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Reflections of a working writer and reader

 

 

Modernism VIII

Modernism was, of course, concerned with the modern world. But it made a necessary distinction between the modern and the Modernist. The modern was a matter of period and historical phase; the Modernist a matter of art and technique, a peculiar twist of vision.

Modernism brought together, married, dallied with, rejected and played out the interconnections between the artistic tendencies of earlier times. But it played with a modern consciousness. It hated and at the same time lauded the growth of modern industrialism and the rise of the cities. It attempted to and in many ways succeeded in seeing the world in which we live with new eyes. A mixture of movements and sensibilities and styles and emotions, a cross-fertilization of all of the possibilities took place.

Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (the women of Avignon) in 1906/7. It was an act of outright challenge to the laws of composition and perspective of the past.

le Demoiselle de Avignon

At the same time Guallame Appolinaire began writing poetry which explicitly dismissed the poetic compositions of previous times. Punctuation was rejected, regular typography went out of the window, even recognizable verse forms were undermined. There was a shift away from the obvious, the sentimental, and the lyrical. Poetic sensibilities were searching out a new vocabulary, irony, complexity, tension, structure, ambiguity and toughness.

Poems by DH Lawrence could appear next to those by Ezra Pound. Writers and artists who were futuristic, revolutionary, naturalistic, or romantic, could and would, suddenly, almost overnight, find themselves in certain senses in league with others who were nihilistic, conservative, symbolistic or classical. It was important, not only to celebrate the technological age, but also to condemn it. What took place was a fusing of intellect and emotion, subjective and objective, reason and unreason.

In short, modernism is characterized, apart from its international character, by its fascination with evolving consciousness. This is Strindberg, talking about the characters in his play, Miss Julie, but it is the kind of comment that might have been made by any modernist writer:

Since they are modern characters, living in an age of transition more urgently hysterical at any rate than the age that preceded it, I have drawn them as split and vacillating. . . conglomerations of past and present. . . scraps from books and newspapers.

4 Responses to “Modernism VIII”

  1. Ole Blue says:

    Then are we in a period of post modernism, where the laws of society seem to be made up of two cultures, both fighting for supremecy, one attempting to hold on to the romantic mystological model of the world, and the other trying to see rationaly and logically.

    Or maybe I just need to drink more coffee this morning. Great post.

  2. John Matthew says:

    Poems by DH Lawrence could appear next to those by Ezra Pound. Writers and artists who were futuristic, revolutionary, naturalistic, or romantic, could and would, suddenly, almost overnight, find themselves in certain senses in league with others who were nihilistic, conservative, symbolistic or classical. It was important, not only to celebrate the technological age, but also to condemn it. What took place was a fusing of intellect and emotion, subjective and objective, reason and unreason.

    John love this! What a profound observation. We writers who portray the modern landscape of cities do feel “hysterial” at times at the way the world is going.

    It is as if fiction isn’t catching up with real life and all that remains of fiction is some concocted brush strokes like the ones Picasso made in the painting above.

    John

  3. john baker says:

    More coffee sounds good.
    One of the problems of nailing modernism or post-modernism down, is that history repeats itself, but not all the time. The other problem is that we always fail to learn from history. And the third problem (I’m sure there must be more) is that we always fail to grasp the moment. So by the time we recognize that we’re in a similar position to the one experienced by our grandparents, the moment has passed and moved on and we’re actually somewhere else.
    So, yes, let’s have another cup.

  4. PK says:

    Incidentally it’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (Damsels of Avignon) – this is a profound visionary work by Picasso which ushers in the age of modernism by drawing inspiration from the distant past, one can observe the artist’s intimation of the paleolithic paintings of the Cave of Niaux, coupled with naive composition suggestive of mediaeval figurative work. Thus modernism begins by reaching back to the early more simplistic human soul, this is presented as the motive force and balance for the complex future.
    PK