Bringing together reviews dating from 1956 along with the title essay, it is Kramer's intention to ""separate the achievement"" of the avant-garde (""for convenience"" its dates are set from 1855 with Courbet to the 1950's and Abstract-Expressionism) ""from the vast superstructure of outmoded faith that history has attached to it."" In his view, newness ""is no longer the exclusive possession of a tiny 'informed' public. It is now the daily concern of vast bureaucratic enterprises whose prosperity depends on keeping the question supplied with a steady flow of compelling but perishable answers."" Furthermore, he contends that the avant-garde must be understood ""as an historical phenomenon rather than as an immutable fixture of cultural life,"" and has become ""a pervasive and often cynical authority over sizable portions of the very public it affects to despise."" The historical reality of the ""underdog artist"" struggling heroically to extend the boundaries of his art beyond rigid cultural expectations has -- with the sense of ""tradition"" now nearly attenuated out of existence -- become for the artist an anachronistic self-delusion. It is virtually impossible for the artist to support the role of cultural subversive or adversary, and, ironically, ""we are likely to find the most solid and enduring achievements of the modern era -- among those tradition-haunted artists. . . ."" These trenchant observations are taken from the provocatively splendid title essay. For the rest, the book is a disappointment: it is too large in design and too meag in its parts; it is never quite art history, or cultural aesthetics, or art criticism (though Kramer writes very well indeed, most of these essays are not criticism at all, rather they are an elegant form of reviewing); it dabbles alternately in all of these and so fails, except for the main essay, to give a clear perspective to the age it ostensibly depicts.