Modernism

Modernism is a literary and cultural and
an international movement which flourished in the first four decades of the 20th century. It reflects a sense of cultural crisis which was both exciting and disquieting, in that it opened up a whole new vista of human possibilities at the same time as putting into question any previously accepted means of grounding and evaluating new ideas. Modernism is marked by experimentation, particularly manipulation of form, and by the realization that knowledge is not absolute.

Modernism was a revolt against the conservative values of realism. Arguably the most paradigmatic motive of modernism is the rejection of tradition and its reprise, incorporation, rewriting, recapitulation, revision and parody in new forms. Ezra Pound’s maxim to “Make it new” is a tag word of modernism. It rejected the lingering certainty of Enlightenment thinking and also rejected the existence of a compassionate, and the concept of an all-powerful creator God. It is an intellectual and artistic movement that developed in conjunction with, and eventually in opposition to, fully developed modernity. Modernist artists and intellectuals were disgusted with the banality and “dehumanized” quality of life in industrial capitalism. They responded to this degradation of the quality of life by retreating into nostalgia for pre-capitalist organic social order, by embracing fascist leaders and ideologies (Ezra Pound’s support of Mussolini, Gertrude Stein’s support of Marshal Petain, etc.) by seeking refuge in radical and sometimes antisocial individualism (Hemingway, J. D. Salinger, etc.) or agrarian populism (Faulkner, John Crowe Ransom and the agrarian “fugitives,” of the 1930s, etc.). High modernist art often features fragmentation and disruption at the level of form (e.g. James Joyce), though it generally attempts to recuperate a sense of order and faith in universal values at the level of content or overall effect. In this way, the modernists attempted to “shore up” (invoking Eliot’s phrase from “The Waste Land”) the grand narratives, the “absolute” truths and values, of the western tradition.

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Modern British literature is the literature of the 20th century. Many events contributed to
the concept of ‘modern’ which are given below.
1. Charles Darwin and his book ‘Origin of Species’ published in 1859. It brought out a new world outlook, especially among religious communities.
2. The emergence of socialism and later communism by the advent of Karl Max by his book Das Capital.
3. The appearance of Sigmund Freud and the psychoanalysis theory influenced the age a lot.
4. Albert Einstein’s  Theory of Relativity combined with Quantum theory.
5. World War I.

All these events dramatically influenced the 20th century and the consequence is modernism. New trends emerged in all disciplines, such as Painting, Music, Arts, Science, and Literature. Traditional tools and techniques and notions were rejected, and new approaches and ideas have emerged. The boundary-breaking art, literature, and music of the first decades of the century are the subject of the topic “Modernist Experiment.”

Literary Characteristics:

1. The first characteristic associated with modernism is nihilism, the rejection of all religious and moral principles as the only means of obtaining social progress. In  other words, the modernists repudiated the moral codes of the society in which they were living in. The reason that they did so was not necessarily because they did not believe in God, although there was a great majority of them who were atheists, or that they experienced great doubt about the meaninglessness of life. Some other important characteristics of modernism include :


2. It is a “a general term applied retrospectively to the wide range of experimental & avant-garde trends in the literature (and other arts) of the early 20th century….
3. It is characterized chiefly by a rejection of 19th-century traditions and of their consensus between author and reader: realism … or traditional meter.
4. Modernist writers tended to see themselves as an avant-garde, disengaged from bourgeois values, and disturbed their readers by adopting complex and difficult new forms and styles.
5. Modernist writing is predominantly cosmopolitan, and often expresses a sense of urban cultural dislocation, along with an awareness of new anthropological and psychological theories. Its favoured techniques of juxtaposition and multiple points of view challenge the reader to re-establish a coherence of meaning from fragmentary forms.”

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Thematic features
1.  Intentional distortion of shapes
2.  Focus on form rather than meaning
3.  Breakdown of social norms and cultural values
4.  Dislocation of meaning and sense from its normal context
5.  Disillusionment
6.  Rejection of history and the substitution of a mythical past
7.  Need to reflect the complexity of modern urban life
8.  Importance of the unconscious mind
9.  Interest in the primitive and non-western cultures
10.  Impossibility of an absolute interpretation of reality
11.  Overwhelming technological changes

Formal features of poetry
1.  Open form
2.  Use of free verse
3.  Juxtaposition of ideas rather than consequential exposition
4.  Intertextuality
5. Use of allusions and multiple associations of words
6.  Borrowings from other cultures and languages
7.  Unconventional use of metaphor
8.  Importance given to sound to convey “the music of ideas”

Free verse
1.  Use of poetic line
2. Flexibility of line length
3. Massive use of alliteration
and assonance
4.  No use of traditional
metre
5.  No regular rhyme scheme
6.  Use of visual images in
distinct lines

Formal features of narrative
1. Experimental nature
2.  Lack of traditional chronological narrative
(discontinuous narrative)
3.  Moving from one level of narrative to another
4. Several different narrators (multiple narrative points of view)
5.  Self-reflexive about the act of writing and the nature of literature (meta-narrative)
6.  Use of interior monologue technique
7.  Use of the stream of consciousness technique
8. Focus on a character’s consciousness and subconscious

Stream of consciousness
1. Aims to provide a textual equivalent to the stream of a fictional character’s consciousness
2.  Creates the impression that the reader is eavesdropping on the flow of conscious experience in the character’s mind
3.  Comes in a variety of stylistic forms
4. Narrated stream of consciousness often composed of different sentence types including free indirect style
5.  characterized by associative (and at times dissociative) leaps in syntax and punctuation

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