The long arc of hereticism. Modernism and baggage of hereticism it bring with it, the deep sack of neuroses festering sometimes into the outbreaks of pathology and brilliance often equally and simultaneously, is today, a sort of anguished repudiation; reactions to the simplifications of the self and a way of life that Protestantism and the Enlightenment brought with them. The Howl of an Allen Ginsberg. There is an intimacy here though, a stubborn effort to cling to the past while breaking with it; to take the hesitations and doubts, the noxious, unresolved questions and try to construct something approaching a credible narrative, though always just beyond reach. Beyond orthodoxy is the disrupted momentum; But the link between modernism and post-modernism and the orthodox past is filled with the shifting sands and unstable, volatile mass of contradictions and sometimes flashes of brilliance intrinsic to the nature of heretical movements that challenged existing structures…
…For the Counter Reformation of the sixteenth century, unlike that of the thirteenth century, was not complete. Over a large part of Europe, Protestant Europe, it failed. And in those Protestant countries where it failed, economic expansion was continued. It was continued not so much by the orthodox, even there, as by the heretics, and particularly by the heretics squeezed out by the Catholic countries. It was Calvinists and Mennonites driven from Flanders who founded the industries of the Ruhr. It was Baptists and Quakers who made the industrial revolution in England. It was the Pietists of Saxony who began the industrialization of East Germany. And the greatest industrial power, America, lived in its formative period on the heretics of all Europe.
But our debt to heresy does not stop there. The advance of science also owes more to heresy than to orthodoxy. For every stage, orthodoxy has tended to restrain intellectual speculation and new steps forward have been taken either by bold heretics or by mystics, happily emancipated from the constriction of literal dogma.
Neo-Platonic mysticism, then still pagan, was a powerful force in the science of the late Roman Empire. In its Christian form it was even more powerful in breaking the watertight system of obsolete knowledge fabricated by the late medieval Schoolmen. Many of the Neo-Platonic mystics of the Reformation period seem unintelligible to us: the writings of Paracelsus and Jakob Boehme, the mystical shoemakerof seventeenth century Silesia can seem to us pure gibberish. But new scientific conceptions tend to spring out of metaphysical visions which they then discard.
Isaac Newton and many of his contemporary scientists began as heretical mystics. Isaac Newton himself may have been inspired by the unintelligible Boehme. Out of the mysticism of the Neo-Platonists and the Quakers the heresy of English deism was born, and deism was the matrix of the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. And it was Neo-Platonism, again, which inspired the advances in biology at the end of the eighteenth century.
( see link at end) …The origins of Modernism lie in disillusion or, more precisely, in what the German poet Friedrich Schiller called “the disenchantment of the world.” Unfortunately, Mr. Josipovici, who likes to quote his authors in the original, gets it wrong here, giving Schiller’s phrase as “die Entziehung der Welt,” or “the withdrawal of the world,” instead of the correct “die Entzauberung der Welt.” But this slip doesn’t impair his argument.
In the mid-16th century, the old certainties, the immemorial rituals, the hierarchies of the heavens and earth seemed to crumble. As Mr. Josipovici explains, Schiller’s phrase was taken up early in the 20th century by the sociologist Max Weber, who used it to explain the radical transformation of the world that occurred after the Protestant Reformation, from a divinely appointed cosmos, alive with numinous presences, to a bustling marketplace of enterprise, production and rampant individualism.
In such a disenchanted world, the world we inhabit now, it’s not only pointless but dishonest to write or paint or compose in traditional ways, as though nothing had changed. The old human narrative has been fatally disrupted; it is false to pretend otherwise. Modernism is the anguished response—for Mr. Josipovici, the only valid response—to this irreparable fracture of the world and the self.
He begins his account with some astute observations on two famous engravings by Albrecht Dürer (his “Melancholia I” and “St. Jerome in his Study” from 1514). Dürer intended the engravings to be complementary; but in fact, as Mr. Josipovici argues, “Melancholia,” with its shadows and dozing bats, has come to depict our present state, while “St. Jerome” in its sunny serenity reveals all that we—we moderns—have lost. Clearly for Mr. Josipovici the shattering of former certainties, despite the gains it offers in self-knowledge, has left us bereft. For Dürer, the calm, orderly world of the saint was as real, as true, as the dark, jagged realm of melancholy. For the Modernist sensibility, however, serenity is no longer possible; truth, if it can be glimpsed at all, is invariably agitated.
Tracing Modernism’s long arc, Mr. Josipovici moves on to Rabelais and Cervantes, two 16th-century artists who “knew in their bones that they were living through a period of decisive change.” They, and such disparate 19th-century figures as the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and—perhaps surprisingly—the English poet William Wordsworth, are the true precursors of Modernism, Mr. Josipovici argues. He is particularly good on Wordsworth, showing how the poet in his deepest moments of communion with nature remained “a stranger in the landscape.” Read More:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703556604575502133666270428.html