foot. .. Th1s, the~, IS the settmg for Baudelaire's primal modern scene· I w~s crossmg t?e boulevard, in a great hurry, in the midst of~ movmg chaos, wnh death galloping at me from every side." The archety~al modern man, as we see him here, is a pedestrian thrown _mto th~ maelstrom of modern city traffic, a man alone contendmg agamst an agglomeration of mass and energy that is heavy • fast an~ lethal. The burgeoning street and boulevard traffic knows ~o spatial. or temporal bounds, spills over into every urban space, 1mposes Its _tempo on everybody's time, transforms the whole_ mode~n env1ronment into a "moving chaos." The chaos he_re hes not m the movers themselves-the individual walkers or dnve~s, each of ~hom .m~y be pursuing the most efficient route for hn~self-but m the1r Interaction, in the totality of their movements m a co_m~on, space. This makes the boulevard a perfect s~~bol of c~p1t~hsm ~ mner contradictions: rationality in each in~IVIdual capnahst _umt, leading to anarchic irrationality in the social system that bnngs all these units together.* !he man in the modern street, thrown into this maelstrom is dnven back on his own resources-often on resources he ne~er kne~ he had-and forced to stretch them desperately in order to survive .. In orde~ to cross the moving chaos, he must attune and ~dapt himself to Its moves, must learn to not merely keep up with It but to stay at least a step ahead. He must become adept at soubresaues_ and mouvements brusques, at sudden, abrupt, jagged twists a~d shifts--:-and ~o~ ~nly with his legs and his body, but with his mmd and h1s sensibility as well. Baudelaire shows how modern city life forces these new moves ?n everyone; but he shows, too, how in doing this it also paradoxIcally enforces new modes of freedom. A man who knows how to

~i~~t::~tt~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~;:~· ~~~ ~~~n~;:~n~ ~~g:~~:;~ :~~~?n~~~:en 1t~3~e

:~~~VIta~ pre~ence

1 m European literature since Dickens' Dombrv and Son (1846~ all~s ~~~o[fa~~=~t[~?ti~: ~:~e s~:~~~t~e~~h~~e:r::Ysc;!~~i;~~i :~:e;o· fr

tr e s. ou n~te that. Baudelaire's experience of "moving chaos" antedat~s the s affic hght, an mnovauon developed in America around 1905, and a wonderful ymbol of early state attempts to regulate and rationalize the chaos of capitalism.



ls Souo MELTS


move in and around and through the traffic can go anywhere, down any of the endless urban corridors where traffic itself ~s free to go. This mobility opens up a great wealth of new expenences and activities for the urban masses. Moralists and people of culture will condemn ~hese p~~ular urban pursuits as low, vulgar, sordid, er:npty of soc1al or spmtual value. But when Baudelaire's poet lets h1s halo go and keeps moving, he makes a great discovery. ~e ~nds to. hi~ amazement that the aura of artistic purity and sanctity 1s only mCldental, not essential, to art, and that poetry can thrive just ~s well, and ~.aybe ev~~ better, on the other side of the boulevard, m those low, unpoetic places like un mauvais lieu where this poem itsel~ is bon~. One ?f , the paradoxes of modernity, as Baudelaire .sees 1t he~e, IS that 1ts poets will become more deeply and authent~cally P.oetlc by bec~m­ ing more like ordinary men. If he throws h1mself .mto the ~ovmg chaos of everyday life in the modern world-a h~e of ~h1~h the new traffic is a primary symbol-he can appropnate th1s hfe f~r art. The ''bad poet" in this world is the poet who hopes to k~ep h1s purity intact by keeping off the streets, f~ee from ~he nsks. of traffic. Baudelaire wants works of art that w1ll be born m the m1dst of the traffic, that will spring from its anarchic energy, from. the incessant danger and terror of being there, fro~ the precanous pride and exhilaration of the man who has survived so far. Thus "Loss of a Halo" turns out to be a declaration of something gained, a rededication of the poet's powers to a new kind of ar.t. His mouvements brusques, those sudden leaps and swerves so cruCial for eve~y­ day survival in the city streets, turn out to be sources of creative power as well. In the century to come, these moves will become paradigmatic gestures of modernist art and thought.* Ironies proliferate from this primal moder.n scene. They u.nfold in Baudelaire's nuances of language. Consider a phrase hke Ia fange du macadam, "the mire of the r:"~cadam." La fan~e in French is not only a literal word for mud; 1t 1s al~o a figuratlv~ word for mire, filth, vileness, corruption, degradation, all that 1s foul and *Forty years later, with the coming. (or ra~her. the ~aming). of the B.rook!yn Dodgers, popular culture will produce ItS own IroniC :vers10~ of this ~odermst f~Ith. The name expresses the way in which urban survival skdls-speclfically, sk1l! .at dodging traffic (they were at first called the Trolley Dodger~)-can transce.nd ut1hty and take on new modes of meaning and value, in sport as mart. Baudelaire would have loved this symbolism, as many of his twentieth·century successors (e.e. cummings, Marianne Moore) did.

Modernism in the Streets


loathsome. In classical oratorical and poetic diction, it is a "high" way of describing something "low." As such, it entails a whole cos~ic hierarchy, a structure of norms and values not only aesthetic but metaphysical, ethical, political. La fange might be the nadir of the moral universe whose summit is signified by l'aureole. The irony here is that, so long as the poet's halo falls into "la fange,'' it can never be wholly lost, because, so long as such an image still has meaning and power-as it clearly has for Baudelaire-the old hierarchical cosmos is still present on some plane of the modern world. But it is present precariously. The meaning of macadam is as radically destructive to Ia fange as to ['aureole: it paves over high and low alike. We can go deeper into the macadam: we will notice that the word isn't French. In fact, the word is derived from john McAdam of Glasgow, the eighteenth-century inventor of modern paving surface. It may be the first word in that language that twentiethcentury Frenchmen have satirically named Franglais: it paves the way for le parking, le shopping, le weekend, le drugstore, le mobile-home, and far more. This language is so vital and compelling because it is the international language of modernization. Its new words are powerful vehicles of new modes of life and motion. The words may sound dissonant and jarring, but it is as futile to resist them as to resist the momentum of modernization itself. It is true that many nations and ruling classes feel-and have reason to feelthreatened by the flow of new words and things from other shores.* There is a wonderful paranoid Soviet word that expresses this fear: infiltrazya. We should notice, however, that what nations have normally done, from Baudelaire's time to our own, is, after a wave (or at least a show) of resistance, not only to accept the new thing but to create their own word for it, in the hope of blotting out embarrassing memories of underdevelopment. (Thus the Academie Fran~aise, after refusing all through the 1960s to admit le parking meter to the French language, coined and quickly canonized le parcmetre in the 1970s.) Baudelaire knew how to write in the purest and most elegant

* In the nineteenth century the main transmitter of modernization was England


th~ twentieth centu~y it has been the U.S.A. Power maps have changed, but ~he pnmacy of the Enghs.h language-the least pure, the most elastic and adaptable of modern languages-Is greater than ever. It might well survive the decline of the American empire.





classical French. Here, however, with the "Loss of a Halo," he projects himself into the new, emerging language, to make art out of the dissonances and incongruities that pervade-and, paradoxically, unite-the whole modern world. "In place of the old national seclusion and self-sufficiency," the Manifesto says, modern bourgeois society brings us ."intercourse i~ every ~irecti~n •. universal interdependence of nations. And, as m matenal, so m mtellectual production. The spiritual creations of nations become"-note this image, paradoxical in a bourgeois world-"common property." Marx goes on: "National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous local and national literatures, there arises a world literature." The mire of the macadam will turn out to be one of the foundations from which this new world literature of the twentieth century will arise. 26 There are further ironies that arise from this primal scene. The halo that falls into the mire of the macadam is endangered but not destroyed; instead, it is carried along and incorporated into the general flow of traffic. One salient feature of the commodity economy, as Marx explains, is the endless metamorphosis of its market values. In this economy, anything goes if it pays, and no human possibility is ever wiped off the books; culture becomes an enormous warehouse in which everything is kept in stock on the chance that soneday, somewhere, it might sell. Thus the halo that the modern poet lets go (or throws off) as obsolete may, by virtue of its very obsolescence, metamorphose into an icon, an object of nostalgic veneration for those who, like the "bad poets" X and Z, are trying to escape from modernity. But alas, the anti-modern artist-or thinker or politician-finds himself on the same streets, in the same mire, as the modernist one. This modern environment serves as both a physical and a spiritual lifeline-a primary source of material and energy-for both. The difference between the modernist and the anti-modernist, so far as they are concerned, is that the modernist makes himself at home here, while the anti-modern searches the streets for a way out. So far as the traffic is concerned, however, there is no difference between them at all: both alike are hindrances and hazards to the horses and vehicles whose paths thev cross, whose free movement they impede. Then, too, no matter how closely the anti-modernist may cling to his aura of spiritual purity, he is bound to lose

