The ‘Hauntology’ of Modernism

Hi guys,

I found the Simon Gikandi’s essay ‘Picasso, Africa and the Schemata of Difference’ most interesting so I thought that I’d just do a posting on that article. I’ve not touched modernism for a pretty long time so Gikandi’s essay worked as a pretty good ‘flashback’ for me. What I really took away from this essay was the notion of the kind of conflicts present in modernist aesthetics (kind of mentioned in class, right?).

First, Picasso’s work exemplified how ‘high (western) art’ co-opted/ incorporated ‘low (tribal/ native) art’. As Gikandi argues, if I’m correct, Picasso did not merely use the idea of the primitive in a conceptual way, he also used it in a formal way.  Therefore, Africa contributed to the making of that very movement. Another tension thrown into the mix is the fact that modernists had to ‘set out to defy and deconstruct’ the very institutions of Western culture so that it could be enshrined within it. I’ve been thinking about what makes a module like this different from other modules dealing with the empire, like ’19th Century’ and ‘Asia and Victorians’. My guess is that such tensions and conflicts weren’t exactly present in the Victorian period and the modernist’s aim/ goal was to break free from the influence of those precursors (here we are reminded of T.S. Eliot’s Anxiety of Influence- Gikandi alludes to that but playfully refers to the ‘influence’ as African/ Others in page 458 ). Yet the modernist had to inevitably deal with (and operate within) a particular line of tradition; he could not entirely extricate himself from that web.

Picasso’s method of dealing with these ‘ghosts’, as Gikandi’s use of the term ‘hauntology’ suggests they are, was to ‘invent his own version of the unmodern’, which thereby helped him to secure his status as a ‘modernist’. Rather messy, don’t you think. It’ll be very exciting to actually analyze Picasso’s work in-depth and specifically, to see for ourselves how he dealt with primitive art and African influence. Gikandi’s essay doesn’t cover very much on that, but it goes beyond talking about how the Other is misrepresented or under represented in modernist work. Instead, it tells us more about what their work says about the modernist’s psyche.

One thought on “The ‘Hauntology’ of Modernism