My attempts to define modernism either drift into its origins or become unsatisfactorily reductive, so I’ll borrow T. J. Clark’s framing of modernism as ‘a distinctive patterning of mental and technical possibilities’. It’s almost easier to define modernism in negative terms, as what it is against. For example, in literature: a reaction to narrative, to needless artifice. I like Gabriel Josipovici’s suggestion that modernism is art coming to consciousness of its own limits and responsibilities. I’m also fully behind Tom McCarthy’s conception that ‘modernism is not a movement, nor even a way of thinking, but an event: an event with which any serious writer has, in some way or another, to engage, and to which they should respond.’
Even in the context of an article predicated upon – and attempting to come to terms with – how difficult it is to define, can we really say modernism is "a reaction to narrative, to needless artifice"? I don't think we can... Regardless, Anthony Brown and David Winters have a fascinating conversation over on 3:AM working through these definitional problems in a thought-provoking piece. Nice idea doing this as a dialogue: the form is anti-didactic from the get-go and allows both authors to open the problem out knowing full well they'll never close it down. It bears a full response. Am working on it. And countless other things!