Modernism in the Streets


it, more likely sooner than later, for the same reason that the modernist lost it: he will be forced to discard balance and measure and decorum and to learn the grace of brusque moves in order to survive. Once again, however opposed the modernist and the antimodernist may think they are, in the mire of the macadam from the viewpoint of the endlessly moving traffic, the two are on~. Ironies beget more ironies. Baudelaire's poet hurls himself into a confrontation with the "moving chaos" of the traffic, and strives not only to survive but to assert his dignity in its midst. But his mode o.f action s~ems self-defeating, because it adds yet another unpredictable vanable to an already unstable totality. The horses and their riders, the vehicles and their drivers, are trying at once to outpace each other and to avoid crashing into each other. If, in the midst of .all this, they are also forced to dodge pedestrians who may at any mstant dart out into the road, their movements will become even more uncertain, and hence more dangerous than ever. Thus, by contending against the moving chaos, the individual only aggravates the chaos. But ;e~y formulation suggests a way that might lead beyond Baudelaire s Irony and out of the moving chaos itself. What if the multitudes of men and women who are terrorized by modern traffic could learn to confront it together? This will happen just six years after "Loss of a Halo" (and three years after Baudelaire's death), in t~e days of the Commune in Paris in 1871, and again in Petersburg m 1905 and 1917, in Berlin in 1918, in Barcelona in 1936, in Budapest in 1956, in Paris again in 1968, and in dozens of cities all over the world, from Baudelaire's time to our ownthe bo~levard will be abruptly transformed into the stage for a new pnmal modern scene. This will not be the sort of scene that Napoleon or Haussmann would like to see, but nonetheless one that their mode of urbanism will have helped to make. As we reread the old histories, memoirs and novels, or regard the old photos or newsreels, or stir our own fugitive memories of 1968, we will see whole classes and masses move into the street together. We will be able to discern two phases in their activity. At first the people stop and overturn the vehicles in their path, and set the horses free: here they are avenging themselves on the ~raffic by decomposing it into its inert original elements. Next they !~corporate the wreckage they have created into their rising barncades: they are recombining the isolated, inanimate elements


Modernism in the Streets


into vital new artistic and political forms. For one luminous ~o­ ment, the multitude of solitudes that make up the moder~. City come together in a new kind of encounter, to make a peoP_le., The streets belong to the people": they seize co~trol of .the city s el~­ mental matter and make it their own. For a httle while the chaotic modernism of solitary brusque moves gives way to an ?r~ered modernism of mass movement. The "herois~ of ~odern hfe. that Baudelaire longed to see will be born from h1s pnmal scene •.n the street. Baudelaire does not expect this (or any other) ne'; l~fe to last. But it will be born again and again out of the streets mne.r contradictions. It may burst into life at any moment, o~ten whe? It is least expected. This possibility is a vital ~ash of hop~ m the mmd of the man in the mire of the macadam, m the movmg chaos, on the run.


The Twentieth Century: The Halo and the Highway IN MANY ways, the modernism of Baudelaire's primal moder~ scenes is remarkably fresh and contemporary. In ~ther ~a~s, h1s street and his spirit seem almost exotically archa~c. Th1~ IS not because our epoch has resolved the conflicts t~at give P?ns Spleen its life and energy-class and ideological con~Ict~, .emotional co~­ flicts between intimates, conflicts between the md1v1dual and social forces spiritual conflicts within the self-but rather because our epoch' has found new ways to mask and mystify conflict: One of the great differences between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is that our century has created a network of new hal?es to replace the ones that Baudelaire's and Marx's century stripped ~~·



Nowhere is this development clearer than m the realm of urban


space. If we picture the newest urban spatial complexes we can think of-all those that have been developed, say, since the end of the Second World War, including all our newer urban neighborhoods and new towns-we should find it hard to imagine Baudelaire's primal encounters happening here. This is no accident: in fact, for most of our century, urban spaces have been systematically designed and organized to ensure that collisions and confrontations will not take place here. The distinctive sign of nineteenthcentury urbanism was the boulevard, a medium for bringing explosive material and human forces together; the hallmark of twentieth-century urbanism has been the highway, a means for putting them asunder. We see a strange dialectic here, in which one mode of modernism both energizes and exhausts itself trying to annihilate another, all in modernism's name. What makes twentieth-century modernist architecture especially intriguing to us here is the very precisely Baudelairean point from which it starts out-a point that it soon does its best to blot out. Here is Le Corbusier, possibly the greatest twentieth-century architect and certainly the most influential, in L'Urbanisme (translated as The City of Tomorrow), his great modernist manifesto of 1924. His Preface evoked a concrete experience from which, so he tells us, his great vision arose. 27 We shouldn't take him literally, but rather understand his narrative as a modernist parable, formally similar to Baudelaire's. It began on a boulevard-specifically, on the Champs Elysees-on an Indian summer evening in 1924. He had gone for a peaceful walk in the evening twilight, only to find himself driven off the street by traffic. This is half a century after Baudelaire, and the automobile has arrived on the boulevards full force: "it was as if the world had suddenly gone mad." From moment to moment, he felt, "the fury of the traffic grew. Every day increased its agitation." (Here the time frame and the dramatic intensity are som~what broken.) Le Corbusier felt himself threatened and vulnerable in the most direct way: "To leave our house meant that, once we had crossed our threshhold, we were in danger of being killed by the passing cars." Shocked and disoriented, he contrasts the street (and the city) of his middle age with that of his youth before the Great War: "I think back twenty years, to'my youth as a student: the road belonged to us then; we sang in it, we argued in it, while the horse-bus flowed softly by." (Emphasis mine.) He is expressing a plaintive sadness and bitterness as old as





culture itself, and one of poetry's perennial themes: Oil sont les neiges d'antan7 Whither hath fled the visionary gleam? But his feeling for the textures of urban space and historical time make his nostalgic vision fresh and new. "The road belonged to us then." The young students' relation to the street was their relation to the world: it was-at least it seemed to be-open to them, theirs to move through, at a pace that could accommodate both argument and song; men, animals and vehicles could coexist peaceably in a kind of urban Eden; Haussmann's enormous vistas spread out before them all, leading to the Arc de Triomphe. But now the idyll is over, the streets belong to the traffic, and the vision must flee for its life. How can the spirit survive this change? Baudelaire showed us one way: transform the mouvements brusques and soubresauts of modern city life into the paradigmatic gestures of a new art that can bring modern men together. At the ragged edge of Baudelaire's imagination we glimpsed another potential modernism: revolutionary protest that transforms a multitude of urban solitudes into a people, and reclaims the city street for human life. Le Corbusier will present a third strategy that will lead to a third, extremely powerful mode of modernism. After fighting his way thr?ugh the traffic, and just barely surviving, he makes a sudden darmg leap: he identifies himself totally with the forces that have been bearing down on him: On that 1st of October, 1924, I was assisting in the titanic rebirth [renaissance] of a new phenomenon ... traffic. Cars, cars, fast, fast! One is seized, filled with enthusiasm, with joy ... ·the joy of power. The simple and naive pleasure of being in the midst of power, of strength. One participates in it. One t~kes _part in th~s society that is just dawning. One has confidence m th1s new society: it will find a magnificent expression of its power. One believes in it.

This Orwellian leap of faith is so fast and so dazzling (just like that traffic) that Le Corbusier hardly seems to notice that he has made it. One moment he is the familiar Baudelairean man in the street, dodging and fighting the traffic; a moment later his point of view has shifted radically, so that now he Jives and moves and speaks from inside the'traffic. One moment he is speaking about himself,

