Mexican Modernity: The Avant-Garde and the Technological Revolution

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9780262072649: Mexican Modernity: The Avant-Garde and the Technological Revolution

Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize (Modern Language Association) 2005

In Mexican Modernity, Ruben Gallo tells the story of a second Mexican Revolution, a battle fought on the front of cultural representation. The new revolutionaries were not rebels or outlaws but artists and writers; their weapons were cameras, typewriters, radios, and other technological artifacts, and their goal was not to topple a dictator but to dethrone nineteenth-century aesthetics. Gallo tells the story of this other revolution by focusing on five artifacts that left a deep mark on the literature and the arts of the 1920s and 1930s: the camera and its novel techniques for seeing the modern world; the typewriter and its mechanization of literary aesthetics; radio and poetic experiments with wireless communication; cement architecture and its celebration of functional internationalism; and the stadium and its deployment as a mass medium for political spectacle.

Gallo traces the ways artists and writers, armed with these artifacts, revolutionized representation by breaking with the traditional modes of production that had dominated Mexican cultural practices: Tina Modotti rose against the conventions of "artistic" photography by promoting a radically modern photographic aesthetics; typewriting authors rejected the literary precepts of modernismo to celebrate the stridencies of mechanical writing; and young architects abandoned older building materials for the symbolic strength of reinforced concrete.

Gallo uncovers a secret history of Mexican modernity that includes a number of fascinating episodes: the pictorialist backlash against Modotti and Edward Weston; the postcolonial Remingtont typewriter; Mexican radio in the North Pole; the campaign to aestheticize cement through journals and artistic competitions; and the protofascist political spectacles held at Mexico City's National Stadium in the 1920s.

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About the Author:

Rubén Gallo is Director of the Program in Latin American Studies and Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures at Princeton University. He is the author of Mexican Modernity: The Avant-Garde and the Technological Revolution (MIT Press, 2005).

Review:

"Not only insightful, informed, and strikingly original but also fun to read, Gallo's book vividly captures the sense of excitement that accompanied the introduction of modern technology into twentieth-century Mexican culture. I will never look at cement the same way again!"
Gustavo Pérez Firmat, Columbia University

"Rubén Gallo's Mexican Modernity marks an event for cultural studies at large. More than any previous study of its kind, it takes our still-fresh fascination with media history and material culture to a new level, where they greatly advance our philosophical understanding of aesthetic experience under the conditions of modernity. Gallo writes with the joyful admiration of a young enthusiast and the conceptual complexity (and sometimes even the irony) of an intellectual master."
Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Albert Guérard Professor in Literature, Stanford University

"Modernity in Mexico was both strident and discreet, and Rubén Gallo has written a splendidly imaginative history of some of its most remarkable moments and metaphors. Indispensable reading for anyone interested in the interactions of technology and art."
Michael Wood, Charles Barnwell Straut Class of 1923 Professor and Professor of Comparative Literature, Princeton University

"We have long known that the avant-garde is site-specific, such that the aesthetic exploration of every city transforms the genealogy of our modernity. Rubén Gallo's brilliant study is a double revelation: of Mexico City in the light of modernism, and of modern art as inflected by Mexican culture. This exemplary and entertaining work of intellectual history is destined to amuse and amaze."
Allen S. Weiss, Performance Studies and Cinema Studies, New York University, author of Breathless: Sound Recording, Disembodiment, and the Transformation of Lyrical Nostalgia

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