Modernism has been customarily identified with the reign of purified artistic form. Yet we know that it is equally often the (staged) irruption of potent subterranean contents, such as nature, myth, the irrational or the unconscious, the primitive, race, sexuality. It is the moment of rampant subjectivity, exercising total domination over materials, but equally of rampant essences that mold or mock the ego. It is associated no less with heightened subjective expression than it is with the opposite: depersonalization, objectivity, ontology. The essay attempts to theorize this seeming contradiction, arguing that a dialectical trajectory connects its two extremes. The discussion moves from an immanent critique of formalism to a model of the modernist work as “apparition,” an immanence that “presents itself.” It concludes by insisting that this dialectical trajectory be seen as a historically determined movement.

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