Modernism in the Streets


about his own life and experience-"! think back twenty years ... the road belonged to us then"; the next moment the personal voice utterly disappears, ?iss~lved in a flood of world-historical processe~; the ne~ su~Ject 1s the abstract and impersonal on, "one," who 1s filled With hfe by the new world power. Now, instead of being menaced by it, he can be in the midst of it, a believer in it, a part of it. Instead of the mouvements brusques and soubresauts that Baudelaire saw as the essence of everyday modern life, Le Corbusier's modern man will make one big move that will make further moves unnecessary, one great leap that will be the last. The man in the street will incorporate himself into the new power by becoming the man in the car. The perspective of the new man in the car will generate the paradigms of twentieth-century modernist urban planning and design. The new man, Le Corbusier says, needs "a new type of street" that will be "a machine for traffic," or, to vary the basic metaphor, "a factory for producing traffic." A truly modern street must be "as well equipped as a factory." 28 In this street, as in the modern factory, the best-equipped model is the most thoroughly automated: no people, except for people operating machines; nounarmored and unmechanized pedestrians to slow the flow. ·~cafes and places of recreation will no longer be the fungus that e~ts up the pavements of Paris." 29 In the city of the future, the macadam will belong to the traffic alone. . ~rom Le Corbusier's magic moment on the Champs Elysees, a v1s1on of a new world is born: a fully integrated world of high-rise towers surrounded by vast expanses of grass and open space"the tower in the park"-linked by aerial superhighways, serviced by subterranean garages and shopping arcades. This vision had a clear political point, stated as the last words of Towards a New Architecture: "Architecture or Revolution. Revolution can be avoided." . The political connections were not fully grasped at the time-it 1s not clear whether Le Corbusier entirely grasped them himself -but we should be able to understand them now. Thesis, a thesis asserted by urban people starting in 1789, all through the nineteenth century, and in the great revolutionary uprisings at the end of World War One: the streets belong to the people. Antithesis, and here is Le Corbusier's great contribution: no streets, no People. In the post-Haussmann city street, the fundamental social and





psychic contradictions of modern life converged and perpetually threatened to erupt. But if this street could only be wiped off the map-Le Corbusier said it very clearly in 1929: "We must kill the street!" ~0 -then maybe these contradictions need never come to a head. Thus modernist architecture and planning created a modernize9 version of pastoral: a spatially and socially segmented world-people here, traffic there; work here, homes there; rich here, poor there; barriers of grass and concrete in between, where haloes could begin to grow around people's heads once again.* This form of modernism has left deep marks on all our lives. The city development of the last forty years, in capitalist and socialist countries alike, has systematically attacked, and often successfully obl~terated, the "moving chaos" of nineteenth-century urban life. In the new urban environment-from Lefrak City to Century City, from Atlanta's Peachtree Plaza to Detroit's Renaissance Center-the old modern street, with its volatile mixture of people and traffic, businesses and homes, rich and poor, is sorted out and split up into separate compartments, with entrances and exits strictly monitored and controlled, loading and unloading behind the scenes, parking lots and underground garages the only mediation. All these spaces, and all the people who fill them, are far more ordered and protected than any place or anybody in Baudelaire's city could be. The anarchic, explosive forces that urban modernization once brought together, a new wave of modernization, backed by an ideology of developing modernism, has pulled apart. New York is now one of the very few American cities in which Baudelaire's primal scenes can still take place. And these old cities or segments of cities are under pressures far more threatening than the ones that gripped them in Baudelaire's day. They are economically and politically condemned as obsolete, beset by * Le Corbusier was never able to make much headway in his indefatigable schemes for destroying Paris. But many of his most grotesque visions were realized in the Pompidou era, when elevated highways cleft the Right Bank, the great markets of Les Hailes were demolished, dozens of thriving streets were razed, and substantial and venerable neighborhoods were turned over to "les promoteurs" and obliterated without a trace. See Norma Evenson, Paris: A Century of Change, 1878-1978 (Yale, 1979); Jane Kramer, "A Reporter in Europe: Paris," The New Yorker, 19 June 1978; Richard Cobb, "The Assassination of Paris," New York Review of Books, 7 February 1980; and several of Godard's later films, particularly Two or Three Things I Knou• AboutHer(l973). '

Modernism in the Streets


c_hronic blight, sapped by dis_investment, cut off from opportunities for grow~h, constantly losmg ground in competition with areas that are considered more "modern." The tragic irony of modernist ~rb~nism is that its triumph has helped to destroy the very urban hfe 1t hoped to set free.* Corresponding in a most curious way to this flattening out of t~e urban lan?scape, the twentieth century has also produced a d1smal fl~ttemng out _of s?cial ~bought. Serious thinking about modern hfe has polanzed Itself mto two sterile antitheses, which may b_e ~.ailed, as I suggested earlier, "modernolatry" and "cultural despa1r. For modernolators, from Marinetti and Mayakovsky and Le Corbusier to Buckminster Fuller and the later Marshall McLuhan and Herman Kahn, all the personal and social dissonances of modern life can be resolved by technological and administrative means; t~e means _are all at hand, and the only thing needful is leaders w1th the will to use them. For the visionaries of cultural despair, from T. E. Hulme and Ezra Pound and Eliot and Ortega, ~nward to Ellul and Foucault, Arendt and Marcuse, all of modern hfe seems unif?r~ly hollow, ~terile, flat, "one-dimensional," empty of human poss1b1htles: anythmg that looks or feels like freedom or *This needs to be_q~alified. Le Corbusie~ dreamt of an ultramodernity that could heal the mode~n city s wounds. More typical of the modernist movement in architecture was ~n mtense and _unqualified hatred for the city, and a fervent hope that m.odern design and P!annmg could wipe it out. One of the primary modernist chch~ was the companson of the metropolis to the stagecoach or (after World War One) t~ the horse ~nd buggy. A typical modernist orientation toward the city can be fo~nd m S~ac~, Time and Architecture, a monumental work by Le Corbusier's most aru~ulate disciple, and the ~k that, more than any other, was used for two generations to define the ~odermst can.on. The book's original edition, composed in 1?38-39, co~clud~s ':"Ith a celebration of Robert Moses' new network of urban highways, which G1e~10n sees as the ideal model for the planning and construction o_f the futur~. The highway demo~strates that "there is no longer any place for the city st_reet, With he.av~. traffic between rows of houses; it cannot possibly be perm!tte? to persist. in~ ~ails t~at covere~ the land. 46 Much has recently been satd, m mcreasmgly angmshed retrospect, about this pervasive style of buil~ing. The only po~nt relevant here is that one of its fundamentaltmpulses was a destre to flee the modern metropolis, "a deafeningly jangling motley, confused crush of people, wheels, animals, posters, trees, colors, birds," and to create a far more enclosed, controlled, orderly world. Paxton, a lover of the modern city, would be appalled to find himself in one of the crystalline suburban IBM "campuses" of our day. But Chernyshevsky would almost certainly feel at home here: this is precisely the "more pleasant and advantageous" environment that his dream of modernization was all about. All this suggests how good a prophet Dostoevsky really was. His critical vision of the Crystal Palace suggest!! how even the most heroic expression of modernity as an adventure may be transformed into a dismal emblem of modernity as a routine. As the postwar dynamism of American and Western Europe~n and Japanese capital drove-irresistibly, it seemed for a whtle-toward the creation of a crystal-palace world, Dostoevsky became urgently relevant, in ways he was never relevant before, to everyday modern life.



The Twentieth Century: The City Rises, the City Fades To EVEN attempt to do justice to Petersburg's political and cultural upheavals over the following half century would throw the structure of this book into hopeless disarray. But it should be worthwhile to give at least flashes of the city's life and literature in the early twentieth century, to show some of the weird and tragic ways in which Petersburg's nineteenth-century themes and impulses will be worked out.

1905: More Light, More Shadows

Petersburg in 1905 has become a major industrial center, with close to 200,000 factory workers, more than half of whom have migrated from the countryside since 1890. Now descriptions of the city's industrial districts have begun to have a nervous ring: "The factories surrounded the city as if they were a ring, squeezing the administrative-commercial center in their embrace." 47 Since 1896, the date of a remarkably disciplined and coordinated citywide textile strike, Petersburg's workers have held an important point on the European political map. Now, on Sunday, January 9, 1905, an immense crowd of these workers, as many as 200,000 men, women and children, moves en masse from every direction toward the center of the city, determined to reach the palace where all Petersburg prospects end. They are led by the handsome and charismatic Father George Gapon, a state-approved chaplain at the Putilov Iron Works, and organizer of the Assembly of St. Petersburg Factory Workers. The


people esre explicitly unarmed (Gapo~'s ushers have sea~ched the crowd and disarmed some) and nonviOlent. Many carry Icons and mounted pictures of Tsar Nicholas II, and crowds sing "God Save the Tsar" along the way. Father Gapon has entreated the Tsar to appear before the people at the Winter Palace, and to respond to their needs, which he carries inscribed on a scroll: SIRE-We, workers and residents of the city of St. Petersburg of various ranks and stations, our wives, our children, and our helpless old parents, have come to Thee, Sire, to seek justice and protection. We have become beggars; we are oppressed and burdened by labor beyond our strength; we are not recog~ize~ as human beings, but treated as slaves .who must endure.theJr b1tter fate in silence. We have endured 1t, and we are bemg pushed further and further into the depths of poverty, injustice and ignorance. We are being so stifled by justice and arbitrary rule that we cannot breathe. Sire, we have no more strength! Our endurance is at an end. We have reached that awful moment when death is preferable to the continuation of intolerable suffering. Therefore we have stopped work and told our employers that we would not resume until they complied with our demands. The petition then demands an eight-hour day, a min~mum ~age of one ruble per day, the abolition of compulsory unpa1d overtime, and the workers' freedom to organize. But these first demands are addressed primarily to the workers' employers, and only indire~tly to the Tsar himself. Immediately following them, however, IS a series of radical political demands that only the Tsar could fulfill: a democratically elected constituent assembly ("This is our chief request; in it and on it all else is based; it is ... the only plaster for our painful wounds"); guarantees of freedom of speech.' press and assembly; due process of law; a system of free education fo~ ~ll; finally, an end to the disastrous Russo-Japanese War. The petitiOn then concludes: These, Sire, are our chief needs, concerning which we have come to Thee. We are seeking here the last salvation. Do not refuse assistance to Thy people. Give their destiny into their own hands. Cast away from them the intolerable oppression of the officials. Destroy the wall between Thyself and Thy people, and let them rule' the country together with Thyself....

