High modernism
High modernism is a particular instance of modernism
Modernism, in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice. More specifically, the term describes the modernist movement, its set of cultural tendencies and array of associated cultural movements, originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society...

, coined towards the end of modernism. "High modernism", like similar names designating intellectual and artistic eras such as "the high Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

" or "the high Baroque
The Baroque is a period and the style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music...

", presumably is meant to specify the most characteristic, developed, consistent, or florid manifestation of modernism. The term is used in literature, criticism, music and the visual arts.

In the arts

Cultural critic Bram Dijkstra
Bram Dijkstra
Bram Dijkstra is a professor of English literature. He joined the faculty of the University of California, San Diego in 1966, and taught there until he retired and became an emeritus in 2000. He is married to the literary agent Sandra Dijkstra.He is the author of seven books on literary and...

 also defines "high modernism" as an austere, abstract, and anti-humanist vision of modernism:
Much of the post-WWII high modernism in America and the rest of the western world is antihumanist, hostile to notions of community, of any form of humanism. It becomes about the lack of meaning, the need to create our own significance out of nothing. The highest level of significance, that of the elite, becomes abstraction. So the concept of the evolutionary elite arises again, deliberately excluding those who 'haven't evolved.'

High modernism is exemplified in the writings of Clement Greenberg
Clement Greenberg
Clement Greenberg was an American essayist known mainly as an influential visual art critic closely associated with American Modern art of the mid-20th century...

, who described an opposition between "avant-garde
Avant-garde means "advance guard" or "vanguard". The adjective form is used in English to refer to people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics....

" art and "kitsch
Kitsch is a form of art that is considered an inferior, tasteless copy of an extant style of art or a worthless imitation of art of recognized value. The concept is associated with the deliberate use of elements that may be thought of as cultural icons while making cheap mass-produced objects that...

" in his essay Avant-Garde and Kitsch
Avant-Garde and Kitsch
Avant-Garde and Kitsch is the title of a 1939 essay by Clement Greenberg, first published in the Partisan Review, in which he claimed that avant-garde and modernist art was a means to resist the 'dumbing down' of culture caused by consumerism...

. In music
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

, the twelve-tone compositions of the Second Viennese School
Second Viennese School
The Second Viennese School is the group of composers that comprised Arnold Schoenberg and his pupils and close associates in early 20th century Vienna, where he lived and taught, sporadically, between 1903 and 1925...

 and especially their post-World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 followers such as Milton Babbitt
Milton Babbitt
Milton Byron Babbitt was an American composer, music theorist, and teacher. He is particularly noted for his serial and electronic music.-Biography:...

 expressed the astringent qualities associated with high modernism. Babbitt's well known essay Who Cares if You Listen praises "efficiency" and "simplification" as two of the virtues sought by serial music.

In architecture
Architecture is both the process and product of planning, designing and construction. Architectural works, in the material form of buildings, are often perceived as cultural and political symbols and as works of art...

, the International Style
International style (architecture)
The International style is a major architectural style that emerged in the 1920s and 1930s, the formative decades of Modern architecture. The term originated from the name of a book by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson, The International Style...

 of uniformly rectangular, unornamented chrome, concrete, and glass buildings, as pioneered by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was a German architect. He is commonly referred to and addressed as Mies, his surname....

, Walter Gropius
Walter Gropius
Walter Adolph Georg Gropius was a German architect and founder of the Bauhaus School who, along with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, is widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of modern architecture....

 and the Bauhaus
', commonly known simply as Bauhaus, was a school in Germany that combined crafts and the fine arts, and was famous for the approach to design that it publicized and taught. It operated from 1919 to 1933. At that time the German term stood for "School of Building".The Bauhaus school was founded by...

, and Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier
Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier , was a Swiss-born French architect, designer, urbanist, writer and painter, famous for being one of the pioneers of what now is called modern architecture. He was born in Switzerland and became a French citizen in 1930...

, are thought to be an expression of the austerity associated with high modernism.

"High modernism" is often used pejorative
Pejoratives , including name slurs, are words or grammatical forms that connote negativity and express contempt or distaste. A term can be regarded as pejorative in some social groups but not in others, e.g., hacker is a term used for computer criminals as well as quick and clever computer experts...

ly by those who find these works of art distasteful (just as "conceptual art" is used pejoratively by its detractors, etc.).

In politics and culture

Le Corbusier famously called his austere white buildings "machine
A machine manages power to accomplish a task, examples include, a mechanical system, a computing system, an electronic system, and a molecular machine. In common usage, the meaning is that of a device having parts that perform or assist in performing any type of work...

s for living". The "International Style" called itself "international" precisely because its exponents cultivated indifference to location, site, and climate.

Extending this original usage, James C. Scott
James C. Scott
James C. Scott is Sterling Professor of Political Science, formerly Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Anthropology at Yale University. He is also the director of the Program in Agrarian Studies. By training, he is a southeast Asianist.- Research topics :James Scott's work focuses...

's writings use "high modernism" as a disparaging label for a cluster of beliefs revolving around faith in "progress
Progress (history)
In historiography and the philosophy of history, progress is the idea that the world can become increasingly better in terms of science, technology, modernization, liberty, democracy, quality of life, etc...

" that he finds distastefully technocratic and authoritarian
Authoritarianism is a form of social organization characterized by submission to authority. It is usually opposed to individualism and democracy...

