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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Modernism IV

The Surrealists stood against everything which mutilates man’s inner life, or stifles his imagination for the sake of peace and quiet, law and order and the smooth running of the social machine.
Surrealism constantly poses the question: Whether in the eyes of the society in which we live, the ‘compleat person’ is a ‘crime or a miracle.’

The novels of James, Proust, Joyce, Conrad, Faulkner and Virginia Woolf are in some ways a fictional inheritance from French Symbolist poetry. These writers were not so interested as their predecessors with telling a story sequentially and delineating character from birth to death. They were more interested in fragmenting the narrative and chopping experience into small blocks of time. In this way experiences were connected through repeated images and symbols rather than exterior events.
When this type of fiction is on the agenda words like ‘pattern’ and ‘rhythm’ enter the vocabulary. Words introduced by EM Forster in his book, Aspects of the Novel.
In a typical Symbolist novel nothing much happens in the exterior world, and instead we are given an ‘interior monologue’, usually associated with a particular refrain, perhaps from a popular song, a replaying of the narrators experience from his own mind. Remember the television plays of the late Dennis Potter.
These interior monologues are really about the interim between past and future experience and the way that we accommodate to that ‘hole’ in time.

In 1915, six years before the publication of Ulysses, Dorothy Richardson, in England, published Pointed Roofs, which one critic described as ‘a fiction with no drama, no situation, no set-scene. Nothing happens. It is just like life going on and on . . . , neither is there any discernible beginning or middle or end.’

In Russia, by the turn of the century, Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev and Tolstoy were all dead.
Modernism was ushered in by a group of young writers who included Chekhov and Pasternak and Mandalstam. And these writers, along with their contemporaries in other countries were to write novels about the city.

One Response to “Modernism IV”

  1. The Narrator says:

    I always like it when someone reads one of my microfictions and realizes that “nothing really happens.” Because, I always wonder about whether to let plot interfere with the understandings I am hoping to describe.

    Perhaps that explains my love for Ulysses.