All That Is Solid Melts into Air (Magill's Literary Annual 1983)
Marshall Berman, who teaches at City College and City University of New York, has written an intriguing history of a dominant theme in Western thought—or, perhaps more accurately, a dominant Western attitude or mood: the ambivalence toward the idea of progress or development. In an analysis of the work of writers ranging from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to Fyodor Dostoevski to Dylan Thomas, and with forays into architecture, Berman has discerned the nature of modernism to be the tension between the will toward social and physical change and the desire for social and physical stability. “To be modern,” says Berman,is to be both revolutionary and conservative: alive to new possibilities for experience and adventure, frightened by the nihilistic depths to which so many modern adventures lead, longing to create and hold on to something real even as everything melts.
To be modern, says Berman, is to live in perpetual tension between personal and social development and decay, but to be modernist is to be at home in this environment. Berman wants to make modernists of his readers; he wants them to feel at home in the world in which they live. For this reason, he argues, it is crucial to understand contemporary modernism as the product of two earlier modern periods, represented by, among others, Goethe and Karl Marx.
Goethe’s Faust (1808, 1832), one of the first major treatments of the themes of modernism, is set up in three...
(The entire section is 1866 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1983)
The Atlantic. CCXLIX, January, 1982, p. 84.
Choice. XIX, May, 1982, p. 1224.
Commentary. LXXIII, April, 1982, p. 74.
Commonweal. CIX, November 19, 1982, p. 636.
Library Journal. CVII, April 1, 1982, p. 734.
Nation. CCXXXIV, January 30, 1982, p. 118.
The New Republic. CLXXXVI, January 6, 1982, p. 37.
The New York Review of Books. XXIX, March 4, 1982, p. 27.
The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVII, February 14, 1982, p. 9.
Newsweek. XCIX, January 25, 1982, p. 78.
(The entire section is 54 words.)