The Modernism of Underdevelopment 251 Order and take an oath to carry out these measures and Thou wilt make Russia happy and famous, and Thy name,will be engraved in our hearts and in the hearts of our posterity forever. If Thou wilt not order and will not answer our prayer we shall die here on this Square before Thy Palace. We have nowhere else to go and no purpose in going. We have only two roads: one leadi~g to freedo~ and happiness, the other to the grave .... Let our hves be a sacnfice for suffering Russia. We offer this sacrifice, not grudgingly, but with joy.•• Father Gapon never got to read his petition to the Tsar: Nicholas and his family had left the capital hastily, and left his officials in charge. They planned a confrontation very different from the one for which the workers had hoped. As the people approached the palace, detachments of troops, 20,000 strong, fully armed, surrounded them, then fired at close range directly into the crowd. No one ever found o~t how many people were killed that daythe government admitted 130, but respectable estimates ranged up to a.thou.sand-but everyone knew at once that a whole epoch of Russian h1story had come to an abrupt end and that a revolution had begun. With the events of "Bloody Sunday," according to Bertram Wolfe, "millions of primitive minds took the leap from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century. In love and reverence they had come to lay their troubles at the feet of their Dear Father Tsar. The bullets and the shared blood swept away all the vestiges of love and credulity. Now they knew themselves fatherless and knew they would have to solve their problems themselves." This is the general_judgment ~n J~nuary 9, and it is generally right. But it is wrong m underestlmatmg the evolution of the Petersburg crowd before the bullets and the blood. Trotsky, in his participant account of the 1905 Revolution, describes the Gapon demonstration as :'the attempted dialogue between the proletariat and the monarchy ~n the city stre~ts." 49 A people's demand for dialogue with its ruler m the streets IS not the work of "primitive minds" or of childlike souls; ~t is an idea that ex~resses both a people's modernity and its matunty: The demonstration of January 9 is a form of modernity that sprmgs from Petersburg's distinctive soil. It expresses the ~eepest needs and ambivalences of the common people that this City has made: their volatile mixture of deference and defiance of ardent devotion to their superiors and equally ardent determi~a-



tion to be themselves; their willingness to risk everything, even their lives for the sake of a direct encounter in the streets, an encounter' at once personal and political, through which they will at last be-as the Underground Man said in the 1860s, and as Gapon's petition repeats on a mass scale in 1905-"recognized as human beings." Petersburg's most original and enduring ~ontribution to. mode~n politics was born nine months later: ,the sov1~t, or workers counctl. The Petersburg Soviet of Workers Deputtes .burst on the. scene virtually overnight in early October 1905. It dted young, with the 1905 Revolution, but sprang up again, first in Petersburg and then all over Russia, in the revolutionary year of 1917. It has been an inspiration to radicals and to oppressed peoples all over the world throughout the twentieth century. It is hallowed by the U.S.S.R.'s name, even as it is profaned by that state's reality. Man~ of th?se who have opposed the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, mcl.udmg those who revolted against it in Hungary and Czechoslovakia and Poland, have been inspired by a vision of what a true "soviet society" might be. . Trotsky, one of the moving spirits of that first Petersburg Soviet, described it as "an organization which was authoritative, and yet had no traditions; which could immediately involve a scattered mass of thousands of people, while having virtually no organizational machinery; which united the revolutionaJ y currents within the proletariat; which was capable of spontaneous initiative and self-control-and, most important of all, which could be brought out from underground in twenty-four hours.'' The soviet "paralyzed the autocratic state by means of [an] insurrecti~nary stri~e," and proceeded to "introduce its own free democratic order mto the life of the laboring urban population.'' 50 It was perhaps the most radically participatory form of democracy sine~ an~ient Greece. Trotsky's characterization, although somewhat 1deahzed, is generally apt-except for one thing. Trotsky says that the Petersburg Soviet "had no traditions." But this chapter should make it clear how the soviet comes directly out of the rich and vibrant Petersburg tradition of personal politics, of politics through direct personal encounters in the city's streets and squares. All the courageous, futile gestures of ~etersburg's generations of common clerks-"You'll reckon with me yet!-and headlong took to flight" --all the "ridiculous and childish

The Modernism of Underdevelopment


demonstrations" of the raz.nochintsy Underground Men, are redeemed here, for a little while. But if 1905 in Petersburg is a year for confrontations in the stre~t a?? epiphanies ~ace to face, it is also a year of deepening ~m~tgllltles and mystenes, of wheels within wheels, of doors turnmg m on th~mselves and slamming shut. No figure is more profoun~l~ ambtguous than Father Gapon himself. Gapon, a son of Ukramt~n ~easa~ts, an intermittent wanderer and T olstoyan, actua~ly dtd h1s umon organizing under the auspices of the secret pohce. Zubat~v: ch~ef of i~s Moscow section, had developed the tdea of orgamzmg mdustnal workers into moderate unions that would deflect the worke~s· ange~ onto their employers and away ~ro~ the government; h1s expenment was baptized "police socialIsm. G~p9~ .was an ea~e.r and brilliant recruit. However, just as Zubatov s cnucs had anticipated, the police agent was carried away by the needs and energies of his workers, and worked to carry the movement far beyond the bounds of decorum that the police had set. Gapon's o~n naive ~aith in the Tsar-not shared by his wo~ldly and cymcal. supenors-helped to propel the city and the nauon toward the disastrous collision of January 9. No one was more deeply shocked than Gapon at the events of B.Ioody ~unday, and no one, it seemed, was more inflamed overmght w~th rev?lutionary zeal. From the underground, and then from exde, he Issued a series of explosive manifestos. "There is no T~ar anymore!".he.p.roclaimed. He called for "bombs and dynamite,. terror by md~v1duals and by masses-everything that may contnbute to a natiOnal uprising." Lenin met Gapon in Geneva (~fter .Plekhan~>V had refu~e~ to see .him), and was fascinated by hts na1v~ and Intensely ~ehg1~us radicalism-far more typical of the Russian masses, Lenm sa1d later, than his own Marxism. But he ~~ged t~e _Priest to read and study, to clarify and solidify his pobucal thmkmg, and, above all, to avoid being carried away by flattery and instant fame. . Gapon, in coming to Geneva, had initially hoped to use his prestige to unite all revolutionary forces, but was soon overwhelmed by their sectarian quarrels and intrigues. At this point, he sailed for L?~do~, where he was taken up as a celebrity, wined and dined by milhona1res and adored by society ladies. He managed to raise a great deal of money for the revolutionary cause, but didn't know what to do with the money, because he had no coherent ideas of



what was to be done. After a failed attempt at gunrunning, he found himself isolated and helpless, and, as the Revolution gradually ran aground, increasin~ly .beset by depression and despair. He returned secretly to Russia m early 1906-and sought to reenter the police! He offered to betray anyone and everyone for lavish sums of money; but Pincus Rutenberg, one of hts close~t comrades during and after January 1905 (and co-~uthor of hts manifesto), discovered his duplicity and handed htm over to. a secret workers' tribunal, which killed him in a lonely house m Finland in April 1906. The masses still revered Gapon, and persisted for years in the belief that he had been murdered by the police.~• A story worthy of Dostoevsky in his darkest moments: a~ Underground Man who comes out into the sunlight for one .hermc moment, only to sink back in, to sink himself deeper by hts own . . flailing about, till he is buried in the end. One of the enduring mysteries in Gapon's story IS thts: ~f t~e police and the Ministry of the Interior knew what he was domg m the weeks and days before January 9, why didn't they stop the demonstration before it could get started-for instance, by arresting all the organizers-or else press the government to make a conciliatory gesture that would keep the workers within bound~? Some historians believe that the police had come to relax thetr vigilance in late 1904, ~rusting Ga~~ to kee~ the workers in line, foolishly underestimating the volauhty of thetr own agent, as well as that of the workers in his charge. Others argue, on the contrary, not only that the police knew what was going to happen on January 9, but that they wanted it to happen, and indeed encouraged both Gapon and the government to make it happen-because, by helping to plunge the country into revolutionary chaos, t~ey could create a pretext and a suitable atmosphere for the dracomc repression and reaction that they were hoping to unleash. This image of the Tsarist police might seem absurd and paranoid had it not been proven beyond a doubt that between 1902 and '1908 the police had been subsidizing a wave of political terrorism. A secret offshoot of the populist Social Revolutionary Party, which carried out a series of dramatic assassinations of hig? officials-its most prominent victim was the Grand Duke ~erget, the Tsar's uncle, military governor of Moscow-was workmg .all along, unkno~n to its members, under the dire~tion of a ~hce agent, Evny Azef, with the knowledge and collusion of Azef s su-

