HARC Seminar Series:
4 March 2009
Professor Toril Moi (Duke U )
A New Genealogy of Modernism: Idealism/Realism/Symbolism
How did modernism begin? In her book Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism (OUP, 2006), Toril Moi shows that Ibsen’s modernism emerged through a long, slow struggle against the requirement of idealist aesthetics. Idealists thought that the task of art was to uplift the soul by showing us beauty. They also thought that truth, beauty and goodness were one. As a result, aesthetics merged with ethics. 19th century “moralizing” criticism is often an expression of idealist aesthetics. Idealism lasted throughout the 19th century, and, in some circles, well into the twentieth. But if modernism emerged through a protracted, complex, and often ambivalent struggle against idealism, what happens to the idea that modernism was the result of a break with realism?
In this lecture, which is based on her most recent work in progress, Toril Moi will try to work out a theoretical framework for thinking about historical change in literature based on Wittgenstein and Kuhn. She will ask whether the opposition between modernism and realism is a generalization of the opposition between symbolism and naturalism in France in the 1880s and the 1890s. And why is symbolism often considered the beginning of modernism, when so much of it appears to be completely consonant with idealism?
If anyone wishes to do any background reading before the talk, Toril Moi recommends Chapter 3 in Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism.
Introduction by Professor Eric Robertson (RHUL):