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1: Introduction to Modernism

In this presentation, we go over some ideas that provide invaluable contextual information for the study of modernism.

Levi Busch

on 3 October 2013

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Transcript of 1: Introduction to Modernism

Introduction to Modernism
From "Un Chien Andalou" by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí
Marcel Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2
Famed modernist poet Ezra Pound on the day of his arrest for treason.
"Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.
Loveliness extreme.
Extra gaiters.
Loveliness extreme.
Sweetest ice-cream.
Page ages page ages page ages."
From Gertrude Stein's "Sacred Emily"
Jackson Pollock's "Autumn Rhythm"
What do we celebrate about this man?
What did this criminal offer American cultural life?
How do we interpret something that seems so hopelessly abstract and difficult?
HOW is this a nude descending a staircase?
WHAT was Mr. Duchamp thinking when he painted this?
What is going on here?
How do we make sense of this?
What is poetic about this?
What does this MEAN?
What IS this?
What is there to interpret in this painting?
What sort of artistic impulses create THIS?
Does this even make sense?
How did Dalí and Buñuel think of this?
Ezra Pound in 1934: "Make it new!"
These three words capture the soul of modernism.
Each of the aforementioned artists was profoundly concerned with issues of
How does one represent reality?
How do we overturn traditional methods that prevent our full expression?
How can we react to this world when it changes so quickly, when it resists logical interpretation?
What were the modernists reacting against?
Easy question first:
what IS modernism?
We won't get very far with just a definition, so let's continue asking more questions.
We can understand the modernists by understanding not only WHAT they rejected, but WHY they rejected it.
There is a vast expanse of intellectual history before modernism, but the movement against which the modernists most clearly dissented was the Enlightenment.
The Age of Enlightenment
A cultural movement in the 17th and 18th centuries, centered mostly in Europe, that consisted of thinkers who wished to understand the natural world and humankind's place within it solely on the basis of REASON and without turning to religious dogma.
Immanuel Kant
Seminal German philosopher from Königsberg, Prussia. Published important texts on the nature, limitations, and powers of human reason.
"All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason."
From "Critique of Pure Reason"
"If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties."
From "The Advancement of Learning"
Francis Bacon
English philosopher, author, and scientist who pioneered the Scientific Method
Inductive Reasoning
Inductive reasoning constructs or evaluates general propositions that are derived from specific examples.
Each morning, Todd gets out of bed to go to work. If we take quantum mechanics seriously, then there is a distinct probability that, when Todd stands upon his floor, his molecules could be arranged in such a way that allows him to pass through to the downstairs apartment.
Why, then, does Todd not shiver in dread each morning?
Todd has spent morning upon morning NOT falling through his floor. He has INDUCTIVE KNOWLEDGE.

He takes the SPECIFIC instances of not falling through the floor and constructs the GENERAL proposition that it is unlikely for future mornings to involve falling into the apartment below his.
One of the first proponents of empiricism (the idea that knowledge comes primarily from sensory experience)
"Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it."
Thomas Paine
Born in 1737, Paine was a prominent political activist during the American Revolution.
Advocated for colonial America's independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain
John Locke
"No man's knowledge here can go beyond his experience."
Born in 1632, Locke was an English philosopher. The majority of his writings are concerned with identity and the question of the self.
Reason is, in a nutshell, using logic to determine what is "true" or "best," rather than following the dictates of religion or tradition.
Firmly rooted within the empiricist tradition, which asserts that knowledge may only be gained through sensory perception.
The scientific method, pioneered by Francis Bacon, still stands as one of humanity's greatest efforts at logical reasoning.
Sparked by scientists seeking natural explanations of the world, the Enlightenment then spread to literary types who spread its message amongst the middle classes.
The Effects of the Enlightenment
The modern world now requires tangible proof for an assertion to be considered valid.
The Enlightenment was a celebration of the cognitive faculties of the human mind, not the explanatory power of the Church.
Our "truth discourse" shifted from religion to SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY.
This had PROFOUND consequences for the nature of human thought.
Leonardo da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man"
The Vitruvian Man is based on the conception of an "ideal" human form, one that coheres to specific geometrical proportions.
What made the modernists revolt from this tradition?
By 1900, the world was filled with all sorts of new discoveries, technologies, and inventions.
The engine
The automobile
This had two distinct effects on modern culture.

1.) The unprecedented level of technological growth gave humankind a nearly utopian idea of itself. These technologies were thought to have the potential to perfect humankind.
2.) Advancements in communication technology and transportation restructured the individual's life experience. With cars and radios, the world became a (figuratively) smaller place, and this gave humanity a sense of keen strength and energy.
Sigmund Freud (1865-1939)
Freud was an Austrian neurologist who developed the foundational principles of a school of thought he would call "psychoanalysis."
The basic ideas of psychoanalysis are that:
the development of a human mind is largely determined by events from our childhood
our behavior, experience, and thinking are largely determined by unreasonable urges
these urges are instinctive
attempts to bring these drives into awareness meet psychological resistance in the form of defense mechanisms
conflicts between conscious and unconscious material can result in mental disturbance such as neurosis, neurotic traits, anxiety, and depression
the liberation from the effects of the unconscious material is achieved through bringing this material into the conscious mind via psychoanalytic treatment
In the book "The Ego and the Id," Freud posed the idea that mental functioning can be explained as the complex interplay between the id, ego, and superego, different functions of the psyche.
Freud conceived of the "self" as a construct that arises from scattered mental impulses. This idea that the human mind is inherently "fragmented" contrasts with the Enlightenment idea that we are unified selves capable of reaching truth through logical inquiry.
F. H. Bradley
Albert Einstein
Bradley considered that the human mind is a more fundamental feature of the universe than matter and that its purpose is to search for truth.
learn about the historical background of the modern era and its major proponents

be able to analyze modern texts

understand trends within modernism

be able to intelligibly write and speak about this unique cultural movement

develop basic analytical skills in poetry, film, and art.
Course Objectives
In one work, Appearance and Reality: A Metaphysical Essay, Bradley argues that an object in reality can have no absolute contours but varies from the angle from which it is seen. Thus, he defines the identity of a thing as the view the spectator takes of it.
Late 19th century philosopher
If the identity of a thing is the view a spectator takes of it, to what extent is objective knowledge possible?