The Modernism of Underdevelopment


periors. What makes the story especially bizarre is that the group's most spectacuJar assassination, and the one that won widest public acclaim, was directed against its own employer, the dreaded Vyacheslav von Plehve, the Tsar's Minister of the Interior, the official in charge of the secret police, and the man under whose auspices the group had been formed! In between assassination attempts, Azef turned over many terrorists to the police; at the same time, he delivered other police agents into the terrorists' hands. Azev's activities were finally unmasked in 1908, and the whole policy (and mystique) of terrorism was decisivelydiscredited on the left. But t?is did n~t prevent another police agent, again acting in revoluuonary gutse, from assassinating another Minister of the Interior Peter Stolypin, in the summer of 1911. ' Azev, another character out of Dostoevsky, has been a source of endless fascination to everyone who has ever studied the 1905 period. But no one has ever unraveled his remarkable machinations, or penetrated to the center-if there was a center-of his being. 52 But the fact that his murderous initiatives, intended to paralyze the government and plunge the country into chaos, emanated from within the government itself, confirms an argument I made earlier in this book: that the nihilism of modern revolutionaries is a pale shadow of the nihilism of the forces of Order. The one thing that is clear about Azev and his fellow double agents, and their official sponsors, is that together they created a political atmosphere hopelessly shrouded in mystery, an atmosphere in wh~ch anything might turn out to be its radical opposite, in which acuon was desperately necessary, yet the meaning of every action ~as fatally obscure. At this point, Petersburg's traditional reputauon as a spectral and surreal city took on a new immediacy and urgency. Biely's Petersburg: The Shadow Passport

This surreal reality is the inspiration for Andrei Biely's novel Petersburg, set at the climax of the Revolution of 1905, written and published between 1913 and 1916, revised in 1922. This novel has ?ever b~en. allowed to find its public in the U.S.S.R., and is only JUSt begmmng to find one in the U.S.A. 5s Its reputation rested for years on adulation from the emigre avant-garde: Nabokov, for in-



stance, considered it, along with Joyce's Ulysses, Kafka's Metamorphosis and Proust's Recherche, "one of the four great masterpieces of 20th-century prose." A reader without Russian cannot seriously evaluate Biely's prose; but it is perfectly clear in translation that the book is a masterpiece, wortl;ly of the finest traditions of modern literature. A random glance at any couple of pages of Biely's Petersburg will reveal that it is, in all the most obvious senses, a modernist work. It contains no unified narrative voice, as nearly all nineteenth-century literature does, but moves instead by continuous rapid jumpcutting, cross-cutting and montage. (In Russian terms, it is contemporaneous with, and related to, Mayakovsky and the futurists in poetry, Kandinsky and Malevitch, Chagall and Tatlin in painting and visual arts. It anticipates Eisenstein, Rodchenko and constructivism by a few years.) It consists almost entirely of broken and jagged fragments: fragments of social and political life in the city's streets, fragments of the inner lives of the people on those streets, dazzling leaps back and forth between them-as Baudelaire said, ' soubresauts de conscience. Its planes of vision, like those in cubist and futurist painting, are shattered and askew. Even Biely's punctuation goes wild; sentences break off in midair, while periods, commas, question marks and exclamation points float alone, in the middle of the page, lost in empty space. We, the readers, are kept constantly off balance; we must work from line to line and moment to moment to grasp where we are and what is going on. But the bizarre and chaotic quality of Biely's style is not an end in itself: Biely is forcing us to experience the dazzling but mystifying atmosphere in which the people of Petersburg in 1905 were forced to live: Petersburg is the fourth dimension that is not indicated on maps. ... It's not customary to mention that our capital city belongs to the land of spirits when reference books are compiled. Karl Baedeker keeps mum about it. A man from the provinces who hasn't been informed of this takes only the visible administrative apparatus into account; he has no shadow passport. [5, 205-07]

These images serve to define the novel itself as a kind of fourdimensional IJlap or Baedeker, as a shadow passport. But this means that Petersburg is a work of realism as well as of modernism.

The Modernism of Underdevelopment


Its triu~ph shows h~w realism in literature and thought must

devel~p mto mode~msm, i~ order. to grasp the unfolding, frag-

men~mg, decomposmg and mcreasmgly shadowy realities of modern hfe. 54 If Petersb~r.g is a modernist work, and a realist one, it is also a ~ovel of tradition, of Petersburg tradition. Every page is drenched m the accumulated traditions of the city's history, literature and folklore. Real and imaginary figures-Peter the Great and various successors, Pushkin, his clerk and his Bronze Horseman, Gogolian overcoats and noses, superfluous men and Russian Hamlets doubles and devils, tsars who were murderers and murderers of tsars t~e Decembrist~, the Underground Man, Anna Karenina, Raskol~ mkov, along With assorted Persians, Mongols, the Flying Dutchman, and many more-not only haunt the minds of Biely's characters, but actually materialize on his city streets. At times it appears that the book is about to sink under the accumulated weight ~f Petersburg tradition; at other moments, it seems that the book will blow apart from that tradition's increasing pressures. But the proble~s. ~hat pervade the book perplex the city as well: Petersburg s clt~zens the~selv~s are being blown up and dragged ?ow_n by th·e· weight and mtenslty of their city's traditions-includmg Its traditions of rebellion. Biely's princ~pal. char~cters are these: Apollon Apollonovich ~b!eukhov, a h1g~ 1mpenal official modeled loosely on the icy and sm1ster arc~reactlonary Konstantin Pobedonostsev, ideologue of the fin-de-su~cle extreme right, patron of pogroms; his son Nikolai a handso~e, languid, imaginative, weak youth in the superfluou~ ~an tradition, who alternates between moping and meditating in h1s roo~, ~ppearing in weird costumes that startle high society, and d.ehvermg papers on the destruction of all values; Alexander Dudkm, a poor ascetic raznochinets intellectual and ·member of the revolutionary underground; and the mysterious Lippanchenko, a double agent loosel~ m~deled on Azev (who used the name Lipc~enko. as .one of ~1s abases), who contrives the vicious plot that ?1ves B1ely ~ ~arratlve much of its motive force; and finally, seethmg and sw1rhng around them all, pushing them on and pulling them back, the city of Petersburg itself. . T~e Nevsky Prospect is still, in 1905, mysterious and lovely, and It Still ev~kes lyrical resp~nse: "Of an evening the Prospect is flooded With fiery obfuscation. Down the middle, at regular inter-



vals, hang the apples of electric lights. While along the sides plays the changeable glitter of shop signs. Here the sudden Hare of ruby lights, there the Hare of emeralds. A moment late~ th~ rubies are there the emeralds here." (1, 31) And the Nevsky 1s sull, as much as in' Gogol's or Dostoevsky's time, Petersburg's communicat~on li~e. Only now, in 1905, n~w ~inds of mes~a~es are co~mg through. They are coming pnmanly from the c1ty s self-consc1ous and intensely active working class: Petersburg is surrounded by a ring of many-chimneyed factories. . A many-thousand swarm plods toward the~ in the mormng, and the suburbs are all aswarm. All the factones were then [October 1905] in a state of terrible unrest. The workers had turned into prating shady types. Amidst them circulated Browning revolvers. And something else. . The agitation that ringed Petersburg then began penetratmg to the very centers of Petersburg. It first seized the islands, then crossed the Liteny and Nikolaevsky bridges. On Nevsky Prospect circulated a human myriapod. However, the composition of the myriapod kept changing; and an observer could now note the appearance of a shaggy black fur hat from the fields of bloodstained Manchuria [demobilized soldiers from the Russo-Japanese War]. There was a sharp drop in the percentage of passing top hats. Now were heard the disturbing ant~-govern~ent cries of street urchins running full tilt from the ra1lway stauon to the Admiralty waving gutter rags.

