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An Introduction to Modernism

Colleen Davis

on 30 October 2016

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Transcript of Modernism

John Steinbeck
The predominant literary, artistic, and cultural movement of the early 1900s.
The dominant mood of the Modern movement is alienation, disconnection and the fear of eroding traditions.

There is a sense of grief over loss of the past, resulting in disillusionment.
The position that language is insufficient to convey meaning from one person to another ultimately creates the belief that humans are unable to communicate effectively.
Modernist writing is highly experimental.

The combination of the mood of disconnection and the spirit of experimentation results in the use of fragments, juxtaposition, interior monologue, and stream of consciousness.
Writers sought to create a unique style.
Unfortunately, common readers frequently felt alienated by this literature.
Modernism is a reaction to major historical and cultural events.
The overwhelming technological changes of the 20th Century led to the perception of a different world, and World War I, the first war of mass destruction, made the world and life seem threatening or impermanent.
After WW I many American writers and artists expatriated to France where living was cheap and somehow better. It was more exotic and more graceful and luxurious. This led artists to adopt a more international perspective.
The expatriate phenomenon suggested that something had gone wrong with the American dream—with the idea that America was Eden, inherently virtuous, a land of heroes.
Marxist beliefs, which powered the Russian Revolution in 1917 were in direct opposition to the American system of capitalism and free enterprise. This increased the pressure on traditional beliefs and values as Marxists seemed to threaten to export their revolution everywhere.

Sigmund Freud’s promotion of psychoanalysis also put pressure on traditional beliefs and values. If actions were influenced by our subconscious, and if we had no control over our subconscious, there seemed to be little room for free will, ultimately questioning the notion of individuality.

The interest in the human psyche provoked the development of the narrative technique of Stream of Consciousness. This writing style abandoned chronology and attempted to imitate the moment-by-moment flow of a person’s perceptions and memories.

Jazz music, avant-garde art painting and sculpture, modern dance, and literature all embraced improvisation, rule-breaking, and disruption of expectations.
The Harlem Renaissance was a great cultural movement of the early 1920’s.
After WWI, there was a huge migration of African Americans of all ages and all walks of life to the thriving New York City neighborhood of Harlem.
Doctors, singers, musicians, shopkeepers, painters and writers congregated, forming a vibrant mecca of cultural affirmation and inspiration.
“It was the period when the Negro was in vogue.”
—Langston Hughes
Harlem newspapers and journals, such as Crisis and Opportunity, published works of both new and established African American writers.
Richard Wright
(Black Boy. Native Son)
In autobiographies, poetry short stories, novels, and folklore, African American writers affirmed the role of black talent in American culture and focused on different aspects of black life in Harlem, the South, Europe, the Caribbean, and even Russia. They addressed issues of race, class, religion, and gender.
Zora Neale Hurston
folklorist, anthropologist, author
The modernist novel departs strongly from the art and literature that preceded it. According to T.S. Eliot, the ordered, stable and inherently meaningful world- view of the nineteenth century could not reconcile "the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history."
Modernism marks a distinctive break with nineteenth-century optimism; it presents a profoundly pessimistic picture of a culture in disarray.
Recognizing the failure of language to ever fully communicate meaning, the modernists generally downplayed content in favor of an investigation of form.
Modernism is markedly non-egalitarian; its disregard for the shared conventions of meaning make many of its supreme accomplishments largely inaccessible to the common reader.
Modernist American Novelists:
Gertrude Stein
"That is what you are. That's what you all are ... all of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.”
Ernest Hemingway
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Modern Poetry: Symbolist and Imagist Poetry
The Symbolist poets saw the world as spiritually debased—violent, impoverished, conformist. They found little solace in religion, nature, or government, and they set out to erase over-used symbols of religion and nationality.

In a revival and revision of Romanticism,(without using nature), symbolists hoped to help people use their imagination to discover truths revealed in poetry. Symbolist poets tried to rearrange appearances and to describe objects in ways that would portray emotional effects.

Imagists poets (1912-1917) took on the role of reformers. They believed that poetry could be made purer by concentrating on the precise, clear, unqualified image. Imagery alone could carry a poem’s emotion and message, instantly, without stanza patterns and elaborate metrics.

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

—Ezra Pound

"Make it new."
Modernist writers both echoed and challenged The American Dream.
Tenets of The American Dream

America is a new Eden—a promised land of beauty, unlimited resources, and endless opportunities.

To be born an American is to have ever-expanding opportunity. Life just gets better and better.

The independent, self-reliant individual will triumph. Everything is possible for the person who trusts in his own powers and potential.

Modern writers still continued to ask fundamental questions about human existence: who are we? Where are we going? What values should guide us on the search for our human identity?
Overview of Modernism

Emphasis on bold experimentation in style and form, reflecting the fragmentation of society.

Sense of disillusionment and loss of faith in the American dream

Rejection of traditional themes and subject

Rejection of the ideal of a hero who is infallible in favor of a hero who is flawed and disillusioned but shows “grace under pressure.”

Interest in the inner workings of the human mind, sometimes expressed through new narrative techniques.

Modern Poets
Carl Sandburg
Edna St. Vincent Millay
ee cummings
William Carlos Williams
Claude McKay
Writer and Poet
Poet, Activist, Novelist
Playwright, Columnist
Langston Hughes
Full transcript