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This review is taken from PN Review 6, Volume 5 Number 2, January - March 1979.

MODERNISM AND BEYOND Peter Ackroyd, Notes for a New Culture: An Essay on Modernism, Vision Press, £3.40.

This book is not one in which to look for close-grained and exhaustive description and argument and hence, since the polemic it directs against standard English culture (Rod Stewart complemented to Philip Larkin: something to confirm the broad sympathies of a certain type of cultural consumer) is based on an analysis of three hundred years of cultural history, is rather too easily dismissed or ignored. In a series of chapters dealing variously with Modernism, Aesthetics, Language, the Self, Humanism, and Modernism once more, Peter Ackroyd marks out his terrain with aphoristic panache, but unless the reader has previously covered much of the same ground for himself he is likely to feel that such a selective system of coordinate references is too restricted to map the kind of exclusive argument that is intended. This confirmatory procedure, by which it is enjoined upon the reader to connect the various stages of the analysis, is one of the book's two strategic defects, but since the risks entailed are ones which the author must have undertaken willingly it is not one with which to reproach him very strenuously. The second defect is more radical: Ackroyd's critique of contemporary English culture follows logically from the analysis of a tradition of aesthetic humanism from which it is seen to derive, yet it is not clear from his remarks about the condition of our culture (presented as an amalgam of subjective and realistic modes) whether he sees it merely as the present phase in the development ...


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