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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Modernism III

Expressionists were amongst the most interesting of the Modernists. They believed that modern industrial capitalism had hijacked the human spirit, had somehow increased the ability to manipulate the external world by appropriating the inner life of the individual and the community. The spirit, which had always been free, was now forced into the service of a function. Previously, the spirit had been an end in itself, but now it had meaning only insofar as it could be applied to practical life. The human spirit was increasingly unable to express itself in the affairs of everyday life, and was confined within a realm of inwardness, the dimensions of which were continually shrinking.

Their answer: To transcend reality, not by running away from it, but by grasping it all the more passionately. To see ‘humanity in the whores and the divine in the factories.’

The Expressionists used Cabaret as a means of publicizing their work. The movement is associated with artists like Oscar Kokoschka, Kafka, Hammett and Brecht. The Naturalists took a leaf out of nature and looked at it with clear sight; stripped it of its surroundings. The Expressionists wanted to depict what it felt like.

Bertolt Brecht 1935

Bertolt Brecht 1935

The Expressionists and Dadaists united together in rejecting the civilization which had ‘produced the flame-thrower and the machine-gun.’

The communists and Expressionists foundered in the mistaken belief that it is possible to change the world by forcing it to conform to a set of pre-existent ideals. The Dadaists, on the other hand, realized that the first step in changing the world consists in the acceptance of things as they are, in their absurdity. The second step is persuading a situation to change under the impetus of its own inherent dynamic. And the third step arises in laughter at the realization that in reality nothing has changed at all.

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