The cultural and intellectual history Essay


Modernism, in the general view, is the modern idea or practice. Specifically, modernism illustrates the cultural tendencies and movement. It originally rose from wide-paced changes in the Western society during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Modernism covers the ideas that the traditional forms of society such as art, architecture, literature, religion and daily life were becoming outdated. In the current era of the new economic, social and political thought, traditional thinking does not seem to amalgamate

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Modernism discarded the protracted certainty of Enlightenment way of thinking, which considers that there exists a compassionate and all-powerful Creator. Although it is not state that all Modernists or Modernist movements rejected all aspect of religion or Enlightenment thought. Rather, Modernism can be considered as a perplexing the axioms of previous ages. A significant attribute of Modernism is self-consciousness. It is the form wherein the person is aware of his character and society. This often led to experiments with that draw attention to the processes and materials exercised which further scrutinize the tendency of abstraction.

The ideology that history and civilization were intrinsically progressive and that progress was always beneficial was under increasing attack from the 1870s onward due to Modernism. Writers Wagner and Ibsen had been detested for their own assessment of contemporary civilization and for their advices that quickening “progress” would guide to the creation of individuals separate from social values and isolated from their equal men. Contentions arose that the values of the artist and those of society were not only different, but that Society was adversative to Progress, and could not move forward in its current form. Philosophers argued that the traditional way of thinking was Optimism. The Modernist work of Schopenhauer was branded as pessimistic for its idea of the “negation of the will”, an idea which was diligently analyzed by Modernist thinkers such as Nietzsche.

An example of the Modernist literature would be the play of Luigi Pirandello. His play “Six Characters in Search of an Author” suggests that we are more victims of forces we cannot manage our own fate but rather act as captained of our destiny. It demonstrates Pirandello’s perception that places a continuous ego or self are states of mind, masks or personae. (Pirandello, 1921) The temporary effect of forces brought to bear on us at that in every instant. The self develop into an anthology of such roles or masks. Theatricality changed as Modernism took its place. The play of Pirandello showed the others side of human nature which was not considered before. As in theater, he showed that man should take off masks, try out various roles, and make up our lives as we go along.

José Ortega y Gasset was also a part of Modernism. He perceived that literature is masquerading philosophy. He was surprised by the works of authors like Pirandello and the disappearance of human characters familiar from the works of Dickens. He believed that artists should create works that are content to the artists. (Gasset, 1951) He labeled the new art as an escape from realism and from humanity. He said that an artist should be true to his calling. Ortega wrote in his work entitled Dehumanization of Art that artists should have a vision. A quote from the book that:

 “A novelist, for instance, who tells me that a character is morose, makes me work to imagine a morose person, but he should show me and make me discover that so-and-so is morose without telling me.”  (Gasset, 1951)

The line presented in The Dehumanization of Art, in which the term “dehumanization” pointed to the materialization of the modernist painting, which has abolished the human figure and metaphors. It observes the perception that the attribute of art is not based primarily on its content but on its form. This is one of the characteristic of the emerging modernism.
Critical Theory

Critical theory is the assessment and critique of society and literature, extracted from knowledge across social sciences and humanities disciplines of Europe. The term has two quite separate meanings with unlike origins and histories, one derived from the social theory and the other from literary criticism. Though lately, these two implications had hardly to do with each other, since the 1970s there has been some coincide between these meanings. This has led for critical theory developing into an umbrella expression for a collection of theories in English-speaking academia.

The original meaning of the term critical theory was that defined by Max Horkheimer from the Frankfurt School of social science in 1937. He said that critical theory is a social theory leaning toward critiquing and altering society as a whole, in contrast to traditional theory which was only oriented to understanding or explaining society. Horkheimer wanted to differentiate critical theory as a radical, emancipator form of Marxian theory. It was critiquing both the model of science put ahead by logical positivism and and authoritarianism of orthodox Marxism and communism.