This idea is in distinct contrast with the Enlightenment dependence on logical inquiry and empiricism. If things are perceptible only through the subjective mind, then our sensory experiences are inherently biased.

The modernists CELEBRATED this.
by Jesse Pope

Who's for the trench--
Are you, my laddie?
Who'll follow French--
Will you, my laddie?
Who's fretting to begin,
Who's going out to win?
And who wants to save his skin--
Do you, my laddie?

Who's for the khaki suit--
Are you, my laddie?
Who longs to charge and shoot--
Do you, my laddie?
Who's keen on getting fit,
Who means to show his grit,
And who'd rather wait a bit--
Would you, my laddie?

Who'll earn the Empire's thanks--
Will you, my laddie?
Who'll swell the victor's ranks--
Will you, my laddie?
When that procession comes,
Banners and rolling drums--
Who'll stand and bite his thumbs--
Will you, my laddie?
by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Which one is the more "modern" poem?
In his work "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies," Albert Einstein's theory of relativity says that, if, for all frames of reference, the speed of light is constant and if all natural laws are the same, then both time and motion are found to be relative to the observer. In other words, there is no such thing as universal time and thus experience runs very differently from man to man.
In our daily lives, we perceive time as discrete and unalterable. Each second lasts exactly the same amount of time, and we order our lives around time's universality.

Einstein's theory of relativity asserts that, in fact, time is not constant. The faster we go, the slower time passes.

Time, one of humanity's most trusted and seemingly unchangeable concepts, is revealed to be a shifting entity.
Questions on Paragraph 2:

1.) What are the consequences of laziness and cowardice with respect to "enlightenment"?

2.) Kant mentions "guardians" as those who make their "cattle" stupid. Can you think of any reasons why these "guardians" would want to maintain the ignorance of the people?

3.) In the 17th century, Galileo Galilei attempted to promote a heliocentric model of the universe, but was excommunicated for heresy (having opinions different than those of the church). Why would the church refute such plain evidence?
Questions on Paragraph 5:

1.) Which restriction is most harmful to enlightenment?

2.) What does it mean for one's reason "to be free at all times?"

3.) Kant lists numerous examples of those who prevent humanity from exercising freedom. Can you think of any modern examples in which we are prevented from exercising "the public use of [our] reason..."?
How do these two poems differ in subject matter?
When we begin our poetry unit, we'll discuss how these two poems differ drastically in terms of form, but for now, let's recognize the following things:

1.) Thomas' poem employs a regular rhyme scheme; Owen's poem lacks a sense of easy rhythm.

2.) Thomas' poem consists of three eight-line stanzas; Owen's poem is a large stanza filled with lines of unequal length.

3.) Thomas' poem sounds almost song-like; the irony in Owen's poem gives it a funereal quality at best.
What does this mean for us? What did all of these developments DO to the modern conception of the world?
1.) The world became a decentered place. It was revealed that the idea of the unified self was fictitious; we were the product of numerous drives and impulses. The "true" nature of time was revealed, and suddenly clocks started seeming slightly more ominous. What COULD we trust in?

2.) The modernists investigated this freedom from traditional beliefs, from the stranglehold of fact. With so many ideas in flux, the modernists were free to concentrate on the newfound "fragmentary" nature of the world.

3.) Content became a secondary (yet still important) concern. If the world was fragmented, then the modernists could reinvent and reinterpret it through art.
Again, Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2"
Before we go back to Duchamp, let's look at two pictures taken by a early 20th century chronophotographer named Etienne Marey.
What is the difference between these two?
With what we've seen from Etienne Marey's chronophotographs, is there any possible explanation for Duchamp's painting?
The main foci of modern culture are:
The human mind and its psychological underpinnings
Cultural Pluralism
Artistic Experimentation
Among many, many others...
All of this is compounded in the overwhelming urge to innovate methods of REPRESENTATION.
Through a thorough investigation of all types of media, we can expect to obtain a good grasp on how the modernists achieved these new goals.
Honing critical thinking skills is not an easy task, but it is a necessary one. Studying a movement as difficult as modernism requires an immense amount of structure, therefore there will be weekly homework assignments.
Weekly discussion board posts on Schoology
Weekly "contextual analyses"
Weekly Quizzes
A contextual analysis is a 2 page minimum response to one or more of the ideas introduced in class.
If you use outside sources, you must cite them appropriately.
For this week's CA, I recommend that you choose either Kant's "What is Enlightenment?" or the video on Freud that we watched.
The successful CA will avoid plot summary and seek to relate the specifics of the text, video, or painting to the overall point being made. For example, a contextual analysis on Kant's essay will strive to examine not only what Kant says, but what it means in the context of modernism.
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