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An alumnus of Columbia University, Berman completed his Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1968. He is on the editorial board of Dissent and a regular contributor to The Nation, The New York Times Book Review, Bennington Review, New Left Review, New Politics and the Village Voice Literary Supplement.
His main works are The Politics of Authenticity, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, One Hundred Years of Spectacle and Adventures in Marxism and On the Town: One Hundred Years of Spectacle in Times Square. His most recent publication is the anthology, New York Calling: From Blackout To Bloomberg, for which he was co-editor, with Brian Berger, and also wrote the introductory essay. In Adventures in Marxism, Berman tells of how while a Columbia University student in 1959, the chance discovery of Karl Marx‘s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 proved a revelation and inspiration, and became the foundation for all his future work. This personal tone pervades his work, linking historical trends with individual observations and inflections from the situation.
Modernity and modernism
During the mid- to late-20th century philosophical discourse focused on issues of modernity and cultural attitudes and philosophies towards the modern condition. Berman put forward his own definition of modernism to counter post-modern philosophies.
- Others believe that the really distinctive forms of contemporary art and thought have made a quantum leap beyond all the diverse sensibilities of modernism, and earned the right to call themselves “post-modern”. I want to respond to these antithetical but complementary claims by reviewing the vision of modernity with which this book began. To be modern, I said, is to experience personal and social life as a maelstrom, to find one’s world and oneself in perpetual disintegration and renewal, trouble and anguish, ambiguity and contradiction: to be part of a universe in which all that is solid melts into air. To be a modernist is to make oneself somehow at home in the maelstrom, to make its rhythms one’s own, to move within its currents in search of the forms of reality, of beauty, of freedom, of justice, that its fervid and perilous flow allows.(All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, The Experience of Modernity, verso ninth edition Pages 345-346)
This view of modernism is at odds with post-modernism. Paraphrasing Charles Baudelaire, Michel Foucault simply defined Modernism as the will to “heroize” the present. Berman views postmodernism as a soulless and hopeless chamber in which a whole generation of Foucault’s “followers” have chosen to suffocate and choke.
- The Politics of Authenticity: Radical Individualism and the Emergence of Modern Society (1970)
- All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity (1982)
- Adventures in Marxism (1999)
- On the Town: One Hundred Years of Spectacle in Times Square (2006)
- New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg (2007), edited by Marshall Berman and Brian Berger.
(born 1940, The Bronx, New York City) is an American Marxist Humanist writer and philosopher. He is currently Distinguished Professor of Political Science at The City College of New York and at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, teaching Political Philosophy and Urbanism.