chapter  2
15 Pages


The days when one could sit down with an easy mind to write an account of something called “modernism” are over. One might have thought that the opposite would be the case since it has become common, over the past 25 years or so, for writers on culture to insist that this term labels a phenomenon of the past. At least in the restricted field of art history, the closure of “modernism,” thus detached from the original reference to the chronological present, might have been expected to have given the concept definability as a stylistic term. But it has not. Earlier definitional orthodoxies, such as that embodied in Alfred Barr’s famous diagram of the history of abstract art, or Clement Greenberg’s various formulations, no longer have their former power. The complexity, incompleteness, and hesitation that mark a notable recent attempt at a conceptualization, T. J. Clark’s Farewell to an Idea,1 suggest that the purported end of modernism has if anything made the task more difficult.