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zlatan filipovic

on 23 April 2018

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Transcript of modernism

Psychological Realism

Stream of consciousness, interior monologue

Turn inward: solipsism and mental landscape, which is why modernist writing is often disorientating

The way the mind processes and projects reality

Truer to reality than realism?
Literary Technique
Characterized by technical, formal and linguistic innovation

Ezra Pounds’ imperative ‘to make it new!’

Aesthetic reaction against realism:

Its objectivity and linearity of historical progression

Stability of the subject (Freud’s influence)


Modernist literature rejects past and conventional forms of expression

Experimentation with form is not arbitrary but captures the uncertainties of the modern world

Preoccupation with repetitive and cyclical rather than chronological time

Obsession with death and decay and an apocalyptic sense that civilization is at an end.
Postwar years characterized by spiritual exhaustion, uncertainty and doubt

The core values and belief systems that had once tethered the nation have now broken down

The general
fragmentation of the social bond
and instability of social values
Modernity and Modernism
But what other post-war effects were reverberating throughout Britain, more positive ones?

Modernity and Modernism
First World War

Rapid technological development and industrialization culminate in the unprecedented slaughter of the First World War

Over 15 million lives lost

Impossible to sustain any belief in scientific progress after the devastating conflict that left Europe in ruins

Sums up the failure of the Enlightenment and rationalism

The hollow truth behind patriotism and virtues of self-sacrifice that used to tether nations is revealed by the conflict
Modernity and Modernism
Realism as inadequate to express the upheavals of modern experience

Not mimetic or representational

Impulse towards abstraction, formalism and perspectivism
The decline of the Empire

Industrialization's disruptive impact on established social structures:

Rapid social change

Alienation and disillusion (Many feel lost in the modern, industrial society)

Discontent with a modernizing world, perceived as fallen and chaotic
Modernity and Modernism
Nietzsche’s influence: “God is dead.” (The Gay Science, 1882)

The human condition is seen as existing in a world without God, without anything to finally justify our existence.

Absence of God or “transcendental signified” implies absence of meaning and final purpose of human existence that has become groundless.

The lack of reliable truth in life
(Nietzschean perspectivism: the fact that every truth is prejudiced)

Epistemological crisis, uncertainty in a Godless universe
Modernity and Modernism
Uncertainty of human existence

H. G. Wells:

There is a definable difference between the novel of the past and what I may call the modern novel. It is a difference that is reflected upon the novel from a difference in the general way of thinking. It lies in the fact that formerly there was a feeling of certitude about moral values and standards of conduct that is altogether absent today. It wasn't so much that men were agreed upon these things—about these things there have always been enormous divergences of opinion—as that men were emphatic, cocksure, and unteachable about whatever they did happen to believe to a degree that no longer obtains… even religion seeks to establish itself on doubt.

“The Contemporary Novel,” 1911
What characterizes modernity? What changes do we witness at the turn of the century?

After all…

“the truest poetry is the most feigning…”

Shelley addressing the West Wind in his Ode:

“O Lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!”

“The genre that most clearly shows the hypothetical core of literature…” (Frye)

“Language that makes abundant use of figures of speech” (Culler)

A violence done to everyday speech

Language takes initiative

It slows us down

Makes us repeat the words
I Among twenty snowy mountains, 
The only moving thing 
Was the eye of the blackbird.

II I was of three minds, 
Like a tree 
In which there are three blackbirds.

III The blackbird whirled in the autumn
It was a small part of the pantomime.

IV A man and a woman 
Are one. 
A man and a woman and a blackbird 
Are one…
“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”
Wallace Stevens
— several viewpoints simultaneously

No single objective truth

Subjectivism, relativity
Modernity and Modernism
Dr Zlatan Filipovic,
Dept of Lang and Lit/English
University of Gothenburg

Modernity and Modernism

Wyndham Lewis, June 1914


The distinction between the identity of the poet and the ‘persona’ or the assumed identity, the fictional I of the poem.
“Honest criticism and sensitive appreciation is directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry.” (T.S. Eliot)
Modernity and Modernism
Modernity and Modernism
Modernity and Modernism
Modernity and Modernism
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon
Literature of fragmentation
Literature of fragmentation
A unity of a number of different perspectives contingent both upon time and place (perspectivism)

None of them able to express the truth

Technological development


Yea Right!
Modernist aesthetic can be seen as a dissatisfied hunger for the form that captures the violent and fractured experience of the world
Suffrage movements and women’s enfranchisement (1918)

No longer domestic duties of the Victorian ideal but a driving force behind the military economy during the war
Full transcript