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Hardcover | Out of Print | 416 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 52 b&w illus. | September 2012 | ISBN: 9780262017718
Paperback | $25.95 Trade | £20.95 | 416 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 52 b&w illus. | January 2015 | ISBN: 9780262527620
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Realism after Modernism

The Rehumanization of Art and Literature


The human figure made a spectacular return in visual art and literature in the 1920s. Following modernism’s withdrawal, nonobjective painting gave way to realistic depictions of the body and experimental literary techniques were abandoned for novels with powerfully individuated characters. But the celebrated return of the human in the interwar years was not as straightforward as it may seem. In Realism after Modernism, Devin Fore challenges the widely accepted view that this period represented a return to traditional realist representation and its humanist postulates. Interwar realism, he argues, did not reinstate its nineteenth-century predecessor but invoked realism as a strategy of mimicry that anticipates postmodernist pastiche.

Through close readings of a series of works by German artists and writers of the period, Fore investigates five artistic devices that were central to interwar realism. He analyzes Bauhaus polymath László Moholy-Nagy’s use of linear perspective; three industrial novels riven by the conflict between the temporality of capital and that of labor; Brecht’s socialist realist plays, which explore new dramaturgical principles for depicting a collective subject; a memoir by Carl Einstein that oscillates between recollection and self-erasure; and the idiom of physiognomy in the photomontages of John Heartfield.

Fore’s readings reveal that each of these “rehumanized” works in fact calls into question the very categories of the human upon which realist figuration is based. Paradoxically, even as the human seemed to make a triumphal return in the culture of the interwar period, the definition of the human and the integrity of the body were becoming more tenuous than ever before. Interwar realism did not hearken back to earlier artistic modes but posited new and unfamiliar syntaxes of aesthetic encounter, revealing the emergence of a human subject quite unlike anything that had come before.

About the Author

Devin Fore is Associate Professor in the Department of German at Princeton University.

Table of Contents

  • Realism after Modernism
  • October Books
  • George Baker, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Leah Dickerman, Devin Fore, Hal Foster, Denis Hollier, Rosalind Krauss, Annette Michelson, Mignon Nixon, and Malcolm Turvey, editors
  • Broodthaers
  • ,
  • edited by Benjamin H. D. Buchloh
  • AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism
  • ,
  • edited by Douglas Crimp
  • Aberrations: An Essay on the Legend of Forms
  • ,
  • by Jurgis Baltrušaitis
  • Against Architecture: The Writings of Georges Bataille
  • ,
  • by Denis Hollier
  • Painting as Model
  • ,
  • by Yve-Alain Bois
  • The Destruction of Tilted Arc: Documents
  • ,
  • edited by Clara Weyergraf-Serra and Martha Buskirk
  • The Woman in Question
  • ,
  • edited by Parveen Adams and Elizabeth Cowie
  • Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century
  • ,
  • by Jonathan Crary
  • The Subjectivity Effect in Western Literary Tradition: Essays toward the Release of Shakespeare’s Will
  • ,
  • by Joel Fineman
  • Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture
  • ,
  • by Slavoj Žižek
  • Cinema, Censorship, and the State: The Writings of Nagisa Oshima
  • ,
  • by Nagisa Oshima
  • The Optical Unconscious
  • ,
  • by Rosalind E. Krauss
  • Gesture and Speech
  • ,
  • by André Leroi-Gourhan
  • Compulsive Beauty
  • ,
  • by Hal Foster
  • Continuous Project Altered Daily: The Writings of Robert Morris
  • ,
  • by Robert Morris
  • Read My Desire: Lacan against the Historicists
  • ,
  • by Joan Copjec
  • Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture
  • ,
  • by Kristin Ross
  • Kant after Duchamp
  • ,
  • by Thierry de Duve
  • The Duchamp Effect
  • ,
  • edited by Martha Buskirk and Mignon Nixon
  • The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century
  • ,
  • by Hal Foster
  • October: The Second Decade, 1986–1996
  • ,
  • edited by Rosalind Krauss, Annette Michelson, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Hal Foster, Denis Hollier, and Silvia Kolbowski
  • Infinite Regress: Marcel Duchamp 1910–1941
  • ,
  • by David Joselit
  • Caravaggio’s Secrets
  • ,
  • by Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit
  • Scenes in a Library: Reading the Photograph in the Book, 1843–1875
  • ,
  • by Carol Armstrong
  • Bachelors
  • ,
  • by Rosalind Krauss
  • Neo-Avantgarde and Culture Industry: Essays on European and American Art from 1955 to 1975
  • ,
  • by Benjamin H. D. Buchloh
  • Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture
  • ,
  • by Jonathan Crary
  • Leave Any Information at the Signal: Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages
  • ,
  • by Ed Ruscha
  • Guy Debord and the Situationist International: Texts and Documents
  • ,
  • edited by Tom McDonough
  • Random Order: Robert Rauschenberg and the Neo-Avant-Garde
  • ,
  • by Branden W. Joseph
  • Decoys and Disruptions: Selected Writings, 1975–2001
  • ,
  • by Martha Rosler
  • Prosthetic Gods
  • ,
  • by Hal Foster
  • Fantastic Reality: Louise Bourgeois and a Story of Modern Art
  • ,
  • by Mignon Nixon
  • Women Artists at the Millennium
  • ,
  • edited by Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher
  • “The Beautiful Language of My Century”: Reinventing the Language of Contestation in Postwar France, 1945–1968
  • ,
  • by Tom McDonough
  • The Artwork Caught by the Tail: Francis Picabia and Dada in Paris
  • ,
  • by George Baker
  • Being Watched: Yvonne Rainer and the 1960s
  • ,
  • by Carrie Lambert-Beatty
  • Robert Ryman: Used Paint
  • ,
  • by Suzanne P. Hudson
  • Hall of Mirrors: Roy Lichtenstein and the Face of Painting in the 1960s
  • ,
  • by Graham Bader
  • Perpetual Inventory,
  • by Rosalind Krauss
  • The Absence of Work: Marcel Broodthaers 1964–1976
  • ,
  • by Rachel Haidu
  • The Filming of Modern Life: European Avant-Garde Fim of the 1920s
  • ,
  • by Malcolm Turvey
  • Lucio Fontana: Between Avant-Garde and Kitsch
  • ,
  • by Anthony White
  • Looking for Bruce Conner
  • ,
  • by Kevin Hatch
  • Realism after Modernism: The Rehumanization of Art and Literature
  • ,
  • by Devin Fore
  • Realism after Modernism
  • The Rehumanization of Art and Literature
  • Devin Fore
  • An OCTOBER Book
  • The MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • ©
  • 2012
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
  • This publication is made possible in part by a grant from the Barr Feree Foundation Fund for Publications, Princeton University.
  • MIT Press books may be purchased at special quantity discounts for business or sales promotional use. For information, please email or write to Special Sales Department, The MIT Press, 55 Hayward Street, Cambridge, MA 02142.
  • This book was set in Bembo by Graphic Composiition, Inc. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
  • {Comp: Please fill in font, compositor, and location}
  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
  • Fore, Devin, 1972–.
  • Realism after modernism : the rehumanization of art and literature / Devin Fore.
  •  pages cm—(An October book)
  • Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • ISBN 978-0-262-01771-8 (hardcover : alk. paper)
  • 1. Arts, German—20th century. 2. Realism in art—Germany. 3. Realism in literature. I. Title.
  • NX550.A1F67 2012
  • 700.943'0904—dc23
  • 2011049222
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • ix
  • Introduction
  • 1
  • 1
  • The Myth Reversed
  • : Perspectives of László Moholy-Nagy 21
  • 2 The Time of Capital: Three Industrial Novels
  • 75
  • 3
  • Gestus
  • facit saltus
  • : Bertolt Brecht’s
  • Fear and Misery of the Third Reich
  • 133
  • 4
  • A Necrologue of the Ego
  • : Carl Einstein’s Autobiography,
  • Bebuquin II
  • 187
  • 5 The Secret Always on Display: Caricature and Physiognomy in the Work of John Heartfield
  • 243
  • 6 Into the Entomic Age: A Coda on Ernst Jünger’s
  • Glass Bees
  • 305
  • Notes
  • 337
  • Index
  • 397