Now too one can hear the strangest sound on the Nevsky, a faint hum~in~, impossible to pin down, "the same importunate note, 'Oooo-oooo-ooo! ... But was it a sound? It was the sound of some other world." And "it had a rare strength and clarity" in the fall of 1905. (2, 51-2; 7, 224) This is a rich and complex image; but one of its crucial meanings points to the "other world" of the Petersburg working class, who now, in 1905,. are determined to assert themselves in "this world," the world of prospect and palace at the center of the city and the state. "Don't let the cro~d of shadows in from the islands!" Senator Ableukhov urges h1mself and the government (1, 13); but i~ 1905, his.hear.t's cry is in vain: Let us see h9w Biely situates h1s figures m th1s landscape. H1s first dramatic scene is a version of what I have called the Peters-

The Modernism of Underdevelopment 259

burg primal scene: the encounter between officer and clerk, between gentry and raznochintsy, on the Nevsky Prospect. (1, 10-14) Biely's rendering of this archetypal scene makes it shockingly clear how much Petersburg life has changed since the era of the Underground Man. Senator Ableukhov, we are told, loves the Nevsky: "Inspiration took possession of the senator's soul whenever the lacquered cube [of his coach] cut along the line of the Nevsky. There the enumeration of the houses was visible. And the circulation went on. There, from there, on clear days, from far, far away, came the blinding blaze of the gold [Admiralty) needle, the clouds, the crimson ray of the sunset." But we find that he loves it in a peculiar way. He loves the prospect's abstract geometric forms"his tastes were distinguished by their harmonious simplicity. Most of all he loved the rectilineal prospect; this prospect reminded him of the How of time between two points"-but he can't stand the real people on it. Thus, in his coach, "gently rocking on the satin seat cushions," he is relieved to be "cut off from the scum of the streets by four perpendicular walls. Thus he was isolated from people and from the red covers of the damp trashy ra·gs on sale right there at the intersection." We see here the Tsarist bureaucracy, in its last phase, trying to leave behind its past obscurantism, so as to be able to develop the country according to rational methods and ideas. But this rationalism is unfortunately suspended in a void: it stops short of any attempt to deal rationally with the myriad of people who occupy its vast rectilineal space. Insulated from "the scum of the streets" on the Nevsky, the senator begins to think about "the islands," site of Petersburg's factories and its most concentrated proletariat, and concludes that "the islands must be crushed!" Comfortable with this thought, he drifts off into daydreams, into cosmic rhapsodies of rectilinear prospects "expanding into the abysses of the universe in planes of squares and cubes." As the senator floats dreamily on, Suddenly-his face grimaced and began to twitch, his blue-rimmed eyes rolled back convulsively. His hands flew up to his chest. And his torso reeled back, while his top hat struck the wall and fell on his lap .... Contemplating the flowing silhouettes, Apollon Apollonovich





The Modernism of Underdevelopment

likened them to shining dots. One of these dots broke loose from its orbit and hurtled at him with dizzying speed, taking the form of an immense crimson sphere.

We are shocked almost as badly as the senator himself: What has happened here? Has he been shot? Has his coa~h ~en struc~ by a bomb? Is he dying? In fact, we find to our comic rehef, nothmg of the sort has happened. All that has happened is that, "hemmed in by a stream of vehicles, the carriage has ~topped at an i~tersec~ion. A stream of raznochintsy had pressed agamst the senators carnage, destroying the illusion that he, in Hying along th.e Nev.~ky, w~s Hying billions of miles away from the human mynapod. At this point, as he was stuck in traffic, "among the bowler [.hats] ~e caught sight of a pair of eyes. And the eyes expressed th~ madn.ussible. They recognized the senator and, havmg recogmzed him, they grew rabid, dilated, lit up, and ~ashed.' • • The most striking thing about th1s encounter, espec1ally 1f we contrast it with the street encounters of Petersburg's past, is the defensiveness of the ruling class. This high official recoils in fright from an obscure raznochinets' eyes, as if the other could kill him with a look. Now it is true that in the ambience of 1905 imperial officials have every right to fear attempts on their lives, not least from their own police. But Ableukhov, like many of his real-life counterparts, goes beyond rational fear: he seems to feel that any contact with his subjects, even eye contact, would be lethal. Although the Ableukhovs are still Russia's rulers, t~ey know the precariousness of their hold on power and authonty. Hence the senator in his coach on the Nevsky feels as vulnerable as that poor clerk, Mr. Golyadkin, a half century before, prey to any malicious pedestrian's fatal glance. Even as the senator recoils from that raznochinets' eyes, he has an obscure feeling that he has seen those eyes somewhere. Indeed, he soon remembers, to his horror, he has seen them in his own house. For Nikolai, the senator's son, has embraced precisely the people and experiences that his father most dreads. He has left his cold marble mansion and wandered through Petersburg's streets, sordid taverns, underground cellars, in search of an "other world" more vibrant and authentic than his own. There he has encountered Dudkin,- a political prisoner many times escaped-he is known as "the Uncatchable One"-who lives in hiding in a miser1


able hovel on Vasilevsky Island. Dudkin, who introduces Nikolai to t~e rev~lutionary underground, is a precarious and highly explosive fus1on of all Petersburg's revolutionary traditions and all 1ts "Underground Man" traditions. He is visited in his hovel not only by revolutionari~s and p~l~ce agents-and double and triple agents-but by hallucmatory V1s1ons of the devil, and of the bronze Peter the Great, who blesses him as a son. Dud~in .and ~ikolai become friends; they lose themselves together. m m.termma?le accounts of their extrabodily experiences and ex1stenual angmsh. Here, at last, we see a sort of intimacy and mutual.ity, weird but real, between a Petersburg officer and clerk. B~t ~odest success opens the way to disaster, for even as N1kola1 d1scovers a genui~e revolutionary, he is discovered by a false and ~onstrous one, ~1ppanchenko. Lippanchenko-who, rem~mber, 1.s secretly workmg fo~ t~e. police-:-exploits his anger, guilt and . mner we~kness, and mum1dates h1m into agreeing to murder h~s father wuh a bomb that he will plant in the house they s~are. Th1s bomb, constructed inside a sardine tin, has been designed to go off twenty-four hours after it is set. As the lives of a dozen ~esperate characters unfold simultaneously, along with the ~evoluuon that embraces them all (and embraces its enemies most ught~y) •. we know that the bomb in the senator's study is ticking, and 1t~ mexorable movement gives this immensely complex novel a prec1se and dreadful unity of time and action. It is impossible here to do more than dip into the text of Petersburg at a few a~b!trarily chosen points, to explore its rich interplay between the .~uy s people and its landscape, at a moment when people and cityscape together are going through a state of radical upheaval and plummeting into the unknown. Let us take a scene about halfway through the book (5, 171-84), at a point when Nikolai has inwardly recoiled from the deal he has made yet lacks the courage to call it off ?n his ?wn. (The bomb is ticking, of course.) He heads for the 1slands m search of Dudkin to shriek hyste~ical!y at him for forcing a man into so foul a deed. But Dud~m, 1t turns out, knows nothing of the plot, and is just as hornfied as he is. Dudkin may be even more profoundly distraught: fir~t, bec.a~~e the crime is monstrous in itself-he may be a metaphysical mh1hst, but, he insists, in concrete human life he draws a li?e; s~cond, because the parricide plot shows either that the Party 1s bemg used and betrayed, in ways that might wreck it



as a political force, or else that, without his not~cing it, the Party has become hideously cynical and corrupt overmght; finally-and the title of the agent who gave Nikolai his dreadful order, "the Unknown One," underscores this-it suggests that Dudkin really doesn't know what is going on in a movement to which he has devoted his whole life, and apart from which he has no life at all. Nikolai's revelation not only outrages his sense of decency but shatters his sense of reality. The two men stagger together deliriously across the Nikolaevsky Bridge, floundering to find themselves in the ruins of a world they had thought they shared: "The Unknown One," a baffled Nikolai Apollonovich insisted, "is your Party comrade. Why are you so surprised? What surprises you?" "But I assure you there is no Unknown Om in the Party." "What? There is no Unknown One in the Party?" "Not so loud .... No." "For three months I've been receiving notes." "From whom?" "From him." Each fixed goggling eyes on the other, and one let his drop in horror, while a shadow of faint hope flickered in the eyes of the other. "I assure you, on my word of honor, I had no part in this business." Nikolai Apollonovich does not believe him. "Well, then, what does this all mean?" At this point, as they cross the Neva, the lands~ape begin~ to suggest meanings of its own; the two men take up tts suggestions and carry them off. They head in different directions, but both ways are bleak. "Well, then, what does this all mean?" And [Nikolai] looked with unseeing eyes off into the recesses of the street. How the street had changed, and how these grim days had changed it! A wind from the seashore swept in, tearir..g off the last leaves, and Alexander lvanovich knew it all by heart: There wi)l be, oh yes, there will be, bloody days full of horror. And then-all will crash into ruins. Oh, whirl, oh swirl, last days!

