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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Part 3

Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 3, Introduction Summary: “Baudelaire: Modernism in the Streets”

In the Introduction to Part 3, Berman examines how Charles Baudelaire encapsulates the essence of modernism, providing profound insights into modernity and its impact on culture and society. Baudelaire, identified as potentially the first modernist, is celebrated for his acute awareness of the modern condition, characterized by fleeting moments, ephemeral beauty, and the interplay between the temporary and the eternal. Berman outlines Baudelaire’s effort to distance his work from the classical fixations of his time, advocating for art that reflects the distinctive characteristics of the contemporary world, thus capturing the unique “modernity” of his era.

Baudelaire’s perspectives on modern life, though sometimes appearing contradictory, are discussed for their rich and complex portrayal of modern experiences. Berman navigates through Baudelaire’s simplistic celebrations of modern life, which birthed modes of pastoral and counter-pastoral reflections, moving toward more nuanced and critical interpretations. These reflections include both “modernolatry,” the idolization of the modern, and “cultural despair,” a critique of modernity’s failings. Berman suggests that Baudelaire’s work, by embracing the contradictions inherent in modern life and resisting simple resolutions, offers a template for understanding the multifaceted nature of modernism itself.

Through this exploration, Berman highlights the intimate connection between the material and spiritual aspects of modern life, challenging the contemporary tendency to separate “modernism” (spiritual) from “modernization” (material).