Modernity

George Steiner

  • Visions and Blueprints: Avant-Garde Culture and Radical Politics in Early 20th-century Europe edited by Edward Timms and Peter Collier
    Manchester, 328 pp, £29.50, February 1988, ISBN 0 7190 2260 6

Memories would seem to come in waves. Just now the Twenties and the Thirties have taken on a vivid presence. Their music, their arts, their decorative styles and fashions are being rediscovered and imitated. Vintage cars out of those two decades have become emblematic of a lost nerve and ostentatious brio. There may be pretty obvious reasons for this mode. Our bourses and currencies are haunted by intimations of the previous crash and of the turmoil and recession which ensued. Our sense of the inward connections between the two world wars and of the decline of Europe looks to the armistice of the inter-war years with a new scrutiny. Could saner accommodations have been found? Could the palpable lessons of Armageddon have been learnt in time? And if we now find ourselves, more or less convincingly, at the twilight of Modernism in sensibility, in experimental form, is it not natural that we should seek out the sources and attempt a balance-sheet? But these could well be rationalisations. Shifts of taste, of mimetic focus, are obscure phenomena. The tango is back, and so is scotch.

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