The Modernism of Underdevelopment 263 For Nikolai, this world is running down, losing its color and vibrancy, sinking into entropy. For Dudkin, it is blowing up, hurtling toward an apocalyptic crash. For both, however, the drift is toward death, and they stand together here, the poor raznochinets and the high official's son, united in their sense of doomed passivity, helpless as leaves in a gale. For both, the waning of the year 1905 presages the death of all the hopes that this revolutionary year brought to life. Yet they must hang on, to meet the crisis that confronts them both more starkly than ever-as the bomb ticks on -to save what life and honor can still be saved. But now, as they pass the Winter Palace and enter the Nevsky Prospect, the dynamism of the street hits them with a hallucinatory force: Rolling toward them down the street were many-thousand swarms of bowlers. Rolling toward them were top hats, and froth of ostrich feathers. Noses sprang out from everywhere. Beaklike noses: eagles' and roosters', ducks' and chickens'; and -so on and on-greenish, green, and red. Rolling toward them senselessly, hastily, profusely. "Consequently, you suppose that error has crept into everything?" ... Alexander lvanovich tore himself away from the contemplation of noses. "Not error, but charlatanism of the vilest kind is at work here. This absurdity has been maintained in order to stifle the Party's public action." "Then help me .... " "An impermissible mockery"-Dudkin interrupted him"made up of gossip and phantoms." The floating hats and noses are a marvelous Gogolian touch-and, since Gogol's "The Nose" and "Nevsky Prospect," a vital part of Petersburg comic folklore. Now, however, in the highly charged atmosphere of October 1905, traditional images take on new and menacing meanings: bullets or projectiles flying at Dudkin and Nikolai; intimations of people coming apart, both emotionally, as these two men are, and physically, like people blown apart by bombs. The Prospect hurtles more meanings at them: the people of Petersburg metamorphosing into animals and birds, human


ALL THAT Is SoLID MELTS INTO AIR 1 . 'nto insect swarms; human forms dissolving l?to crowds d evo vmg 1 . and red"-as is happemng blobs of p~re col?r- :·grt~een~;~n~~:~~de art of the 191 Os. Dud kin even aNs .Bkt~l~. w~~c;:d ~~nd promises to resolve a mystery that he takes 1 o at s d t nd and as he stands and shakes, , begun to un ers a • f h~sn t elvden d rgoes a still more radical devolution, into a sort o hts wor un e primal ooze:


; •.

l ·.!

' ]. '

All the shoulders formed a viscous and slowly flowing sed~Th houlder of Alexander I vanovich stuck to the sediment. e s k sucked in In keeping with the laws ment, and w~s, s~ t~~~:sa of the body. he followed the shoulder of the orgamc w 0 ' and thus was cast out onto the Nevsky. What is a grain of caviar? th Th the body of each individual that stream~ o~t? e pav~e~:comes the organ of a general body, an mdividual gram ~ent . and the sidewalks of the Nevsky are the surfa~e of an o cav~ar, d sandwich Individual thought was sucked mto the open- ace . . od that moved along the Nevsky .... cerebration of the mynap d f · d' 'd al segments· and The sticky sediment was compose o m lVI u , . h · d' 'dual segment was a torso. eac m lVI leon the Nevsky but there was a crawhng, There wer~ no peop s' ace oured a myria-dis- ;~:~~~~n~~e:~;~~d~s~:~ti! of ~ords. All the words

~me~~ d and again wove into a sentence; and the sentence JUm e . I It hung above the Nevsky, a black haze of seemed meamng ess. phantasmata. h Neva roared and And swelled by those phanta~mata, t e thrashed between its massive gramte banks.

We have been hearing since Gogol about the Nevsky as a l~taly~ and communications line for fantasies of alfter~~te 1who;pe: ~~d lives. Biely makes us feel how, in a year o ra tea . . visio~ frightful realities, this street ~an g~nerahte a ne": shurdremal~~~;n indi: · 1 p m whtch t e angms e of itself as a pnma swdam b himself forget his personalit~. vidual can merge an su merge ' ,

an:;i~ki~t~~~:~~td:.~=Dudkin to drown: Nikolai purs~es him


and drags him out of the flow in which he wasdnear;y lost .. ~~ , ' D ou understand me, Alexan er vanovtc . understan d · o Y . . 'f h' black humor is meant t~ has been stirring"-lt IS not c1ear 1 t IS

The Modernism of Underdevelopment


be Nikolai's or merely Biely's-"in the tin. The mechanism has been ticking in a strange manner." At first Dudkin, still half submerged in the Nevsky's swamp, has not the slightest idea of what Nikolai is talking about. But when he hears that Nikolai has set the bomb in motion, he flings up his hands in horror, and shouts, "What have you done? Throw it in the river at once!" The encounter and the scene could easily end here. But Biely has learned from Dostoevsky the art of constructing scenes with a seemingly endless series of climaxes and endings, scenes that, just when the characters and the reader seem ready to come to a resolution, force all parties to work themselves up to a frenzied pitch again and again. Moreover, equally important, Biely is determined to show us that the actual scenes of Petersburg in 1905 do not resolve themselves at the points where it appears logical that they should. If the encounter between Nikolai and Dudkin ended here, it would lead not only to a dramatic resolution but to a human one. But neither Petersburg nor Petersburg is willing to let its people go without a fight. What keeps this scene going, even as the bomb ticks, is a new transformation that Nikolai suddenly goes through. He begins to talk, in an almost caressing way, about the bomb as a human subject: "It was, how shall I put it? dead. I turned the little key-and you know, it even began sobbing, I assure you, like a body being awakened .... It made a face at me .... It dared to chatter something at me." Finally, he confesses raptly, "I became the bomb, with a ticking in my belly." This bizarre lyricism startles the reader, and forces us to worry seriously about Nikolai's sanity. For Dudkin, however, Nikolai's monologue has a fatal allure: it is another imaginative swamp in which he can sink, to wash himself clean of the terror that is clinging to him. The two men push off into a stream of consciousness and free association on their favorite subject-and ultimate common ground-the feeling of existential despair. Nikolai gives an interminable (and inadvertently hilarious) account of his sensations of nothingness: "In place of the sense organs there was a zero. I was aware of something that wasn't even a zero, but a zero minus something, say five for example." Dudkin serves as a combination metaphysical sage and psychoanalytic therapist, directing Nikolai both to various mystical theories and to the specificities of his childhood. After several pages of this, both parties are happily lost, as they apparently want to be.

266 ALL THAT Is Souo MELTS INTO AIR Finally, however, Dudkin lifts himself out of the swamp ~hey share, and tries to put Nikolai's lyrical effusions of despair mto some sort of perspective: "Nikolai Apollonovich, you've been sitting over your Kant in a shut-up airless room. You've been hit by a squall. You've listened to it carefully, and what you've heard in it is you~self. Any~ay, your states of mind have been described, and they re the subject of observations." "Where, where?" "In fiction, in poetry, in psychiatry, i~ r~search i~to the occult." Alexander Ivanovich smiled at how 1ll1terate this mentally developed scholastic was, and he continued. At this point Dudkin offers an extremely im~rtant co~ment, one that can easily get lost amid all the rhetoncal and mtellect~al pyrotechnics, but that illuminate~ the ove~all str~t~gy and meanmg of Petersburg, and that suggests B1ely's ulum~te vision of what modern literature and thought should be. Dudkm says: "Of course, a modernist would call it the sensation of the abyss, and he would search for the image that corresponds to the symbolic sensation." "But that is allegory." "Don't confuse allegory with symbol. Allegory is a symbol that has become common currency. For example, the usual understanding of your [sense of being] 'beside .yourself.' A symbol is your act of appealing to what you expenenced there, over the tin.'' Dudkin, surely speaking here for Biely, offers a brilliant and. co~­ pelling interpretation of moder~ism. First of all, modermsm IS preoccupied with the dangerous Impulses th~t ~o by.the. na~e. of "sensation of the abyss." Second, the m?der~1st 1magmauve v.Islon is rooted in images rather than abstractions; 1ts symbols are d1rect, particular, immediate, concrete. Finally, it i~ vitally .concerned ~o explore the human contexts-the psychological, et~1cal and political contexts-from which sensations of the abyss anse. Thus modernism seeks a,way into the abyss, but also a way ~ut, or ra~her .a way through. The depth of Nikolai's abyss, Dudkm tells h1m, IS

The Modernism of Underdevelopment


"what you experienced there, over the tin"; he will find deliverance fr?m the a~yss if he can "throw the tin into the Neva, and eve~thm~ ... wd.l ret~rn t~ its proper place." The way out of the laby~mth mto wh1ch h1~ mmd has locked itself-the only way out -:-will be to do what 1s morally, politically and psychologically nght. "But why are we standing here? We've gone on and on. You need to go home and ... throw the tin into the river. Sit tight and don't set foo~ inside ~he house (you're probably bein~ watched). Keep takmg brom1des. You're horribly worn out. No, ~tter not take. bromides. People who abuse bromides become mcapable of domg anything. Well, it's time for me to dash-on a matter involving you." Alexander lvanovich darted into the flow of bowlers, turned, and shouted out of the flow: "And throw the tin into the river!" His shoulder was sucked into the shoulders. He was rapidly borne off by the headless myriapod. This i~ ~ man who .has been in the abyss, and has come through it. Du~km s s~cond disappearance into the Nevsky Prospect crowd is rad1c~lly d1fferent from his first. Before, he sought to drown his consciousness; now he wants to use it, to discover "the Unknown One" who has entrapped Nikolai, and stop him in his tracks. Before, ~h~ Nevsky was a symbol of oblivion, a swamp into which the d~spamng sel~ could sink; now it is a source of energy, an electric ~.•re. along wh1ch the renewed and newly active self can move when 1t s ume to dash. The few scenes on which I have focused give only a hint of Pete:sburg's great richness and depth. And the relatively happy endmg. of the sc~ne just above is a long way from the book's cond.us1on. We w1ll ~~ve to live through many more actions and reactions, complex1t1es and contradictions, revelations and mysti~cations, labyrinths within labyrinths, internal and external erupuons-what Mandelstam called ••the feverish babble of constant digressions ... the delirium of the Petersburg influenza"before ~he. story ends. Nikolai will fail to get the bomb out of the house, 1t w1ll explode, the senator will not be killed, but the lives of father and son both will be shattered. Dudkin will discover Lippanchenko's treachery and kill him; he will be found next morning,