The second meaning of critical theory is that of theory used in literary criticism and the scrutiny and comprehension of literature. This is discussed as the greater detail under literary theory. The critical theory is not essentially tilting regarding radical social change or even toward the study of society, but as an alternative, it concentrates on the analysis of texts. It originated among literary scholars and in the discipline of literature in the 1960s and 1970s. It was significantly inclined by the literary studies influenced by European philosophy and social theory. The two meaning of critical theory brought about different implications for various scholars and artists.

Sigmund Freud’s book entitled Civilization and its Discontent can be classified among the critical theory. In this influential book, Sigmund Freud specifies the fundamental conflicts between civilization and the individual. The principal friction comes from the individual’s quest for genuine freedom and civilization’s opposing demand for compliance and underlying repression. Many of humankind’s primitive instincts and absolute freedom, like the yearning to kill and the voracious desire for sexual gratification, are evidently detrimental to the well-being of a human community. (Freud, 1958) As a result, civilization creates laws that prohibit killing, rape, and adultery, and it implements severe punishments if such commandments are broken. This process, argues Freud, is an inherent quality of civilization that instills perpetual feelings of discontent in its citizens. The work of Freud exemplifies the critique and analysis of modern day society.

The play Jean-Paul Satre can also be looked into the Critical Theory. The play is characterizing sin for each of the three protagonists was terrible behavior in a three-way intimate relationship. The normal aspect that is dealt with sin in the society is an element that would contribute to the deliverance to hell. In the play, hell has been prearranged so that they are sealed for eternity in an discomfited relationship of three persons with sexual interest as expressed among them. Sartre and his life partner Simone de Beauvoir themselves lived in several polyandrous triad relationships in which Sartre wrote No Exit. It has thus been argued that the hotel room is intended not as a hell but as a purgatory, from which the characters can yet achieve salvation by learning to care for each other well in a relationship of three as they never did in life. It implicates that there is no possibility of physical escape. It also lingers the though that if hell is other people, so must be heaven. It is a analytical view on the conformity of society believing that hell is beyond a person’s life but rather hell can also be seen the society. (Sartre, 1958)

Literature of Great Circumstances

            The literature of great circumstances mostly deals with the conformity with the historical aspect of society. It entails a heavy regard for conditions that happens in the society. Most of the works from the literature of great circumstances are associated with modernism because it shifts from the traditional standpoint of society. An example of a literary work from great circumstances would be by Milan Kundera entitled The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Set in Prague in 1968, the novel features the circumstances of the lives of artists and scholars in Communist Czechoslovakia in the rouse of the Prague Spring, and the succeeding assault by the USSR. (Kundera, 1982)

Kundera’s book challenges this idea and offering an alternative that each of us has only one life to live, and what happens once will never occur again. He called this term as lightness. The book looks at life by this logic, that life is eventually insignificant and in a definitive sense, no solitary choice matters. Since decisions do not matter, they are light and causes us great suffering. Hence the prodigy of Kundera term as the unbearable lightness of being occurs only once and never returns, no one’s actions have any universal significance. This idea is believed excruciating because as humans we want our lives to mean something, for their significance to expand beyond just our instantaneous environment. (Kundera, 1982) The thought that circulates the book also shows a modernist view of society.

Ignazio Silone first published Bread and Wine in 1936 can also be considered as literature of great circumstances because it embodies the nature of situation wherein Socialism and Christianity correspond. Through the character of Pietro Spina, Silone tries to progress a balance between Socialism and Christianity, two conventions which seem to be natural enemies of each other. (Silone, 1936) Silone does not believe that one organization must be ruined in order for the other to exist. Rather he visualizes a world where Socialism and Christianity coincide for the goodness of all humanity. Through Pietro Spina, who disguises himself as Paulo Spada to avoid captivity by the Fascist government, it views Silone’s justification of both Socialism and Christianity, and his endeavor to form equilibrium between these two ostensibly conflicting institutions.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche was a nineteenth-century German philosopher and classical philologist. He wrote critical works on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy, and science, displaying a liking for metaphor and aphorism. Nietzsche’s impact remains considerable within philosophy, notably in existentialism and modernism. His style and drastic questioning of the value and objectivity of truth have resulted in much remarks and interpretation, frequently in the continental tradition, and to a lesser degree in analytic philosophy. His key ideas include the interpretation of tragedy as an affirmation of life, an eternal, a rejection of Platonism, and a repudiation of both Christianity and egalitarianism.

