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Modernism: The Lure of Heresy - From Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond

3.8  ·  Rating details ·  482 Ratings  ·  54 Reviews
Acclaimed cultural historian Peter Gay traces and explores the rise of artistic Modernism, the cultural movement that heralded and shaped the modern world, dominating western high culture for over a century.

Peter Gay's most ambitious endeavour since Freud explores the shocking modernist rebellion that, beginning in the 1840s, transformed art, literature, music, and film wi
Hardcover, 610 pages
Published November 1st 2007 by William Heinemann (first published 2007)
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Paul Bryant
What was it the artist still known as Prince nearly said? There's joy in definitions. They prevent us from having to be party to any more inane conversations e.g.

- Hey, what's Tracy Emin's latest stuff like?

- Well, it is what it is.

- Yeah.

- She's still keeping it real.

- For sure.

So, let's define 120 years of art, starting with bad boy Baudelaire. Les Fleurs du Mal, 1857

– "the strictest rule-bound sonnets and the grossest subject matter".

Sounds like Lou Reed.

PG says that the essential elements
Finally finished the book, after maxing out renewals and having a fine placed on my library account. I won't lie to you; reading Peter Gay's Modernism is no light undertaking. There are, after all, more than 500 pages of text.

As voluminous as the volume is, though, it may still not be enough for Gay's ambitious undertaking. He seeks to define Modernism and discuss its exemplars. Although he does exactly that, there is still a sense of something missing, as if there is a slight blip in the book'
Nov 14, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modernism
Verbose -- more adjectives than analysis - superficial and general - a mediocre book. The bibliographical essay at the back is the most (only real) valuable portion of this volume.
Daniel Mueller
Jan 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The thesis isn't profound, that all of the arts underwent a radical change from objective to subjective representation between the mid-1800s and now, but what I love about this history is how incisively the author treats all the artforms--literature, dance, music, painting, sculpture, architecture, and film--and shows how diverse artists, architects, composers, and writers responded to powerful cultural and historical forces with a similar premise but with markedly different results. The book, e ...more
James Murphy
Peter Gay writes that the 2 major attributes of modernism are the desire to confront conventional sensibilities and a focus on self-scrutiny or the deep scrutiny of subject. That emphasis on investigation and understanding of people and ideas, Gay makes clear, means that psychology in art of all kinds drove what we call the modernist movement. Freud overlooks all of it, even though the full thrust of his ideas on art and culture haven't been fully digested.

As the title states, the book concerns
Peter Mcloughlin
I liked this book. It covers a lot of ground albeit in brief highlights but it is such a big subject that you can't blame the author. In my updates I am a little more specific about the contents of the book. I am a fan of modernism so I will naturally enjoy any treatment of the subject. This is a good introduction to this varied movement. I think anyone with a passing interest in modernism will get a lot from this book.
Zöe Yu
Apr 26, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american
I liked it, a book for very detailed and personalized general information on modernism. Most of the figures in the stream of history are mentioned by the author. However, names like Susan Sontag during the important 1960s was not appeared in the text at all. She might be just a surfer, a rider on the wave, or perhaps, her value is far more underestimated by the contemporary literary world. But anyway, this book brings back many memories and knowledges on "Foreign literature".
Nov 29, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a book to read for bold new assessments or provocative theses, but to gain a broad overview of the Modern movement which, according to Gay, starts with Baudelaire and ends with Warhol. Lucidly written -- but could have done with more illustrations -- and engaging throughout. Gay covers the gamut: from prose, poetry and drama to art to architecture to music (but leaves out photography). Makes you realise once again that though there may be very many good works of art nowadays, there aren't an ...more
Apr 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art, history-world
This is a book about wacky artists and their fascinating crusades. The modernist movement was brought about the Industrial Revolution's alienation of community, which enhanced individualist expression due to the prevailing misery of a world succumbing to mechanical efficiency and city life. Impressionism, fauvism, and art's evolution into abstract expressionism is thoroughly covered. Biographies are brief and the paintings minimal; I would have liked to see more illustrations (in color too) so t ...more
Jun 01, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Alan by: A library shelf and the font on the cover
I was impressed by the flowing, lucid prose, as well as by the vast scope of this book. In a mere 610 pages (including the index and a bibliographic essay), Peter Gay provides a warm, sympathetic overview of a century's worth of artistic expression in multiple disciplines—painting, music, architecture, literature, dance and motion pictures.

