Modernist literature

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Modernist literature is the literary expression of the tendencies of Modernism, especially High modernism.[1]

Modernism as a literary movement reached its height in Europe between 1900 and the middle 1920s.[2] Modernist literature addressed aesthetic problems similar to those examined in non-literary forms of contemporaneous Modernist art, such as Modernist painting. Gertrude Stein's abstract writings, for example, have often been compared to the fragmentary and multi-perspectival Cubism of her friend Pablo Picasso.[3]

The general thematic concerns of Modernist literature are well-summarized by the sociologist Georg Simmel:

"The deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces, of historical heritage, of external culture, and of the technique of life."[4]

The Modernist emphasis on a radical individualism can be seen in the many literary manifestos issued by various groups within the movement. The concerns expressed by Simmel above are echoed in Richard Huelsenbeck's "First German Dada Manifesto" of 1918:

"Art in its execution and direction is dependent on the time in which it lives, and artists are creatures of their epoch. The highest art will be that which in its conscious content presents the thousandfold problems of the day, the art which has been visibly shattered by the explosions of last week ... The best and most extraordinary artists will be those who every hour snatch the tatters of their bodies out of the frenzied cataract of life, who, with bleeding hands and hearts, hold fast to the intelligence of their time."

The cultural history of humanity creates a unique common history that connects previous generations with the current generation of humans. The Modernist re-contextualization of the individual within the fabric of this received social heritage can be seen in the "mythic method" which T.S. Eliot expounded in his discussion of James Joyce's Ulysses:

"In using the myth, in manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity, Mr. Joyce is pursuing a method which others must pursue after him ... It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history."[5]

Modernist literature involved such authors as Knut Hamsun (whose novel Hunger is considered to be the first modernist novel), Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, H.D., Dylan Thomas, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Ezra Pound, Mina Loy, James Joyce, Hugh MacDiarmid, William Faulkner, Jean Toomer, Ernest Hemingway, Rainer Maria Rilke, Franz Kafka, Robert Musil, Joseph Conrad, Andrei Bely, W. B. Yeats, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Luigi Pirandello, D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, Jaroslav Hašek, Samuel Beckett, Menno ter Braak, Marcel Proust, Mikhail Bulgakov, Robert Frost, Boris Pasternak, Djuna Barnes, and others.


[edit] Overview

Modernist literature attempted to move from the bonds of Realist literature and to introduce concepts such as disjointed timelines. Modernism was distinguished by an emancipatory metanarrative. In the wake of Modernism, and post-enlightenment, metanarratives tended to be emancipatory, whereas beforehand this was not a consistent characteristic. Contemporary metanarratives were becoming less relevant in light of the implications of World War I, the rise of trade unionism, a general social discontent, and the emergence of psychoanalysis. The consequent need for a unifying function brought about a growth in the political importance of culture.

Modernist literature can be viewed largely in terms of its formal, stylistic and semantic movement away from Romanticism, examining subject matter that is traditionally mundane--a prime example being The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot. Modernist literature often features a marked pessimism, a clear rejection of the optimism apparent in Victorian literature. In fact, "a common motif in Modernist fiction is that of an alienated individual--a dysfunctional individual trying in vain to make sense of a predominantly urban and fragmented society." But the questioning spirit of modernism could also be seen, less elegaically, as part of a necessary search for ways to make a new sense of a broken world. An example is A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle by Hugh MacDiarmid, in which the individual artist applies Eliot's techniques to respond (in this case) to a historically fractured nationalism, using a more comic, parodic and "optimistic" (though no less "hopeless") modernist expression in which the artist as "hero" seeks to embrace complexity and locate new meanings.

However, many Modernist works like T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land are marked by the absence even of a central, heroic figure. In rejecting the solipsism of Romantics like Shelley and Byron, such works reject the notion of subject associated with Cartesian dualism, collapsing narrative and narrator into a collection of disjointed fragments and overlapping voices.

Modernist literature often moves beyond the limitations of the Realist novel with a concern for larger factors such as social or historical change. This is prominent in "stream of consciousness" writing. Examples can be seen in Virginia Woolf's Kew Gardens and Mrs Dalloway, James Joyce's Ulysses, Katherine Porter's Flowering Judas, Jean Toomer's Cane, William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, and others.

Modernism as a literary movement is seen, in large part, as a reaction to the emergence of city life as a central force in society. Furthermore, an early attention to the object as freestanding became in later Modernism a preoccupation with form. The dyadic collapse of the distance between subject and object represented a movement from means to is. Where Romanticism stressed the subjectivity of experience, Modernist writers were more acutely conscious of the objectivity of their surroundings. In Modernism the object is; the language doesn't mean it is. This is a shift from an epistemological aesthetic to an ontological aesthetic or, in simpler terms, a shift from a knowledge-based aesthetic to a being-based aesthetic. This shift is central to Modernism. Archibald MacLeish, for instance, said, "A poem should not mean / But be."

[edit] Characteristics of Modernity/Modernism

[edit] Formal/Stylistic characteristics

  • Free indirect speech
  • Stream of consciousness
  • Juxtaposition of characters
  • Wide use of classical allusions
  • Figure of speech
  • Intertextuality
  • Personification
  • Hyperbole
  • Parataxis
  • Comparison
  • Quotation
  • Pun
  • Satire
  • Irony
  • Antiphrasis
  • Unconventional use of metaphor
  • Symbolic representation
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Discontinuous narrative
  • Metanarrative
  • Multiple narrative points of view

[edit] Thematic characteristics

  • Breakdown of social norms
  • Realistic embodiment of social meanings
  • Separation of meanings and senses from the context
  • Despairing individual behaviors in the face of an unmanageable future
  • Sense of spiritual loneliness
  • Sense of alienation
  • Sense of frustration
  • Sense of disillusionment
  • Rejection of the history
  • Rejection of the outdated social system
  • Objection of the traditional thoughts and the traditional moralities
  • Objection of the religious thoughts
  • Substitution of a mythical past

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Some Attributes of Modernist Literature
  2. ^ Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness was published in 1902 and T.S Eliot's The Wasteland in 1922. See linked pages and their sources for corroboration of their importance as Modernist artefacts.
  3. ^ The Structure of Obscurity: Gertrude Stein, Language, and Cubism, by Randa Kay Dubnick
  4. ^ Georg Simmel, "The Metropolis and Mental Life" (1903)
  5. ^ T. S. Eliot, "Ulysses, Order, and Myth" (1923)

the book of coolness

[edit] External links

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