“Modernism in and out of kind: genres, composite genres and new genres” follows the significant inventions by modernist writers, artists, and musicians in the traditional genres of artistic expression. It also connects this experimental thinking about types and kinds to new ways of seeing categories of identity in the established taxonomies of cultural systems – gender and race, politics, art and advertising, and technology.
In the mid-late nineteenth century, Wagner's notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk or total work of art set out to combine the visual and aural materials of operatic production in a newly enriched synthesis. This idea provides a model form and motive concept for some of the most important experimental work in artistic modernism, which includes intervention in existing genres and inventions of new and composite ones. So, the first chapter of this section will outline the concept and challenges of the Gesamtkunstwerk, noting how its intended synthesis also prompts a complementary interest in its opposite, especially in the second-stage iterations of modernism, which witness a compensatory attempt to isolate and radicalize the material and form specific to each art, which Ezra Pound dubbed “its primary pigment.” These two extremes lift and reinforce each other and generate the tensions essential to some of the major work of experimentation in the individual as well as combinatory genres of modernism.
The subsequent chapters in the first half of this section bring these ideas into the several arts, genres, and media of modernism. Chapter 15 takes as its title a well-known phrase, “the condition of music,” to which Walter Pater had enjoined “all arts” to “aspire.” Often repeated as a motto for the generic compositing of modernism, this phrase directs a survey of music aspiring to be modernist in this way but also in other ways: in combining different kinds of aesthetic material within the acoustic register but also, and especially, in being open to the contradictions that being “modern” involves and representing these in a fashion that is not only dramatic but self-reflexive, self-conscious, in effect, modernist.