PRINT May 1999


T.J. Clark

ANYONE LOOKING FOR A SYSTEMATIC ACCOUNT of modernism in T.J. Clark's new book, Farewell to an Idea, will be disappointed. Clark, whose foundational work in the social history of art has furnished some of the strongest readings of cultural modernity to date, does not fail at producing such a comprehensive theory—it is simply not his objective. Like a good postmodernist (which he is not), Clark knows that overarching systems are impossible, although this knowledge, one feels, is uncomfortable for him. Systems, after all, are what modernism seemed to promise. Wouldn't we all want to believe in the possibility of remaking the world perceptually with the gorgeous toolbox of modernist abstraction? Don't we all (at least on some level) want to produce a diagram like Alfred Barr's unutterably poignant flowchart of modernism—poignant because, like Borges's map, its complexity can only reproduce

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