Modernism

Arguably no word maps the kind of cultural shifts in language that Raymond Williams (1976) was documenting better than “modernism.” At its simplest this is because of its roots in the word “modern.” Inevitably, what is modern at one time eventually becomes dated and of its time, and so from the first recorded use of that root word in 1500, through the appearance of the word “modernism” itself in 1737, to the fin de siècle, it was a shifting signifier, referring to the present of any given period, rather than a specific historical moment or movement (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary). There have been, then, many modernisms, all at some level suggesting “a sense of forward-looking contemporaneity” (Wilk 2006). Toward the end of the nineteenth century, however, a new set of understandings started to come into play, and eventually the meaning of modernism became more fixed. It is now …

This essay may be found on page 151 of the printed volume.

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