This approach necessarily leads to some skimming of creators and works. The book has so many hooks, in fact—jumping-off points for further research—that I'd r
Jan 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-of-ideas
This is both a history and a compendium of ideas about the arts and how they have changed. In it he discusses writers, including 'the Fascist Knut Hamsun, the bigot High Anglican TS Eliot and the hysterical anti-feminist August Strindberg'. As a child of Weimar, he admits with that 'Modernism was not a democracy'. The artists examined here are haughty autocrats such as Picasso or Diaghilev, or self-deifying prophets such as the painters Kandinsky and Ensor. His insights are suggestive and often ...more
Aug 15, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I've discovered in my time that books by tenured university professors with biographies emphasizing the author's twenty or more books are usually tedious. This one tries hard to offer something new to readers interested in modernism by including many little-known artists, but the prose feels like the author is just trying to get through another volume and get it published. As a Freudian scholar with strong scholarship in the Victorian middle-classes, Peter Gay offers some interesting insights on ...more
Lauren Albert
Feb 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good review of the rise and development of modernism. Don't expect anything new but it's good coverage for a beginner. Gay makes a point of showing that there were modernists covering the full political spectrum--modernism does not align with a particular politics. The end was weaker as he did the (seemingly inevitable) "art is not what it used to be" thing. You'd think this would be done with some irony considering the history he just covered.
Cypress Butane
A good overview, with good critical sense, only complaint is it's not long enough, not in depth enough. I wanted more detail and more minor characters. I guess I will have to read his biography of Freud that I am sure will have plenty to offer.
Jul 08, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Thus far, I'm lukewarm: I like it, but I'm not loving it. Usually I love these kinds of ambitious cultural histories, but I'm just not feeling it. I think I'm just not in the mood to read this right now, so I'm going to stop my reading at page 57. I'll pick it up again when I'm in the mood for it.
Maximilian Gerboc
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent overview of modernism among various artistic platforms. Can be a little repetitive, but I guess that's true of most writers trying to reinforce a thesis.
Arvind Balasundaram

In this gutsy accomplishment, Yale historian Peter Gay provides a colorful history of the Modernist movement in 510 pages with an accompanying rich Bibliographical essay. Defining the Modernist movement as roughly dating from the early 1840s to the early 1960s, from Baudelaire and Flaubert all the way to Pop artists like Warhol and Lichtenstein, Gay defines what constitutes 'modernist' along two prerequisite criteria:
1. The lure of heresy must be present, whether it is the introduction of obsce
Billie Pritchett
Oct 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art, history
Peter Gay's Modernism is pretty much encyclopedic in scope in terms of the amount of information it provides about Modernist Art in the broad sense of the term, covering painting and photography, film, literature, and music and dance. It even turned me on to some new artists and musicians to check out. The book is very good in that respect, in that it will probably allow you to discover some new major figures of Modernist Art and pursue those interests further. One of the biggest takeaways of th ...more
from the library 2008

intro A Climate for Modernism
Part one Founders
1 Professional Outsiders
2 Irreconcilables and impresarios

Part two Classics

from the library computer:
Publishers Weekly Reviews
Putting a Freudian view of life as an arena of conflict at the center of a view of modernism, this outspoken study tracks the avant-garde across a wide array of high culture—literature, music and dance, painting and sculpture, architecture and film. Conventional Victorians, according to Gay, found the belie
Paul DeBusschere
Jan 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review is of the first edition of Modernism.

Peter Gay provides a sweeping survey of the artistic revolution after which the book is named. It is a fascinating account for anyone interested in artistic development from the mid 19th century on into the late 20th.

What may be more intriguing, however, are what Gay chooses to leave out of the survey. While we get profiles of composers like Stravinsky and Schoenberg, there is absolutely no mention of Ravel, Rachmaninoff, and others. Jazz is com
Jared Colley
What's up people; I'm back. Been on book review sabbatical, but here I am. I'm going to keep this one short.

