The New Criterion‘s latest issue is a memorial to Hilton Kramer, the recently deceased art and culture critic known for his acerbic wit. There’s plenty to read about all aspects of his life, from the professional to the personal, over at their website, but Roger Kimball’s feature essay is particularly worth a look. He attempts to explain why Kramer was such an ardent supporter of modernism in art, architecture, and literature and yet such a vociferous opponent of postmodernism:
If modernism, as Hilton put it, remains “the only really vital tradition that the art of our time can claim as its own,” it was not because of its association with abstract or other “experimental” forms of art. It was because modernism recognized that traditional sources of spiritual nourishment had been irreversibly complicated. The “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of the “sea of faith” that Matthew Arnold descried in “Dover Beach” was now an inextricable part of our cultural inheritance. Preserving or reclaiming what was vital in that inheritance, and adapting it honestly to the vagaries of new experience, was the high and serious task of cultural endeavor. Hilton loathed everything that traveled under the banner of postmodernism not because it was “playful” (as was sometimes said) but because it betokened a terrible cynicism about the whole realm of culture, which is to say the realm of human engagement with the world.
A recognition of this development by religious believers, Kramer thought, was essential to preserving faith in today’s world, for it would spur an obligatory search for new ways of articulating traditional beliefs.
You can find Kimball’s full piece here.