. Scott defines "high modernism" as:
. . a strong, one might even say muscle-bound, version of the self-confidence about scientific and technical progress, the expansion of production, the growing satisfaction of human needs, the mastery of nature (including human nature), and above all, the rational design of social order commensurate with the scientific understanding of natural laws.

Scott sees "high modernism" as an ideology that transcends the traditional divisions between the political "left" and "right"; it could be found wherever anyone wished to use state power to bring about utopia
Utopia is an ideal community or society possessing a perfect socio-politico-legal system. The word was imported from Greek by Sir Thomas More for his 1516 book Utopia, describing a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean. The term has been used to describe both intentional communities that attempt...

n changes in people's work habits, living patterns, moral conduct
Morality is the differentiation among intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good and bad . A moral code is a system of morality and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code...

, or worldview. High modernism accepts the "blank slate": it believes that human beings and human societies can be successfully reordered by planners at will. It requires a centralized bureaucracy to gather information about people and places, which it conceives of as human
Human capital
Human capitalis the stock of competencies, knowledge and personality attributes embodied in the ability to perform labor so as to produce economic value. It is the attributes gained by a worker through education and experience...

 and physical capital
Physical capital
In economics, physical capital or just 'capital' refers to any already-manufactured asset that is applied in production, such as machinery, buildings, or vehicles. In economic theory, physical capital is one of the three primary factors of production, also known as inputs in the production function...

. It finally requires the existence of a state powerful enough to enact its plans upon the lives of its subjects. It involved the imposition of order upon cities, villages, and farms by planners. Engineers, architects, scientists, and technicians of various sorts were its chief implementers.

Scott's use of "high modernism" calls to mind bureaucrats
A bureaucracy is an organization of non-elected officials of a governmental or organization who implement the rules, laws, and functions of their institution, and are occasionally characterized by officialism and red tape.-Weberian bureaucracy:...

 imposing standardization
Standardization is the process of developing and implementing technical standards.The goals of standardization can be to help with independence of single suppliers , compatibility, interoperability, safety, repeatability, or quality....

, indifferent to the nuances of local cultures. In his vision, they blindly crush communities and local, organic institutions and cultures as inconveniences in the quest for central planning. In this, he draws on the thought of Jane Jacobs
Jane Jacobs
Jane Jacobs, was an American-Canadian writer and activist with primary interest in communities and urban planning and decay. She is best known for The Death and Life of Great American Cities , a powerful critique of the urban renewal policies of the 1950s in the United States...

 and her critique of urban renewal
Urban renewal
Urban renewal is a program of land redevelopment in areas of moderate to high density urban land use. Renewal has had both successes and failures. Its modern incarnation began in the late 19th century in developed nations and experienced an intense phase in the late 1940s – under the rubric of...

 and planning
Urban planning
Urban planning incorporates areas such as economics, design, ecology, sociology, geography, law, political science, and statistics to guide and ensure the orderly development of settlements and communities....

. In Scott's view, "high modernism" is any of a number of elitist ideologies
An ideology is a set of ideas that constitutes one's goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things , as in common sense and several philosophical tendencies , or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to...

 that must be imposed by officials who imagine that they know better than local people do about how to arrange their lives. Planners seek to impose "legibility" and "simplification" on their subjects; as a result, government
Government refers to the legislators, administrators, and arbitrators in the administrative bureaucracy who control a state at a given time, and to the system of government by which they are organized...

s require everyone to use the same system of surname
A surname is a name added to a given name and is part of a personal name. In many cases, a surname is a family name. Many dictionaries define "surname" as a synonym of "family name"...

s, erase local systems of weights and measures in favour of uniform, promulgated standards, and statistical tests that measure what is of interest to the rulers rather than the people whom they govern.

In literature

The term "high modernism" as used in literary criticism generally lacks the pejorative connotations it has in other contexts. High literary modernism, on the contrary, is generally used to describe a subgenre of literary modernism, and generally encompasses works published between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Second
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Regardless of the specific year it was produced, high modernism is characterized primarily by a complete and unambiguous embrace of what Andreas Huyssen calls the "Great Divide." That is, it believes that there is a clear distinction between capital-A Art and mass culture, and it places itself firmly on the side of Art and in opposition to popular or mass culture. (Postmodernism, according to Huyssen, may be defined precisely by its rejection of this distinction.) Lists of canonical
Canonical is an adjective derived from canon. Canon comes from the greek word κανών kanon, "rule" or "measuring stick" , and is used in various meanings....

 high modernists

For further reading

  • Tom Wolfe
    Tom Wolfe
    Thomas Kennerly "Tom" Wolfe, Jr. is a best-selling American author and journalist. He is one of the founders of the New Journalism movement of the 1960s and 1970s.-Early life and education:...

    's two books of art criticism, The Painted Word
    The Painted Word
    - Background :By the 1970s Wolfe was, according to Douglas Davis of Newsweek magazine "more of a celebrity than the celebrities he describes." The success of Wolfe's previous books, in particular The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in 1968 and Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers in 1970, had...

    (Bantam, 1975: ISBN 0-553-38065-6), on painting, and From Bauhaus to Our House
    From Bauhaus to Our House
    From Bauhaus to Our House is a 1981 narrative of Modern architecture, written by Tom Wolfe.- Background :In 1975 Wolfe made his first foray into art criticism with The Painted Word, in which he argued that art theory had become too pervasive because the art world was controlled by a small elitist...

    (Bantam, 1981: ISBN 0-553-38063-X), on architecture, are satirical
    Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

    tours of the pretentiousness of modern art.

External links

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