Modernism and Concealed Surfaces

  • “Profundity must be concealed. Where? On the surface.” Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929), an Austrian modernist writer, is here remarking on a central modernist principle. The idea is that profound truths are no longer to be thought of as hidden or revealed (or hidden-in-order-to-be-revealed), as many religions or philosophies will have it.

For modernist writers and artists, profundity and meaning sit on the surface of a work, showing the operations of artistic style and technique, since it’s these aesthetic operations that truly express what the world and modern human life is all about.  The line quoted is from Hofmannsthal’s The Book of Friends (1922) and comes by way of an energetic review of Ben Hutchinson’s Modernism and Style, written by Robert Vilain for the TLS (Feb 22. 2013 issue, subscription required). (Originally posted March 20, 2013)