Happily, City College political theorist Berman (Politics of Authenticity) doesn't try to get any closer to a definition of...


ALL THAT IS SOLID MELTS INTO AIR: The Experience of Modernity

Happily, City College political theorist Berman (Politics of Authenticity) doesn't try to get any closer to a definition of that nebulous concept ""modernity"" than his title: it's the experience of flux that constitutes modernity for him and that he conveys here in a series of rousing essays--on Goethe's Faust, on Marx, Baudelaire, St. Petersburg, and New York. . . and the contradictory elements of the modern experience they embody. For Berman, Faust is not the creator of his own destruction but the man who is alive only in the interplay between creation and destruction--the developer who acknowledges the cost of creating and re-creating the world. The advocates of ""small is beautiful"" misread the Faustian bargain, Berman avers, as if growth led to destruction; rather, the enormous change entailed in the idea of limited growth is a Faustian enterprise and a challenge worthy of modernism. Marx is the source of Berman's title (the words are from the ""Communist Manifesto"") and much of his stimulus; but where Marx attributes the modern upheaval to capitalism's dynamic character, Berman sees much more implicated than a single economic system. And where Marx foresees the restoration of stability and a fixed moral framework upon the transition from capitalism to communism, in Berman's estimation there is no going back to premodernism (which is what post-modernism would be), only the topsyturvy moral universe we have thrust ourselves into. The two succeeding sections parallel the Paris of Baudelaire's flaneur and the St. Petersburg of Dostoevski, Gogol, Biely, and Mandelstam--a city of modern Europe and a city thrust into modernity through backwardness. The last and unsurpassed section is set in Berman's native Bronx: he recalls his own experience of change, ushered in by Robert Moses' construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway. But instead of taking Charlotte St. as a symbol of the destruction wrought by Moses, he confides ""my Bronx modernist dream: The Bronx Mural""--to be painted on the brick walls lining the expressway and to depict, in modernist styles, the ""ghosts"" of the Bronx; from John Garfield to George Meany, Jonas Salk to Stokely Carmichael. Berman closes with an evocation of the new cultural life of the Bronx: a sculpture, ""Puerto Rican Sun,"" that represents for him the constant effort to make ourselves at home in a world of change. Not all will want to make their peace with this vision of modernity, but the vision is worth seeing in Berman's graphic, invigorating description.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1981

ISBN: 0140109625

Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1981

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