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quite mad, mounted on the agent's naked, bloody corpse, frozen , in the pose of Peter the Great astride .his bron~e horse. The Nevsky , Prospect itself, and its human mynapod, wtll go through more : spectacular upheavals and metamorphoses before the Revolution runs down. But there is a point in stopping here. The encounter between Nikolai and Dudkin, which began with mystification, hys- · teria and terror, has evolved dialectically toward a real epiphany and human triumph; and modernism turns out to be the key. Modernism, as Biely portrays it here, shows modern men how they can hold themselves together in the midst of a sea of futility and absurdity that threatens to engulf their cities and thei~ mind~. Thus Biely's modernism turns out to be a form of humamsm. It 1s even a kind of optimism: it insists that, in the end, modern man can salvage himself and his world if he summons up the self. knowledge and courage to throw his parricidal bomb away. It is not customary in the 1980s to judge modernist works of art ; by their fidelity to any sort of "real life." N~ver~hel~ss, whe~ we encounter a work that is so deeply saturated 10 h1stoncal reahty as Petersburg, so intensely committed to that reality •. and ~ntent on , bringing its shadows into light, we must take spec1al. n~uce ~he~-1 ever the work seems to diverge sharply from the reahty 10 w~~ch 1t 1 moves and lives. In fact, as I have argued, there are surpnsmgly , few points of divergence in Biely's novel. But one point seems ~o .l me to require special discussion: Was Petersburg really so chaotic : and mysterious in the revolutionary year of 1905 as Petersburg suggests? It could be argued that October 1905, when t~e novel's action unfolds, is one of the relatively few clear moments m Peters- : burg's whole history. All through 1905, first in. Pet~rsburg b.ut' soon all over Russia, millions of people were gomg mto, the c1ty ' streets and village squares to confront the autocracy in the clearest possible way. On Bloody Sunday the governm~nt made its own position only too clear to the people who fac~d 1t. I~ the next few months millions of workers went out on stnke agamst the autocracy-~ften with the support of their bosses, ~ho p~i~ their wages while they demonstrated and fought. Meanwhile, mdbons of peas-. ants seized the lands they had worked, and burned the manor houses of their lords; many units of soldiers and sailors mutinied, most memorably on the battleship Potemkin; middle classes an~ professionals joined the action; students poured out of the1r

schools in joyous support, while professors opened their universities to the workers and their cause. By October, the whole empire was caught up in a general strike -"the great all-Russian strike," it was called. Tsar Nicholas wanted to call out his armies to crush the uprising; but his generals and ministers warned him that there was no guarantee that the soldiers would obey, and that even if they did, it was impossible to crush a hundred million people in revolt. At that point, with his back to the wall, Nicholas issued his October Manifesto, which proclaimed freedom of speech and assembly, and promised universal suffrage, government by representative assembly, and due process of law. The October Manifesto threw the revolutionary movement into disarray, gave the government time and space to quell the flash points of insurrection, and enabled the autocracy to save itself for another decade. The Tsar's promises were false, of course, but it would take the people time to find that out. Meanwhile, however, the sequence of events from Bloody Sunday to the end of October revealed the structures and contradictions of Petersburg's life with remarkable clarity; this was one of the few years in Petersburg's history when the shadows were not in charge, when open human realities seized and held the streets. 55 Biely might well have accepted this account of Petersburg in 1905. But he would have pointed out how soon after the October "days of freedom" the workers and intellectuals alike were thrown into confusion and devouring self-doubt; how the government became more elusive and enigmatic than ever-even to its own cabinet ministers, who often found themselves as much in the dark as the man in the street on matters of national policy; and how, amid all this, the Azevs came into their own and took over; the Petersburg prospects once again. From the perspective, ~f 1913-16, when Petersburg was written, the dazzling clarity of 1905 could plausibly appear as just one more seductive, deceptive Petersburg dream. There is one more realistic objection to Petersburg that is worth mentioning here. For all the book's panoramic scope, it never really gets close to the workers who compose so much of the city's "myriapod," and who are the driving force of the 1905 Revolution. There is something to this critique; Biely's workers do tend to remain, as Senator Ableukhov puts it, shadows in from the islands. And yet, if we compare Petersburg with its only serious competition

The Modernism of Underdevelopment

70 ALL THAT Is Souo MELTS INTO AIR 2 in the literature of 1905, Gorky's Mother (1'907), it is clear that Biely's shadowy figures and spectral cityscapes are far mo~e real and alive than Gorky's proletarian "positive heroes," who m fact are not flesh-and-blood people at all, but neo-Chernyshevskian cutouts and cartoons.56 We could argue, too, that Dudkin's heroism is not only more authentic than that of Gorky's models but more "positive" as well: decisive action means so much more for him because he has so much more to fight against, both around him and inside him, before he can pull himself together to do what must be done. Far more can be said about Biely's Petersburg, and I have no doubt that far more will be said about it in the generation to come. I have tried to suggest how this book is at once an explo~ation ?f the failure of the first Russian Revolution and an express10n of Its creativity and enduring success. Petersburg develops a. great nineteenth-century cultural tradition into a mode of t~entieth-century modernism that is more relevant and powerful than ever today, amid the continued chaos, promise and mystery of personal and political life in our century's streets. Mandelstam: The Blessed Word With No Meaning

"But if Petersburg is not the capital," Biely wrote in the Prologue to his novel, "there is no Petersburg. It only appears to exist." Even as Biely wrote, in 1916, Petersburg had in some sense ceased to exist: Nicholas II had transformed it overnight into Petrograd-a pure Russian name, he said-amid the hysteria o~ August 1914. For those with a sense of symbolism, It was an ommous sign, the. autocracy slamming shut the window to. the We~t, .but also, perhaps unconsciously, closing the do?r on Itself. W1thm a year, Biely's prophecy would be fulfilled m a far deeper way: Petersburg would reach its apotheosis-as the scene ~nd the source of two revolutions-and its end. In M

All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity - PDF Free Download (2024)


What did Marx mean by "all that is solid melts into air"? ›

Rapid Change and Flux:"All that is solid melts into air" captures the notion of rapid and profound change. In the emerging capitalist society, relationships, values, and institutions are undergoing constant transformation, leading to a sense of instability and uncertainty.

Who said all that is solid melts into air? ›

Quote by Karl Marx: “All that is solid melts into air, all that is h...”

What is modernity according to Berman? ›

I will call this body of experience "modernity." To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world-and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are.

What is the German quote for all that is solid melts into air? ›

The other day I was writing about a book that made use of the famous phrase from The Communist Manifesto “all that is solid melts into air,” and I thought to look up the original German, which is “Alles Ständische und Stehende verdampft.”

What was the last line of The Communist Manifesto? ›

It ends by declaring an alliance with the democratic socialists, boldly supporting other communist revolutions and calling for united international proletarian action—"Working Men of All Countries, Unite!".

What are the 4 types of modernity? ›

In general, the concept of modernity discussed by both the three classical theorists of modernity and the two contemporary thinkers are mutually inclusive rather than exclusive. As a result, modernity has four main parts: capitalism, industrialism, surveillance and military power.

How does Marx explain modernity? ›

To put it plainly, for Karl Marx, modernity is capitalistic in both its economic system and its other institutions.

What are the three elements of modernity? ›

Nationalism--the rise of the modern nation-states as rational centralized governments that often cross local, ethnic groupings. Urbanization--the move of people, cultural centers, and political influence to large cities. Subjectivism--the turn inward for definitions and evaluations of truth and meaning.

What is solid melt to air? ›

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest books on modernity. A kaleidoscopic journey into the experience of modernization, it captures the dizzying social changes that swept up and transformed the lives of millions of people.

When all that is solid melts into air all that is holy? ›

All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

What is the meaning of the Communist Manifesto? ›

The Communist Manifesto reflects an attempt to explain the goals of Communism, as well as the theory underlying this movement. It argues that class struggles, or the exploitation of one class by another, are the motivating force behind all historical developments.

How did Marx believe capitalism would destroy itself? ›

Marx predicted that capitalism would eventually destroy itself as more people become relegated to working-class status, inequality rises, and competition drives corporate profits to zero. This would lead, he surmised, to a revolution after which production would be turned over to the working class as a whole.

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