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Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism [Paperback]

Matei Calinescu
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

15 Jun 1987
Five Faces of Modernity is a series of semantic and cultural biographies of words that have taken on special significance in the last century and a half or so: modernity, avant-garde, decadence, kitsch, and postmodernism. The concept of modernity--the notion that we, the living, are different and somehow superior to our predecessors and that our civilization is likely to be succeeded by one even superior to ours--is a relatively recent Western invention and one whose time may already have passed, if we believe its postmodern challengers. Calinescu documents the rise of cultural modernity and, in tracing the shifting senses of the five terms under scrutiny, illustrates the intricate value judgments, conflicting orientations, and intellectual paradoxes to which it has given rise.Five Faces of Modernity attempts to do for the foundations of the modernist critical lexicon what earlier terminological studies have done for such complex categories as classicism, baroque, romanticism, realism, or symbolism and thereby fill a gap in literary scholarship. On another, more ambitious level, Calinescu deals at length with the larger issues, dilemmas, ideological tensions, and perplexities brought about by the assertion of modernity.

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Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism + Art in Theory 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas
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Product details

  • Paperback: 422 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press; 2nd Revised edition edition (15 Jun 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822307677
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822307679
  • Product Dimensions: 20.9 x 14.2 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 148,254 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
It is always hard to date with precision the appearance of a concept, and all the more so when the concept under scrutiny has been throughout its history as controversial and complex as "modernity." Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Must for every student of Modernity 26 Nov 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you are studying any aspect of Modernity this is a very helpful and comprehensive book. It does a very good job of making some key concepts clear. I could have done with slightly more attention to the Russian Avant-Garde. The only downside is that the style of this sort of academic language is unnecessarily dense and complicated, so much so that especially in the beginning of the book you get the idea the author is doing it for the sake of sounding all smarty pants.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent history of modern(ist) aesthetics 19 Aug 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Matei Calinescu's _The Five Faces of Modernity_ is an impressive intellectual history of five concepts central to aesthetics (i.e. the theory and philosophy of art) in the past two centuries-- the concepts of 'modernism', 'the avant-garde', 'decadence', 'kitsch', and 'postmodernism'. After an introductory discussion on the concept of 'modernity' itself, each of these concepts, or 'faces of modernity' is discussed in detail. This discussion generally includes an account of the word's origins and changes in its usage, close readings of important texts that used these concepts in exemplary or revolutionary ways, and a critical analysis of the assumptions that underly the term's application to aesthetics. Throughout, Calinescu ranges quite broadly in his scope, drawing upon texts from throughout Europe and the Americas (both North and South).
Calinescu's account is far too rich and complex to summarize here, but on the whole, the history of aesthetic thought he provides is based on solid research, compelling analysis, and insightful observation. In the process, he makes some astute, and rather surprising observations about how these aesthetic terms were initially used to describe politics or social thought, and only came to be applied to aesthetics later (this is especially true with 'avant-garde')-- yet, their aesthetic application is fundamentally shaped by their earlier social-political associations.
Although this book is quite solid, I do feel that it has some shortcomings that can't be ignored. First and foremost among these is that Calinescu's bizarre characterization of Romanticism. The Romantics, he rightly noted, were crucial in the development of modern aesthetics-- and in the notions of modernism, the avant-garde, and decadence in particular. However, his account of Romanticism is one that I simply do not recognize-- basically reducing it (somewhat inaccurately, I would add) to "the relativization of beauty" and the abandonment of the notion of eternal, transcendent truths or ideals. Part of the problem here is that Calinescu limits his discussion of Romanticism to France, focussing on Chateaubriand, Stendahl, and Hugo. If he had discussed the major German Romantic thinkers or the British Romantic poets, this account of Romanticism (and the role he assigns to it in developing a concept of 'modernity') simply could not stand.
The second main shortcoming of the book is that it focuses overwhelmingly on literary art. Painting and other forms of art are discussed a little bit in some of the chapters (particularly in the one on kitsch), but for the most part, Calinescu's book focuses on prose and poetry-- not on the visual arts (or still less on music). I think his account of some of these concepts (particularly 'modernism' and 'avant-garde') wuld have been greatly improved by considering them.
Still, those criticisms are relatively minor-- this is a great book and an important one on this subject. Highly recommended to intellectual historians, art historians, and those who are interested in a good 'history of ideas' account of these five aesthetic concepts.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 30 Jun 2014
By Pearl - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Good copy, good service!
8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant introduction to excessively used concepts. 16 Feb 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Calinescu succeeds in a very difficult department: definind five concepts that have become common places in criticism. Calinescu's reviews is insightful, comprehensive an very well documented. It offers an excellent introdution to the novices and a useful guide for investigating the concepts to the initiates. Calinescu is probably one of the finest critics in this topic and his book exceeds authors like Hobsbawn.
3 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reaaly helpful! 26 April 2007
By Alina - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I really enjoyed the book besides the fact that it proved really helpful for all the papers I have had to write so far. The concepts are clear and the bibliography extensive so it is really a starter in other directions.
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