The First Moderns
|Author||William R. Everdell|
|Subject||Modernism, Philosophy, Mathematics, History of ideas, Art history|
|Publisher||University of Chicago Press|
The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth-Century Thought is a book on Modernism by historian William Everdell, published in 1997 by the University of Chicago Press. A New York Times Notable Book of 1997, and included by the New York Public Library on its list of "25 Books to Remember from 1997," The First Moderns suggests that "the heart of Modernism is the postulate of ontological discontinuity."
Background and overview
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Everdell, Dean of Humanities at Saint Ann's School in Brooklyn Heights, posits that Modernism first emerged in the field of mathematics rather than the arts, specifically in the work of German mathematician Richard Dedekind, who, in 1872, demonstrated that mathematicians operate without a continuum; this represents the formalization of Everdell's axiom of "ontological discontinuity," which he goes on to examine in a multiplicity of contexts. He examines this emerging framework of discreteness in science (Ludwig Boltzmann's mechanics, Cajal's neuroscience, Hugo de Vries's conception of the gene and Planck's quantum work, Einstein's physics); mathematics, logic, and philosophy (Georg Cantor, Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell and the linguistic turn, Husserl and the beginnings of phenomenology); in addition to the arts (James Joyce's novels, Picasso's Demoiselles D'Avignon, Schoenberg's twelve-tone music).
Critics largely reviewed The First Moderns favorably, appreciating Everdell's interdisciplinary approach, in publications including the New York Review of Books, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic Michael Dirda considers it among his "favorites."
- "Notable Books of the Year 1997", The New York Times, December 7, 1997. Accessed July 11, 2017.
- William R. Everdell, The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth-Century Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 351
- "25 Books to Remember from 1997". The New York Public Library. Retrieved 2019-01-26.
- William R. Everdell, "It's About Time. It's About Space.", The New York Times, August 17, 2003. Accessed July 28 2017.
- Jim Holt, "Infinitesimally Yours", review of William R. Everdell, The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth Century Thought, New York Review of Books, May 20, 1999. "Drawing together such disparate manifestations as Seurat's pointillism, Muybridge's stop-motion photography, the poetry of Whitman, Rimbaud, and Laforgue, the tone rows of Schoenberg, and the novels of Joyce, the author [Everdell] makes an engrossing and persuasive case for his claim that 'the heart of Modernism is the postulate of ontological discontinuity'"
- Hugh Kenner, "A Change of Mind, review of William R. Everdell, The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth Century Thought, The New York Times, June 29, 1997. "The change started to happen in the 1870's [sic], and not, as William R. Everdell arrestingly demonstrates in The First Moderns, in painting or in literature but in number theory. He's aware that word-focused people will be startled: Everyone who has heard of modernism has heard of Picasso. Most have heard of Joyce. But who has heard of Dedekind? Yet it was an 1872 pamphlet of Richard Dedekind's that first, to use the terminology of 19th-century positivism, rigorized modernism's generic concept -- which, as Everdell reveals, is discontinuity."
- Frederic Morton, "Deconstructing Modernism", review of William R. Everdell, The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth Century Thought, Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1997. "The First Moderns brilliantly maps the beginning of a path at whose end loom as many diasporas as there are men."
- Dirda, Stephen (December 23, 2007). "MODERNISM". The Washington Post.