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Modernism and Technology
Transcript of Modernism and Technology
This painting is called "The Mud Bath."
It was painted by the British artist David Bomberg in 1914.
The Romantic and the Modern
All semester long we've been using these two words to describe two different periods, and two different styles, of literature.
Over the course of the 19th century, we've said, Romanticism slowly gave way to Modernism.
But what is the difference?
Owen & Sassoon
What happened here?
Unfortunately this question is extremely complicated.
The Romantic and the Modern
Owen & Sassoon &c
Where Romantics saw solutions to social problems in the past,
Modernists saw solutions in the future.
frightened by urbanism & poverty
wants to return to the time of Jesus Christ
frightened by science & medicine
idealizes domestic values like sympathy
frightened by sex, markets, modern religions
idealize domestic values & pre-Reformation religious ideals
I want to talk more today about Modernism's ideas about the future.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, many people, including many artists, associated the future with certain technologies.
Much like the beginning of the twenty-first century.
For modernists, the key technologies were of two kinds: communications technologies and transportation technologies.
Marconi sending a wireless message across the Atlantic Ocean--around 1901
We saw an early example of commercial cinema:
, from 1910.
Last year you read
, which begins with installing a telephone. First performed 1916.
Luigi Russolo, "Dynamism of a Car" (1912)
Carlo Carrà, "Jolts of a Cab" (1911)
Many modernist artists replaced old ideas of beauty with imagery from new technologies.
"Futurism" was a self-named, organized artistic movement, particularly in Italy (led by Marinetti) and in Russia (led by Mayakovsky).
We could say a lot about Futurism, but the important thing for us is that in 1910 Marinetti came to England to popularize his ideas through wacky performances and "Futurist music."
His performances were seen by Ezra Pound.
In England, Ezra Pound had been promoting the idea of "Imagism" in poetry.
"In a Station of the Metro" is the most famous Imagist poem.
The apparition of these faces in a crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Like Marinetti's Futurism, Imagism had a manifesto, too. The key ideas were:
1. To use the language of common speech, but to employ the exact word...
2. ...the individuality of a poet may often be better expressed in free verse than in conventional forms. In poetry, a new cadence means a new idea.
3. Absolute freedom in the choice of subject.
5. To produce a poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.
In response to Marinetti and other Futurists' ideas, Ezra Pound and his friend Wyndham Lewis invented "Vorticism."
This is the first issue of the Vorticist magazine,
from Pound's "Vortex" Manifesto
All experience rushes into this vortex. All the energized past, all the past that is living and worthy to live. All MOMENTUM, which is the past bearing upon us, RACE, RACE-MEMORY, instinct charging the PLACID,
The DESIGN of the future in the grip of the human vortex. All the past that is vital, all the past that is capable of living into the future, is pregnant in the vortex, NOW.
from BLAST issue 1, 1914
Some other artists were working in ways that resembled Pound's imagism.
In particular, William Carlos Williams' poetry was similar. Both Pound and Williams felt that in truly modern literature, there would be "no ideas but in things"--that is, just images, just description.
The poet becomes a camera.
The Red Wheelbarrow
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
A Monster Owl
A monster owl
out on the fence
flew away. What
is it the sign
of? The sign of
by Lorine Niedecker
Vorticism and Machine Imagery
There is actually little "Vorticist" literature in English. There is much more in Italian and Russian.
But Pound claimed that this poem by "H.D." was Vorticist:
Whirl up sea —
Whirl your pointed pines,
Splash your great pines
On our rocks,
Hurl your green over us,
Cover us with your pools of fir.
A little hard to say why this is "Vorticism."
But the images of rotation, of violence,
and the absurd imagery of the last line, are clues.
In general, Vorticism seems to have existed primarily as manifestos.
But there are some good examples of Vorticism in art.
Particularly interesting for us is the most famous Vorticist sculpture,
, by Jacob Epstein.
After two years,
Epstein took the first version apart, sold the rock drill, and exhibited the torso, producing an entirely different piece of art.
Much later, Epstein said this about his own sculpture:
My ardour for machinery (short-lived) expended itself upon the purchase of an actual drill, second-hand, and upon it I made and mounted a machine-like robot, visored, menacing, and carrying within itself its progeny, protectively ensconced. Here is the armed sinister figure of to-day and to-morrow. No humanity, only the terrible
we have made ourselves into.
And that is how the alliance between machinery and technology ended--at least for some artists.
John Dos Passos' Mechanical Novel
Two Further Experiments
Gertrude Stein and Cinema
Portrait of Stein by Picasso
Gertrude Stein's "portraits" of painters caused a scandal and have inspired a hundred years of literary experiments.
She claimed that "I was doing what the cinema was doing, I was making a continuous succession of the statement of what that person was until I had not many things but one thing."
Portrait of Picasso by Stein (1912)
Dos Passos' trilogy of novels, called
(1930-1937), is broken up into what he called a "
four-way conveyor system
Along with the usual narrative material, it also includes sections called
, and biographies of famous people.
Like most modern writers, Dos Passos was strongly influenced by Joyce.
As should now be clear,
analogies between art and technology,
and the influence of technologies on art,
are both major components of literary modernism.
Just a quick look.
Then we can return and sum up.
challenges stasis and tradition
looks forward to a epiphanic breakthrough to new forms of life
challenges traditional roles
looks forward to a world of equals
reject a culture of war and death
look forward to a world of peace
in Experimental Cinema
(1921) Strand and Sheeler
(1924) by Leger
Man with a Movie Camera
(1929) by Vertov
Berlin, Symphony of a Great City
All these films are available free and in full at the Internet Archive
Other modern artists founded a rich
tradition of experiment with film itself.
Table of Contents
A Couple of Pages
Gerard Stanley Lee
The Voice of the Machines
...in this beginning hour of the twentieth century there are not a few of us—for the time at least allowed to exist upon the earth—who are obliged to say...“the locomotive is beautiful.”
[....]We do not know why a locomotive is beautiful. We are perfectly aware that it ought not to be. We have all but been ashamed of it for being beautiful—and of ourselves.
[....]Unless the word “beautiful” is big enough to make room for a glorious, imperious, world-possessing, world-commanding beauty like this, we are no longer its disciples. It is become a play word. It lags behind truth.
Full text at
The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism
"A racing automobile whose hood is adorned with great pipes
like serpents of explosive breath...is more beautiful than the
Victory of Samothrace
Victory of Samothrace
Racing Automobile, 1910