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  • Print publication year: 1998
  • Online publication date: May 2006

11 - The Modernist tradition

from Part 3 - The literary tradition

It is common to begin discussions of Modernism with caveats about the difficulty or impossibility of adequate definition. In the introduction to his recent study of Russian literature of the 1920s, Victor Erlich reminds us of Irving Howe's use of the terms “elusive” and “protean” to characterize Modernism.' In using these words, Howe may appear to be advocating a free-for-all, permissive attitude to the boundaries of Modernism, and it is, indeed, difficult to see how one can be more prescriptive when faced with the vast range of heterogeneous works of art which are, by common consent, “modernist.” Marshall Berman's view of Modernism is more comprehensive than most. For him, it is the artistic expression of an experience of alienation, struggle, and contradiction that has been the normal human condition for an ever increasing number of people for almost five hundred years Berman's stimulating book contains much that is of value to the student of Russian literature, but I believe that his definition of Modernism, one that includes works by Gogol, Dostoevskii, and even Pushkin, is too capacious. Certainly, given such a definition there can be no opposition between Russian Realism and Russian Modernism; while not coterminous, the two overlap hugely.

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The Cambridge Companion to the Classic Russian Novel
  • Online ISBN: 9781139000246
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