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Modernist Literature: The End of the Absolute
Transcript of Modernist Literature: The End of the Absolute
Approach to the Presentation
Big Ideas from Smart People + Major Historical Events and Trends = A New Literary Movement
Debated Start and End Dates
Past, Present, and Future Examples from Course:
Conrad, Eliot, Woolf, and Hemingway
Modernist Paintings on Slides
Artistic Reaction To
Theory of Relativity
No absolute space
No absolute time
Theory of Evolution
Survival of the Fittest
Man not a special case
Unconscious and subconscious
Id, ego, and superego
Importance of dreams
Language is relative
No direct link between words and the concepts or objects they signify
Influences on Modernist Literature
New ideas in science and philosophy influence the invention and development of Modernist literature.
"God is dead"
The will to power
Superman, or "ubermensch"
No absolute morality
Relations between objects not known as they are
The mind explains the world to itself
Subjectivity of experience
Clock vs. Subjective Time
Elan vital: the creative force
Importance of intuition
Rejection of chronological order
Free verse and non-standard meter
Meta-literary, or self-aware literature
Stream of consciousness
Fragments and unfinished scenes
Inability to find a unified meaning
"Make it new" --Ezra Pound's credo
No realistic representations
Alternate spiritualities, myths and religions
Playing with time and memory
Portrayal of an inner vision
Psychological vs. empirical reality
Use of dislocated dream imagery
Awareness of the ambiguity of words
Literature as a puzzle to be solved
Unflinching portrayal of alienation
Mistrust of all social institutions
The End of the Absolute
"His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o'clock"
"To The Lighthouse"
("Alone" she heard him say, "Perished" she heard him say) and like everything else this strange morning the words became symbols, wrote themselves all over the grey-green walls. If only she could put them together, she felt, write them out in one sentence, then she would have got at the truth of things."
"To the lighthouse"
"And this, Lily thought, taking the green paint on her brush, this making up scenes about them, is what we call 'knowing' people, 'thinking' of them, 'being fond' of them! Not a word of it was true; she had made it up; but it was what she knew them by all the same."
"Heart of darkness"
"Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it. Since I had peeped over the edge myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare, that could not see the flame of the candle, but was wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness. He had summed up--he had judged. 'The horror!' He was a remarkable man."
"To the lighthouse"
"What is the meaning of life? That was all--a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with the years. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark...making of the moment something permanent..."
"the waste land"
"Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)"
"to the lighthouse"
"With her foot on the treshold she waited a moment longer in a scene which was vanishing even as she looked, and then, as she moved and took Minta's arm and left the room, it changed, it shaped itself differently; it had become, she knew, giving one last look at it over her shoulder, already the past."
"Heart of darkness"
"I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude--and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core."
"Heart of darkness"
"Well, you know, that was the worst of it--this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity--like yours--the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar."
What Are its
What Are iTs
What ARE its
What is Its
"The waste land"
" 'My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
'Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
'What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
'I never know what you are thinking. Think."
I think we are in rats' alley
Where the dead men lost their bones."
A perfume that Lingers
Modernism not unique to literature
Music, painting, dance, theatre, architecture, film
Expressionism, surrealism, futurism
Leads to other movements
"Modern" is not "contemporary"
Post-modern becomes post-post-modern
Reaction to a particular time, yet also timeless
Belief that reason and science could discover all truth
Inevitability of scientific progress
Downplays the importance of emotion and intuition
Modernism rejects this concept
Rapid expansion of industry
Migration from rural to urban areas
Population explosion in cities
Pollution and noise
Dominance of machinery
Dehumanizing nature of modern work
Modernism seeks alternatives to these trends
First truly modern, mechanized war
Machine guns, barbed wire, tanks, and mustard gas
Desolation of trench warfare
An entire generation of men lost
Total war: more civilians died than soldiers
Honor and glory no longer apply
World War I
"A farewell to arms"
"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."
"The waste land"
"At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the
human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting"
by Vincent van Gogh
by Edvard Munch
"The Persistence of Memory"
by Salvador Dali
"Les demoiselles d'Avignon"
by Pablo Picasso
"Heart of Darkness"
"It seemed to throw a kind of light on everything about me--and into my thoughts. It was sombre enough, too--and pitiful--not extraordinary in any way--not very clear either. No, not very clear. And yet it seemed to throw a kind of light."
"A Clean well-lighted place"
"Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it was all nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada."
"HEART of darkness"
"I've been telling you what we said--repeating the phrases we pronounced--but what's the good? They were common everyday words--the familiar, vague sounds exchanged on every waking day of life. But what of that? They had behind them, to my mind, the terrible suggestiveness of words heard in dreams, of phrases spoken in nightmares."