Peter Gay is one of my favorite historians of modern-to-late-modern Europe. His work on the Enlightenment, the rise of the middle class, weimar culture, etc. is all excellent - especially his Enlightenment books (1st volume won the National Book Award...). His latest study is on 'Modernism' (with a capital 'M'); it covers literature, architecture, the visual arts, etc., but there is one o
Jun 25, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Big, but necessarily cursory overview of a movement in the arts that was never clearly defined, has no real dates, and may or may not have died at some point over the past 70 years. To his credit, Gay acknowledges these difficulties, but then compounds them and confirms the uncertainty by introducing his own questionable theories to tie his thesis together. In other words, it feels a bit like an extended undergraduate dissertation that demonstrates he's done his research, but leaves one feeling ...more
Oct 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"For all their palpable differences, modernist of all stripes shared two defining attributes ... : first, the lure of heresy that impelled their actions as they confronted conventional sensibilities; and, second, a commitment to a principled self-scrutiny." (3-4)

"To become a work of art is the object of living." (quoting Wilde, 62)

"Immature poets immitate, mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poerts make it into something better, or at least something different." (quotin
Feb 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Peter Gay is a wonderfully clear writer who brings his wide knowledge to this broad subject. He is dealing with modernism in all its media--books, art, architecture, music, film--and tries to make a coherent history For the most part, he is very successful...staring with Henry James (modernist!) and ending with Frank Gehry's museum at Bilbao. That's quite a survey. Gay's great skill is in choosing his artists carefully to make a point giving the reader an understanding of his view of modernism.

Sep 21, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have not quite finished this book, but I just want to respond to some book reviews that I have read on this book in New York times and some other publications. While the academic world may criticize this book for lack of novel ideas and perspectives on the modern movement, I think that sometimes we need good books that a normal person can pick up and enjoy an overview of a movement that otherwise they might never have been aware of. This book does that, it draws connections to things in a clea ...more
Jan 22, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Leaves you still searching for the thread that pulls all of Modernism together. But nonetheless is a great overview of the period, especially for someone who isn't clear on the history of painting. This is a great substitute for a couple of college classes. I got the sense though that Modernism was lacking in answering or even attempting to answer any important personal questions. Life's meaning is disregarded in favor of looking for new ways of seeing. I think this is why reading most Modern li ...more
Jan 02, 2008 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
so, I checked this out at a bookstore recently and was shocked to see Gay attempts to offer a synthesis (a singularity, if you will,) to the history of Modernism.

This cannot work. Modernism is not to be traced linearly.

However, after listening to the NYTimes Book Review podcast, I am intrigued enough once again to read the book. The NYTimes critics are such bourgeois assholes. I'll read it and like it to spite them.

I've always wanted to read Gay's history on Weimar culture. So, more Gay Reading.
Mar 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've only really just started it but am totally engrossed. Peter Gay is trying to cover what makes the modernism movement "modernism" and the key people in this movement (across architecture, music, literature, painting, etc).

I already have some modernist names i'll be looking into. Just fantastic

I picked this up at Reading book store in Lygon St Carlton (Melbourne) on the bargain table... I love that bookstore.
Jonathan Walz
Just ok. While there are two or three interesting insights—and I'm always interested in hearing how someone frames this story or how they theorize it—there is too much fluff to make this useful. Too many eccentric notes and sidebars that don't really add anything. Not surprisingly white and masculinist but really? I'll keep it as a reference but Norman Cantor and Joseph Singal are still my go-to's.
Mike  Kelley

A good primer with an appropriate mixture of breadth and depth. Wanted to fill out the knowledge on the movement and was obliged with artist anecdotes and a few enriching observations. Must confess to be more interested in the architectural side of the movement than the literary. Unfortunately am one of those readers obsessed with content and subject matter.
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The son of a glassware maker, Peter Joachim Fröhlich grew up in Germany as the Nazis rose to power. Escaping in 1938 with the rest of his family on the last boat of refugees admitted to Cuba, he gained entry with them to the United States two years later, whereupon he changed his name to Gay. He graduated from the University of Denver in 1946 and earned a master's and doctorate in history from Col ...more
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