“Fore shows that if the ‘new man’ envisioned in the figurative practices of Weimar Germany might seem at the center of the universe, he is in fact a prosthetic man: He has become a mere organ of that universe, which is now fully one of techniques and media. Fore’s conclusion resonates powerfully with our own historical status in the Internet age and indeed the interwar discourses he engages are finding surprising echoes in current anthropology and media studies.”—Yve-Alain Bois, Artforum, "The Best Books of 2012"


“Few books can confidently lay claim to having unearthed an entirely new cultural constellation. The achievement of Realism after Modernism is to call into question the very premises of the hackneyed distinction between avant-garde and realism. It compels us to conceptualize anew the ways in which notions of the human, temporality, and spatial perspective were reconfigured and recontextualized by artists and writers between the wars. Creatively juxtaposing photography, literature, theater, and photomontage, Devin Fore demonstrates that the art of the 1930s did not signal a regression to outmoded forms but heralded a distinctive aesthetic practice.”
Anson Rabinbach, Princeton University; author of The Human Motor
“With magisterial scholarship and profoundly original critical insights into the literature, the visual arts, and the philosophical anthropology of the interwar period, Devin Fore demonstrates that the rehumanizing of art (at once welcomed and lamented) was in fact a reinvention of the human, one in which human bodies are often shown as indistinguishable from the technical artifacts that surround them. Fore’s brilliant work is an important event not only in cultural history, but also in the still urgent project of redefining, and expanding, our views of what constitutes the human.”
Leo Bersani, co-author of Intimacies; author of Is the Rectum a Grave? and Other Essays
“A sensational, refreshing view on the comeback of interwar realism, and an example of cultural studies at its best. Devin Fore dives into archival depths and brilliantly deciphers photography and literature with emphasis on their formal dimensions. The exciting discovery: realism after modernism depicts human beings as ‘vacuum chambers’ absorbing all functional media surrounding them.”
Helmut Lethen, Director, IFK International Research Center for Cultural Studies at the University of Art and Design, Linz, Vienna; author of Cool Conduct: The Culture of Distance in Weimar German


Winner, 2012-2013 Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Studies in Germanic Languages and Literatures, given by the Modern Language Association