Philosophies of modernism

Course Dates: 21/04/20 - 07/07/20
Time: 10:15 - 12:15
Location: KS - Keeley Street

Was Modernism a movement of thought as well as culture? Wrestle with some of the most challenging art, literature and music ever made through the words of practitioners and philosophers.


What is the course about?

“On or about December 1910, human character changed” – Virginia Woolf.

“Modernism” names a family of explosive changes in the arts at the beginning of the twentieth century. Artists, musicians and writers seemed to tear up the rule book and produce work that was often alienating in its disconnection from the past. Audiences rebelled; critics complained; public voices were raised in opposition. Or so the standard story goes.

This course explores the extent to which these developments were informed by philosophical ideas about the arts, society and human nature and which of these ideas, if any, remain alive today. Was modernism a movement only in the arts, or in ideas more generally? Is there a “modernist philosophy” and if so what are its key claims?

In pursuing this question we will range across music, the visual arts and literature but with an emphasis on classical music. We will focus mostly on work produced by Europeans, mostly during the half-century from 1910 to 1960.

The course will run like a reading group. Each week focuses on a particular topic or philosophical idea and our texts include extracts from manifestos and literary works alongside core philosophical texts. Recommended listening and viewing material will be freely available online, and we will make reference to examples of visual artworks and architecture in class.

What will we cover?

The course will be based around discussions of the selected texts and driven by your own interests, but we will likely discuss most of the following:

• The philosophical context of Modernism and the philosophical ideas its practitioners espoused.
• A range of philosophical and critical reactions to Modernism.
• Connections between Modernism in the cultural sphere and wider socio-cultural developments.
• The relationship of Modernism to earlier and later traditions in both the arts and ideas.
• Styles and approaches associated with Modernism in visual art, literature and music
• Some elements of the technical and stylistic developments in classical music over the period.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

• Describe and discuss the aims and ideas of several groups of creative practitioners in the Modernist period and place them in a wider philosophical context.
• Assess characterisations of twentieth century modernity given by philosophers and social theorists such as Theodore Adorno, Jürgen Habermas, Fredric Jameson and Alain Badiou.
• Differentiate between different kinds of Modernist practice in classical music composition and place them in a wider cultural and philosophical context.
• Take a view on the continuing relevance of Modernism and whether any aspects of it remain alive in cultural practice or philosophy today.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

This course has no specific prerequisites. Good English language skills are essential; all texts will be provided in English translations. You do not need to have any familiarity with music theory or notation.

Some background knowledge about pre-twentieth-century art, literature or music would be useful but is not essential.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

To get the most out of the course you will need to do some reading between classes (usually about 20-30 pages per week).

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

No, all required reading materials will be made available during the course.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Please see our website at for more details of philosophy courses currently on offer at City Lit.

Tutor Biographies
Rich Cochrane

Rich is a programmer, writer and educator with a particular interest in creative practice. In his previous career he worked as a software developer in the CIty, first at a dot-com startup and later at a top-tier investment bank where he worked mostly on trading floor systems and got to play with a wide range of languages and technologies. He now teaches coding and maths-related courses full time. Besides his work at City Lit he also teaches at Central Saint Martins, the Architecture Association and the Photographer's Gallery and is the author of two books about mathematics. His technical collaborations with artists have been shown at, among others, the Hayward gallery, the V&A, the ICA and Camden Arts Centre. He has a BSc in Mathematics from the Open University. He also has a BA in English Literature and a PhD in philosophy (both from Cardiff). He continues to teach a little philosophy and literature, especially as they intersect with his other interests, and as a partner in Minimum Labyrinth he has brought these ideas to wider audiences in collaboration with the Museum of London, the Barbican and various private sponsors.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.

Book your place

Course Code: HP096

Tue, day, 21 Apr - 07 Jul '20

Duration: 12 sessions (over 12 weeks)

Full fee: £219.00
Senior fee: £175.00
Concession: £96.00

Or call to enrol: 020 7831 7831

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Any questions?
or call 020 7492 2652

Please note: we offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. For more information visit our online Help Center. You can also visit the Information, Advice and Guidance drop-in service, open from 12 – 6.45, Monday to Friday.