Modernism overview


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Modernism overview

  1. 1. Modernism ENG 531 An Overview of Modernism Dr. Pizzetta
  2. 2. The Precursors of Modernism A number of very innovative poets were writing prior to the period we now identify as modern. • Walt Whitman • Emily Dickinson • Gerard Manley Hopkins • Thomas Hardy • A.E. Housman
  3. 3. Cultural Influences on Modernism Certain cultural conditions existed that made modernism an appropriate and perhaps necessary response from the artistic community. The effects of World War I, the rise in technology (automobiles, telephones, moving pictures), the increasingly global economy, and the rapid population shifts to urban areas are some of the most often remarked upon elements. These historical, cultural, economic and political conditions appear in the literary and aesthetic representations of and responses to those conditions.
  4. 4. “Human nature underwent a fundamental change on or about December 1910”—Virginia Woolf Pre-Modern World (e.g. Romantic and Victorian Periods) • Order • Meaningful existence • Optimistic • Stability • Dependence on faith • Unquestioned morality/values • Clear sense of identity Modern World (Early 20th Century) • Chaos • Futility of existence • Pessimistic • Instability • Loss of faith • Collapse of morality/values • Confused sense of identity and place in the world
  5. 5. Modernist Reactions to Realism Four Literary "isms" Inside Modernism • Whereas Realism attempted to portray external objects and events as the common or middle class man sees them in everyday life, impressionism tries to portray the psychological impressions these objects and events make on characters, emphasizing the role of individual perception and exploring the nature of the conscious and unconscious mind. • Whereas Realism tried to focus on these external objects and events, expressionism tried to express the inner vision, the inner emotion, or the inner spiritual reality that seem more important than the external realities of objects and events. • Whereas Realism focused on external objects and events as they are (verisimilitude), surrealism tried to liberate the subconscious, to see connections overlooked by the logical mind, to deny the supreme authority of rationality and so portray objects and events as they seem rather than as they are. • Whereas Realism tried to show the supreme importance of rationalality and reason, absurdism tried to duplicate in literature the absurd conditions of contemporary life: nameless millions dying in wars, commonplace horrors such as the Holocaust, a world in which "God is dead" cast mankind afloat in a chartless and unknowable world void of a spiritual center, the ultimate absurd circumstances in which contemporary humankind found itself.
  6. 6. Modern simply means something that is current and contemporary. A writer could be called modern even if he or she did not fit the definition of a modernist. Modernist, however, suggests artists and their creations that exhibit certain qualities—an advocacy of innovation, difficulty or obliqueness, an international flavor, and an emphasis on the regenerative power of the imagination. Modern versus Modernist
  7. 7. Conservative Modernists Although most of our time in this class will be spent reading the writers who were interested in new forms of poetry, you should be aware that some modernists were artistically conservative while still using their ideological and political beliefs in original ways. • Edna St. Vincent Millay uses the sonnet form to explore in a new way ideas of sexual liberation. • Wilfred Owen uses traditional verse to detail the horrors of war. His poems were often so graphic that school children were not allowed ot read them. • Claude McKay uses conventional verse to highlight the violence and oppression endured by African Americans in the South, especially by giving voice to the victims of lynchings.
  8. 8. Modernism and Language Characteristics of Language in Modernist Literature • uses images ("word pictures") and symbols as typical and frequent literary techniques • uses colloquial language rather than formal language • uses language in a very self-conscious way, seeing language as a technique for crafting the piece of literature just as an artist crafts a piece of art like a sculpture or a painting • uses language as a special medium that influences what that piece of literature can do or can be • views the piece of literature as an object crafted by an artist using particular techniques, crafts, skills (recall how the Romantics thought the piece of literature was a work of genius that somehow appears full-blown from the imagination of the genius). Form, style, and technique thus become as important--if not more so--than content or substance. • attempts to change the way readers see the world and to change our understanding of what language is and does
  9. 9. Modernist Themes 1. Collectivism versus the authority of the individual 2. National identity versus the celebration of international culture 3. Alienation and self-awareness (“lost generation” Gertrude Stein, “dissociation of sensibility” T.S. Eliot, “a Dream deferred” Langston Hughes) 4. Obsession with primitive materials and attitudes (borrowed form the Harlem Renaissance) 5. Artist’s self-consciousness about questions of form and structure 6. The relationship between tradition and innovation in art with an emphasis on breaking away from patterned responses and predictable forms. 7. The artist as a sensitive and even heroic figure who reinvigorates art and public life 8. Dramatization of the plight of women (while some authors still express repressive approaches to sexual relations) 9. The conflict between democratic and elitist ideals
  10. 10. Modernist Themes for ENG 531 Week 2: Modern/Modernity and Modernism and the Visual Arts Week 3: Difficulty and High Modernism Week 4: Globalization and Regionalism Week 5: Symbolism, Imagism, and Objectivism Week 6: The Harlem Renaissance
  11. 11. GERTRUDE STEIN It happens very often that a man has it in him, that a man does something, that he does it very often that he does many things, when he is a young man when he is an old man, when he is an older man. One of such of these kind of them had a little boy and this one, the little son wanted to make a collection of butterflies and beetles and it was all exciting to him and it was all arranged then and then the father said to the son you are certain this is not a cruel thing that you are wanting to be doing, killing things to make collections of them, and the son was very disturbed then and they talked about it together the two of them and more and more they talked about it then and then at last the boy was convinced it was a cruel thing and he said he would not do it and his father said the little boy was a noble boy to give up pleasure when it was a cruel one. The boy went to bed then and then the father when he got up in the early morning saw a wonderfully beautiful moth in the room and he caught him and he killed him and he pinned him and he woke up his son then and showed it to him and he said to him see what a good father I am to have caught and killed this one, the boy was all mixed up inside him and then he said he would go on with his collecting and that was all there was then of discussing and this is a little description of something that happened once and it is very interesting. from The Making of Americans Portrait of Gertrude Stein (detail) by Pablo Picasso