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Title: The Modern Moment: The Dawn of Cultural Modernity in Spain
Author(s): Ginger, Andrew
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Editor(s): Buffery, H
Davis, S
Hooper, K
Citation: Ginger A (2007) The Modern Moment: The Dawn of Cultural Modernity in Spain. In: Buffery H, Davis S, Hooper K (ed.). Reading Iberia: Theory/History/Identity. Hispanic Studies: Culture and Ideas, 11, Oxford: Peter Lang, pp. 79-103.
Keywords: Modernity
Fortuny Bécquer Laurent
Benjamin Crary Rosenblum Boime Brettell Bayly Bourdieu
impressionism baudelaire flaubert manet
Issue Date: 2007
Series/Report no.: Hispanic Studies: Culture and Ideas, 11
Abstract: There was a truly profound and shared change in key manifestations of Western culture in the mid-nineteenth-century, something that, in that sense at least, could be called distinctively modern. There was indeed a turn to ‘the modern moment’, that obsession with the surface features of ephemeral phenomena and their recollection, which extends to Spain. These developments went well beyond the narrow confines of a Parisian avant-garde or of a polycentric series of national traditions. Neither is the birth of modernism limited to Paris, nor does it take a series of nationally diverse forms. There is, in that sense, from the earliest stages, an international, or at least a transnational modernism. However, a common account of cultural modernism across diverse locations, reinforced by material connections traversing frontiers, functions only at a relatively shallow level of description. Theorists have been mistaken in seeking to equate a common pattern, forming a distinctive modern culture, with a societal or discursive system rooted in a single structural principle, such as a market economy, or the rise of a distinct social class such as the bourgeoisie. In reality, the common features of cultural modernism, the shared evidence of a step-change, are diverse responses to a multiplicity of interacting factors, each impacting on the other to varying degrees. Despite the efforts of some theorists to harness this multiplicity to a single socio-economic principle, revisionist history has taught us to think otherwise: there is no reason to subjugate any of these factors to any of the others. Moreover, commonalities of the ‘modern moment’ in culture cannot be theorised around a narrow definition of what the preoccupation with such moments supposed. But, in that case, the defining commonality of the cultural step-change is at best a fragile historical effect, resting as it does on no single cause, and having, as it does, no single intention. To put it at its harshest, the commonalities of cultural modernism are a complex accident: complex because of the number and diversity of interacting factors and cross-border dialogues to which they respond, and an accident because such a complex series of interactions is not the result of a single necessary cause or intention. We should not be deceived by the apparently imposing uniformity of a major cultural shift. Equally, however, the multifactorial and multifaceted aspect of the cultural commonality, the wealth of interactions and exchanges are perhaps (and perhaps unexpectedly) what lent it its relative stability across frontiers. The apparently common practices of cultural modernism could be undertaken in a variety of situations and guises, and to distinct ends; more still, a series of diverse developments proved mutually supporting insofar as they helped give rise to a common cultural modernism. But recognising this does not imply that we should think of cultural modernism itself as an eschatological structural principle underpinning a supposedly genuinely modern outlook. On the contrary, it is an invitation to reconsider the most fundamental theorisations of modernity through the plural and contingent possibilities that cultural modernism offers us. This is a key task in re-reading modern Iberia.
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