Modernism

Arguably, no word maps the kind of cultural shifts in language that Raymond Williams (1976, 1983b) 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. So from the first recorded use of that root word in 1500, to the appearance of the word modernism itself in 1737, to the fin de siècle, it was a shifting signifier, referring to the current present of any given period rather than a specific historical moment or movement (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary). There have been, then, many modernisms, at some level all 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. …

This essay may be found on page 123 of the printed volume.

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