Wednesday, April 30, 2014

World literature and industrialism

Yang Jiechang, Crying Landscape: Three Gorges Dam (2002)
Because of the connection I see between the rise of material trade and commerce and Goethe's concept of world literature, I have for a long time been interested in the rise of technology and science and Western industrialization. Two centuries after the start of the so-called Industrial Revolution in England and its spread to other countries on the European continent, the rest of the world is getting on the bandwagon. Europe's industrialism was accompanied by the development of democratic and liberal institutions, which are lacking in most of the non-Western nations, but this drawback is not keeping countries like China from attempting to jump-start "progress." The Chinese already attempted to put a thousand years of technical backwardness behind them during the Cultural Revolution, and it remains to be seen whether China will become the superpower of the future that is daily prophesied by pessimistic Western intellectuals. Putting aside the rigidity of an ideology not "native" to China, however, has certainly helped the country's prospects.

Some works I saw yesterday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art highlight this rush forward. They include a huge triptych banner by Yang Jiechang, showing the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. (Click to enlarge; it is really gorgeous.) I am trying to decide whether the setting could be considered "sublime."

Picture credit: Mario Naves

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