Modris Eksteins, 21 February 2008
‘Voici le temps des assassins,’ Rimbaud announced in the wake of the Paris Commune. One could argue that the central motif in Modernism was the notion of violation: André Breton saying that ‘the simplest surrealist act consists of dashing into the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can, into the crowd’; Otto Dix portraying a crazed murderer dismembering a female body, flinging limbs hither and thither; Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí slitting an eyeball with a razor in the unwatchable opening sequence of Un Chien andalou. The mutilation of symbol, value, history and even of self was crucial to the Modernist urge. The moderns wanted to be new, fast. This urgency demanded that the old be eliminated. ‘I am dynamite,’ Nietzsche bellowed. Echoing this, the French incendiary Louis Aragon remarked that he could think of nothing more beautiful than a church and some dynamite.