Countering Modernity: Toward a Nondualist Basis for Art Education By David Gall


This book focuses on the competing legacies of modernity/modernism and countermodernity/countermodernism. They are regarded, however, as tendencies, hybridities, and intensities rather than purities. The “toward” in its subtitle recognizes that even if university education has made progress in fostering greater equality, it still has a way to go. More diagnostic than curative, it uncovers the legacies of the distortion of difference, or centrism, in modernity and modernism, exercised especially in Euro-Western history, and legacies of countermodern tendencies that opposed them. Modernist distortion of difference was profoundly expressed in the reduction of black human beings to the status of objects in the institution of slavery. It was also expressed in the elevation of particular objects to the status of cultural icons possessed of subjectivity, through the peculiar definition given to the concept “art” in emerging imperial nationalist and capitalist global culture. In historical discourse distorted difference was institutionalized when the term “modern,” implying present superior to the past, was appropriated to refer exclusively to a specific historic period and culture, (generally) eighteenth to the first half of twentieth century European history and culture. The term postmodern attests to success of the appropriation, to magnitude of its conceit, and to the subtle way it is interwoven with countermodern currents. Discursive insistence on modernity’s plurality and relativity, seeks to redress the imbalanced through recognition of different modernities, but distributes modernity’s conceit.

The aims of this text, therefore, are: to review modernity and modernism from nondualist perspectives; to disentangle dualist modernist tendencies from nondualist countermodernist tendencies and to trace and distinguish their threads interwoven in imperial and colonial histories and in art discourse, and finally to present a case where art objects are the source of nondualist aesthetic, and examples of countermodern response to the challenges of modernist conceit.

The book has four sections. The four chapters of Section one, “Imperial anxiety, Hybridity and Art,” elaborate the interrelationship between the overarching anxiety that characterizes modernism, hybridity/impurity—one of the sources of modernity’s anxiety, and art, the repository and icon of cultural freedom and autonomy . Section 2 moves the text’s narrative to the Victorian era in which Briton becomes the global superpower.Spectacle art and art education are seen as integral to ensuring global regard of Britain as the most sovereign of sovereign European nations. Section 3, “Purities and impurities: Imperial aesthetics and colonial resistance,” examines in greater depth the assumption that Euro-Western culture created the concept “Art,” ostensibly a modern construct taking off from the Renaissance. Section 4, “Modern Orientals and Primitives: Verbal and Non-Verbal Interventions in Modernity,” presents Tagore’s Visva-Bharati University as an attempt to found university education on nondualist principles. Representation of Visva-Bharati’s success is frequently compromised by tendencies to pin it to Tagore’s aesthetics and ideas.