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Modernism (W.B. Yeats & T.S. Eliot)


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Some features of literary modernism, with the focus on Yeats and Eliot.

(N.B. I borrowed some slides from another presenation in the public domain)

Published in: Education, Spiritual, Technology
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Modernism (W.B. Yeats & T.S. Eliot)

  1. 1. Modernism in literature W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot Kees IJzerman January 2014
  2. 2. Background At the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th, people started to feel increasingly unsettled. Old values were questioned. Freud, Marx and Darwin had unsettled men from their secure place at the centre of the human universe. Their theories threatened humanist self-confidence and caused a feeling of ideological uncertainty • Freud challenged the thought that men were rational beings. He claimed that humans were subject to their own unconscious instincts and lusts. • Marx had revealed men’s dependence on laws and structures outside their control and sometimes beyond their knowledge. Historical and material determinism. • Darwin in his conception of evolution and heredity had situated humanity as the latest product of natural selection
  3. 3. Phenomena Modernism comments on a feeling of lost community and collapse of civilization. This gave rise to a few seemingly contradictory phenomena: Paradoxes: • Revolution and conservatism • Loss of a sense of tradition – lamented in an extreme form of reactionary conservatism – celebrated as a means of liberation from the past • Increasing dominance of technology – condemned vehemently – embraced as the flagship of progress
  4. 4. How does this show? • • • • • • • • • • • • • Intentional distortion of shapes Focus on form rather than meaning Breaking down of limitation of space and time Breakdown of social norms and cultural values Dislocation of meaning and sense from its normal context Valorisation of the despairing individual in the face of an unmanageable future Disillusionment Rejection of history and the substitution of a mythical past Need to reflect the complexity of modern urban life Importance of the unconscious mind Interest in the primitive and non-western cultures Impossibility of an absolute interpretation of reality Overwhelming technological changes
  5. 5. So what IS it? (an attempt at defining modernism) Modernism is • a literary and cultural international movement which flourished in the first decades of the 20th century. • an artistic response to the negative effects of modernity (dehumanization) • It reflects a sense of cultural crisis which was both exciting and disquieting, in that it opened up a whole new vista of human possibilities at the same time as putting into question any previously accepted means of grounding and evaluating new ideas. • Modernism is marked by experimentation, particularly manipulation of form, and by the realization that knowledge is not absolute.
  6. 6. Influential thinkers • • • • • • Physicist Einstein on Relativity (1905) Physicist Planck on Quantum Theory (1900) Philosopher Nietzsche on the Will of Power Philosopher Bergson on the Concept of Time Psychologist William James on Emotions and Inner Time Psychologist Freud on the Unconscious (The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900) • Psychologist Jung on Collective Unconscious • Linguist De Saussure on Language • Anthropologist Frazer on Primitive Cultures
  7. 7. Examples, painting 1. Picasso
  8. 8. Examples, painting 2. Braque
  9. 9. Examples, painting 3. Wyndham Lewis
  10. 10. Examples, architecture Seagram Building
  11. 11. Examples: Music Stravinsky, Schoenberg • Dissonance/distorted music effects • Rejection of rules of harmony and composition • Serial system of composition
  12. 12. Formal features of poetry • • • • • • • • Open form Use of free verse Juxtaposition of ideas rather than consequential exposition Intertextuality Use of allusions and multiple association of words Borrowings from other cultures and languages Unconventional use of metaphor Importance given to sound to convey “the music of ideas”
  13. 13. Free verse • Use of poetic line • Flexibility of line length • Massive use of alliteration and assonance • No use of traditional metre • No regular rhyme scheme • Use of visual images in distinct lines Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherized upon a table; Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, The muttering retreats Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels And sawdust restaurants with oyster shells: Streets that follow like a tedious argument Of insidious intent To lead you to an overwhelming question . . . Oh, do not ask, "What is it?“ Let us go and make our visit. T.S Eliot Prufrock
  14. 14. Modernist poets • • • • • • • W.B. Yeats Ezra Pound T.S. Eliot E.M. Rilke Paul Valéry André Breton V Mayakovsky
  15. 15. W.B. Yeats (1855-1939) The Lake Isle of Innisfree I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made: Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee; And live alone in the bee-loud glade. And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings; There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, And evening full of the linnet's wings. I will arise and go now, for always night and day I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, I hear it in the deep heart's core.
  16. 16. W.B. Yeats (1855-1939) • Annunciation Poetry (sth. is announced) • Leda and the Swan • Part of Yeats’ vision of historical cycles (gyres) • A birth is announced > new cycle starts.
  17. 17. W.B. Yeats (1855-1939) Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand; A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
  18. 18. T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (click here for full poem) Form •Dramatic monologue (~stream of consciousness) •Irregular rhyme scheme Themes •Incapacity to act: modern man, overeducated, sensitive •Anxiety: growing bald, “I grow old”, intimidated by women
  19. 19. T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) Themes in Eliot’s The Waste Land (full poem): •Fragmentation (poem = collection of fragments) •Water = life AND death •Drought = death •(Effects of) war •Damaged people: psychologically & sexually •The Fisher King: the wounded king as symbol for the wounded land
  20. 20. Modernist novelists • • • • • • • • J, Joyce V. Woolf D.H. Lawrence J. Conrad E.M. Forster E. Hemingway W. Faulkner K.Mansfield • • • • • • • • M. Proust F. Kafka R. Musil T. Mann I. Svevo L. Pirandello B. Pasternak M. Bulgakov
  21. 21. Formal features of narrative • • • • • • • • • Experimental nature Lack of traditional chronological narrative (discontinuous narrative) Break of narrative frames (fragmentation) Moving from one level of narrative to another A number of different narrators (multiple narrative points of view) Self-reflexive about the act of writing and the nature of literature (metanarrative) Use of interior monologue technique Use of the stream of consciousness technique Focus on a character's consciousness and subconscious
  22. 22. Stream of consciousness • Aims to provide a textual equivalent to the stream of a fictional character’s consciousness • Creates the impression that the reader is eavesdropping on the flow of conscious experience in the character’s mind • Comes in a variety of stylistic forms • Narrated stream of consciousness often composed of different sentence types including psycho-narration and free indirect style • characterized by associative (and at times dissociative) leaps in syntax and punctuation
  23. 23. Interior monologue • • • • • • A particular kind of stream of consciousness writing Also called quoted stream of consciousness, presents characters’ thought streams exclusively in the form of silent inner speech, as a stream of verbalised thoughts Represents characters speaking silently to themselves and quotes their inner speech, often without speech marks Is presented in the first person and in the present tense and employs deictic words also attempts to mimic the unstructured free flow of thought can be found in the context of third-person narration and dialogue