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New Left Review I/167, January-February 1988

Franco Moretti

Words Words Words: A Reply to Tony Pinkney

‘Modernism’ and the ‘Avant-garde’ are not synonymous terms’. Tony Pinkney is absolutely right in saying so, in stressing the relevance of Bürger’s book (which, alas, had not been published at the time I wrote my article), and in pointing to the terminological ‘slide’ in the opening sentences of ‘The Spell of Indecision’. I believe, however, that the reason for the slide is not conceptual (after all, it must be clear that I am discussing Modernity-and-Modernism, not the Avant-garde), but lexical in character: in Italian, the standard term for ‘Modernism’ is ‘Avanguardia’, and that adjective early in my article is probably the punishment for trying to write in two languages at once. Ironically, the Italian draft employed the neologism ‘Modernismo’ precisely in order to avoid the conceptual confusion which Pinkney deplores—a linguistic choice, I am sorry to add, that an Italian critic promptly unmasked as a ridiculous act of submission to Anglo-American cultural imperialism.

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