Taking its title from the quote by Karl Marx, Berman's authoritative study into the modernist experience, originally written in 1981, still has major significance in the midst of the information revolution and the death of the Soviet Union.
He takes the reader back to analyze literature from Goethe, Baudelaire and Marx himself to Russian masters such as Gogol and Mandelstam, observing how their writing helped to frame our understanding of Modernism set against the developing social and economic framework of the Western world.
At the heart of the book is Nevsky Prospekt, the ultra-modern street in the heart of the first true modern city in Petersburg that gave birth to the most important moment of 20th century history.
This book, first published around 1980, is now regarded as a classic text on the subject of the modern world, or more specifically, the whole notion of 'modernity'. What do we mean by 'modern'? Berman starts with the earliest development of the modern industrial process, during the latter years of the 18th century, examining in particular the concept of 'development' itself. Throughout the book, he explores how development is portrayed in literature and other art forms, starting with Goethe's Faust, and moving on through Marx (the source of the title), Baudelaire, Dostoevsky and other Russians, and ending with a look at New York during the last century, as the city is torn apart and rebuilt around the modern notion of the car and the highway. The story of development and the concept of 'creative destruction'; the constant renewal that the capitalist system demands, is all very interesting in itself, but what makes this book really special is the way the author looks at the subject through the writings of contemporary authors, giving us an insight into some of the great works of literature, from the viewpoint of the world in which the writers lived and how they experienced the changes that were taking place all around them. For anyone interested in the whole idea of modernism and development, this book is well worth reading.
This book develops the idea that Modernity's defining characteristic is that of the continual reassertion of ambivalence. In light of this argument the author revisits writers such as Goete, Marx and Dostoevsky adding new dimensions to them all as well as to our understanding of Modernity. A book of tremendous wisdom and intelligence. Well written and highly recommended.
One of the greatest books about the relevance of Marxism to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries ever written. A thrilling roller coaster ride about love in cafes, city planning, architecture, romance, how we work and how we live. Incomparable.