65 pages 2 hours read

Marshall Berman

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1982

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Important Quotes

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“To be modern is to live a life of paradox and contradiction. It is to be overpowered by the immense bureaucratic organizations that have the power to control and often to destroy all communities, values, lives; and yet to be undeterred in our determination to face these forces, to fight to change the world and make it our own.”

(Preface, Page 13)

Berman describes the tension between the overwhelming power of bureaucratic organizations and the undeterred spirit of the individual. This juxtaposition reflects the essential paradox of modernity and the dual nature of modern existence, where individuals are simultaneously controlled and inspired to change their world. Berman emphasizes this dynamic as central to the modern experience and advocates for a recognition and confrontation with the powerful external forces that shape the lives of modern people.

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“And yet everything he has achieved rings hollow, everything around him looks like a pile of junk. He talks endlessly to himself and says he hasn’t lived at all.”

(Part 1, Chapter 1, Page 41)

Berman describes the contrast between Faust’s outer success and inner void through the juxtaposition of his achievements with the imagery of “a pile of junk.” This stark disparity emphasizes the theme of existential dissatisfaction prevalent in modern literature, showcasing Berman’s ability to probe the depths of human emotion and the search for meaning beyond material success.

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“The angelic child Faust loves disappears before his eyes; love makes her grow up.”

(Part 1, Chapter 2, Page 54)

This observation is made about Gretchen’s rapid maturation as a result of her relationship with Faust. She loses her innocence as she confronts the complexities of love, desire, and societal judgment. This quote uses Gretchen’s transformation as a metaphor for the loss of innocence and the painful acquisition of knowledge—a key theme in the Faust legend and Romantic literature.