This has been a strange road.
My research into the subversive nature of Modernism has led me to Daniel Bell of people.
“The realm of culture is the realm of meanings, the effort in some imaginative form to make sense of the world through the expressiveness of art and ritual, particularly those ‘incomprehensions’ such as tragedy and death that arise out of the existential predicaments which every self-conscious human being must confront at some point in his life. In these encounters, one becomes aware of the fundamental questions – what Goethe called Urphdnomen – which frame all others. Religion, as the oldest effort to comprehend these ‘mysteries,’ has historically been the source of cultural symbols.
If science is the search for the unity of nature, religion has been the quest for the unity of culture in the different historical periods of civilizations. To close that circle, religion has woven tradition as the fabric of meaning and guarded the portals of culture by rejecting those works of art which threatened the moral norms of religion.
The modern movement disrupts that unity. It does so in three ways: by insisting on the autonomy of the aesthetic from moral norms; by valuing more highly the new and experimental; and by taking the self (in its quest for originality and uniqueness) as the touchstone of cultural judgment. The most aggressive outrider of the movement is the self-proclaimed avant-garde which calls itself Modernism. I see Modernism as the agency for the dissolution of the bourgeois world view and, in the past half-century, as gaining hegemony in the culture.
The difficulties of defining Modernism are notorious. Schematically, I would specify three different dimensions:
1 Thematically Modernism has been a rage against order, and in particular, bourgeois orderliness. The emphasis is on the self, and the unceasing search for experience. If Terence once said, ‘Nothing human is alien to me,’ the Modernist could say with equal fervor, ‘Nothing inhuman is alien to me.’ Rationalism is seen as devitalizing; the surge to creativity is propelled by an exploration of the demonic. In that exploration, one cannot set aesthetic limits (or even moral norms) to this protean reach of the imagination. The crucial insistence is that experience is to have no boundaries to its cravings, that there be ‘nothing sacred.’
2 Stylistically, there is a common syntax in what I have called ‘the eclipse of distance.’ This is the effort to achieve immediacy, impact, simultaneity, and sensation by eliminating aesthetic and psychic distance. In diminishing aesthetic distance, one annihilates contemplation and envelops the spectator in the experience. By eliminating psychic distance, one emphasizes (in Freudian terms) the ‘primary process’ of dream and hallucination, of instinct and impulse. In all this Modernism rejects the ‘rational cosmology’ that was introduced into the arts during the Renaissance and codified by Alberti: of foreground and background in pictorial space; of beginning, middle, and end, or sequence, in time; and the distinction of genres and the modes of work appropriate to each genre. This eclipse of distance, as a formal syntax, cuts across all the arts: in literature, the ‘stream of consciousness’; in painting, the elimination of the ‘interior distance’ within the canvas; in music, the upset of the balance of melody and harmony; in poetry, the disruption of the ordered meter. In the broadest sense, this common syntax repudiates mimesis as a principle of art. [. . . ]
3 The preoccupation with the medium. In all periods of cultural history, artists have been conscious of the nature and complexity of the medium as a formal problem in transmuting the ‘pre-figured’ into the ‘figured’ result. In the last twenty-five years, we have seen a preoccupation not with the content or form (i.e., style and genre), but with the medium of art itself: with the actual texture of paint and materials in painting, with the abstract ‘sounds’ in music, with phonology or even ‘breath’ in poetry, and with the abstract properties of language in literature – often to the exclusion of anything else. Thus it is the encaustic surface, not the image, that generates excitement in the paintings of Jasper Johns; the aleatory or chance factors in the music of John Cage; the aspirate rather than the syllable, as a measure of line in poetry of Robert Creeley – all of these as expressions of the self, rather than formal explorations of the limits and nature of the medium itself.
Modernism has, beyond dispute, been responsible for one of the great surges of creativity in Western culture. The period from 1850 to 1930 probably saw more varied experiments in literature, poetry, music and painting – if not more great masterpieces – than any previous period we have known. Much of this arose out of the creative tension of culture, with its adversary stance, against the bourgeois social structure [. . .]
The phrase ‘cultural hegemony’ – identified with the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci – signifies the dominance of a single group in shaping the prevailing world view which gives a people an interpretation of the age. [. . .]
Marxists have assumed that under capitalism there has . . . been a single cultural hegemony – the ideas of the ‘ruling class.’ Yet the astonishing fact is that in the past hundred years, if there has been a dominant influence – in the high culture at least – it has been the avowed enemy of that class, Modernism. …
We stand, I believe, with a clearing ahead of us. The exhaustion of Modernism, the aridity of Communist life, the tedium of the unrestrained self, and the meaningless of the monolithic political chants, all indicate that a long era is coming to a slow close. The impulse of Modernism was to leap beyond: beyond nature, beyond culture, beyond tragedy – to explore the apeiron, the boundless, driven by the self-infinitizing spirit of the radical self. Bourgeois society sundered economics from moral norms to allow the individual to pursue his own self-defined wants, yet at the same time sought to bend the culture to its restricted moral norms. Modernism was the major effort to break away from those restrictions in the name of experience, the aesthetic and the experimental and, in the end, broke all boundaries. Yet if we now seek to return economics to moral norms, is there not a similar warranty for culture?”
This is the crux of the problem.
What is the relationship between the unbounded and autonomous hyper individualist Modernist self and its ceaseless drive toward new experiences, novelties, experimentation and transgression (see, for example, transgenderism where Modernists realize, explore and express their “true self” by pretending to be the opposite sex), which it conflates with “progress,” and ANY type of incorporated collective identity and maintenance of its cultural boundaries? There can only be a ceaseless clash between the two.
The masses need guidance, meaning and a sense of belonging to a greater whole. They need values and beliefs which are conducive to happiness. This requires a coherent culture and a stable social order which in turn requires limits. Modernism demolishes those limits and unravels our culture. It leads to a deeply alienated hostile elite that has nothing but scorn for the masses. It engages in nothing but transgression against cultural norms which are constantly being torn down in order to liberate “oppressed groups.” The result is a culture that becomes increasingly degenerate and incoherent over time.