Nietzsche philosophy tackled many aspect of the society. In morality, he calls himself an “immoralist” and harshly criticizes the prominent moral schemes of his day. However, Nietzsche did not want to obliterate morality, but rather to instigate a re-evaluation of the morals of the Judeo-Christian world. He designates his desire to bring about a new, more naturalistic cause of value in the vital impulses of life itself. (Nietzsche ; Kaufmann, 1954)

Nietzsche’s genealogical account of the development of master-slave morality occupies a central place. Nietzsche presents master-morality as the original system of morality — perhaps best associated with Homeric Greece. (Nietzsche & Kaufmann, 1954) Here, value arises as a contrast between good and bad, or between life-affirming and life-denying such as wealth, strength, health, and power count as good. On the other hand, associated as negative was with the poor, weak, sick, and pathetic. Nietzsche said that society should be the reflection of classical Greece.

The statement “God is dead,” occurring in several of Nietzsche’s works notably in The Gay Science, has turn out to be one of his best-known remarks. Nietzsche claimed the death of God would ultimately lead to the loss of any unanimous perspective in the society, and along with it, any rational sense of unprejudiced truth. He asserted that teleology, the moral world order and unegoistic evil will vanish with the death of God. (Nietzsche ; Kaufmann, 1954) Instead, we would retain only our own multiple, diverse, and fluid perspectives. This view was considered as perspectivism.

A very important element of Nietzsche’s philosophical view is the will to power or der Wille zur Macht. It provides a basis for comprehending motivation in human behavior. It suggests a greater aspect of adaptability and survivability for humans. In its later forms Nietzsche’s idea of the will to power employs to all living things, signifying that adaptation and the tussle to survive is an inferior drive in the evolution of animals, less imperative than the desire to expand power. (Nietzsche ; Kaufmann, 1954) He was famous for the “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”. Nietzsche eventually took this concept further still, and transformed the idea of matter as centers of force into matter as centers of will to power. Nietzsche liked to dispense with the theory of matter in the will to power. One study of Nietzsche describes his fully-developed concept of the will to power as the element from which obtained both the quantitative distinction of related forces and the quality that delegate into each force in this relation. It revealed the will to power as the principle of the synthesis of forces. (Nietzsche ; Kaufmann, 1954)

The principle of eternal return was also an important philosophy of Nietzsche. His view on eternal return is comparable to that of David Hume in which the idea that an eternal recurrence of blind, worthless variation would unavoidably emit up worlds whose development through time would capitulate to the evidently meaningful lives. (Nietzsche ; Kaufmann, 1954) This idea of eternal reappearance became a foundation of Nietzsche nihilism, and thus part of the basis of existentialism. Nietzsche was so impressed by this idea, that he at first thought he had discovered a new scientific proof of the greatest importance. He gradually backed off from this view, and in later works referred to it as a thought-experiment. The work of Milan Kundera was even influenced by the principle of return.


Freud, S. (1958). Civilization and its discontents: Doubleday.

Gasset, J. O. y. (1951). The Dehumanization of Art: P. Smith.

Kundera, M. (1982). The Unbearable Lightness of Being: 68 Publishers.

Nietzsche, F. W., ; Kaufmann, W. (1954). The Portable Nietzsche: Viking Press.

Pirandello, L. (1921). Six Characters in Search of an Author Newton Compton.

Sartre, J.-P. (1958). No exit.

Silone, I. (1936). Bread and Wine: Signet Classic.