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 4

Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 4, Introduction Summary: "Petersburg: The Modernism of Underdevelopment”

In the Introduction to Part 4, Berman examines how 19th-century Russia, and particularly its imperial capital, St. Petersburg, served as a unique stage for modernist expression against a backdrop of economic stagnation and underdevelopment. This setting provides a sharp contrast to the rapid modernization occurring in Western Europe and parallels the challenges faced by the 20th-century Third World. Berman argues that Russia’s literary golden age, fueled by its economic lethargy, fostered profound explorations of modern life and gave rise to enduring modernist symbols, such as the Little Man, the Superfluous Man, and the Underground—terms that refer to recurring themes in Russian literature reflecting societal malaise and individual alienation.

St. Petersburg, envisioned as Russia’s window to the West, epitomizes the complexity of Russian modernity—symbolizing both imperial ambition and the country's struggle with its identity and place in the modern world. Unlike the dynamic urban transformations in cities like Paris or London, St. Petersburg's experience of modernity is marked by absence, fantasy, or failure, leading to a body of literature that probes the depths of modern existential and societal dilemmas. Berman concentrates on the city's internal contradictions, sidestepping the common comparisons between Petersburg and Moscow or the countryside.