A radical reconceptualization of modernism, this book traces the appearance of the modern artist to the Paris of the 1830s and links the emergence of an enduring modernist aesthetic to the fleeting forms of popular culture. Contrary to conventional views of a private self retreating from history and modernity, Popular Bohemia shows us the modernist as a public persona parodying the stereotypes of commercial mass culture. Here we see how the modern artist—alternately assuming the roles of the melodramatic hero, the urban flâneur, the female hysteric, the tribal primitive—created his own version of an expressive, public modernity in opposition to an increasingly repressive and conformist bourgeois culture. And here we see how a specifically modern aesthetic culture in nineteenth-century Paris came about, not in opposition to commercial popular culture, but in close alliance with it.
Popular Bohemia revises dominant historical narratives about modernism from the perspective of a theoretically informed cultural history that spans the period between 1830 and 1914. In doing so, it reconnects the intellectual history of avant-garde art with the cultural history of bohemia and the social history of the urban experience to reveal the circumstances in which a truly modernist culture emerged.
Gluck is a fine intellectual historian whose first book on Lukács was in every way a triumph of scholarship. Her new book, Popular Bohemia, is at the same level and may even exceed her earlier work in terms of originality.
Gluck's book is a wonderfully conceived contribution to the overhaul of our understanding of modernism that has been in full swing in many fields for some time now. Our view of literary modernism, she argues, has been distorted by taking the aloof figure of the aesthete, and self-referential art, at the turn of the twentieth century as the ostensible end-points in the emergence of modernism, and then by looking back to romanticism to trace their genealogy. She challenges this view on a number of counts: it misinterprets the figure of the modernist artist as someone estranged from commercial society and public culture; it obscures our appreciation of "the transient, the commercial and popular forms of modernism"; and it ignores the lineage of realism in the making of modernism. It is not only that there is a lot of non-canonical modernist popular culture out there; others have said that, and she draws on their work judiciously. More interestingly, she is claiming that we misunderstand canonical figures such as Gautier, Baudelaire, and Huysmans unless we take their relationship to the "mass cultural public sphere" into account. Modernism is rooted in a "theatrical and public vision," not a withdrawal into interiority. The avant-garde project is the legitimate heir of an earlier, publicly oriented culture, not a retreat from it.
This is a book worth grappling with. The larger argument will set historians of modern art and literature to pondering, and readers will find here a trove of insightful readings and interesting details in the byways of nineteenth-century Parisian culture.
- 238 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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