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Modernism Lecture ( thingie ) Problematics of definition What is “Modernism?”. Modernism Lecture ( thingie ) Problematics of definition A. Modernism, by its very definition (i.e. what it tries to do) defies definition. WHY? B. History of the Term:

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Modernism Lecture ( thingie ) Problematics of definition What is “Modernism?”

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Modernism lecture thingie problematics of definition what is modernism

  • Modernism Lecture (thingie)

  • Problematics of definition

  • What is “Modernism?”


Modernism lecture thingie problematics of definition what is modernism

  • Modernism Lecture (thingie)

  • Problematics of definition

    • A. Modernism, by its very definition (i.e. what it tries to do) defies definition. WHY?

    • B. History of the Term:

    • 1. Modern, Moderne, Avant-Garde, Symbolism

      • Impressionism, post-impressionism, vorticism, fauvism, imagism, futurism, etc

      • 2. “modernism” is a later label

      • 3. Pan global, pan generational, pan genre, pan discipline

    • Therefore: defies categorical definition

    • C. Semantic definition: “Modern” that which isn’t the past, that which isn’t tradition

      • Problematic since modernism as become a literary tradition. Therefore…

    • 1. Contrary essence of modernism, disruption, hierarchically defined against what came before: Victorianism, enlightenment.

      • i. To catagorize is a Violent act

      • ii. That Both subverts and aspires towards tradition

        • Examples: Flaubert and Romance, lady novels; etc.

  • D. Hence a “definition” of modernism should be based upon attitudes, commonly shared attributes, tone, elements of philosophically based questioning, stylistics, influences, etc.

    • Realization of this versus the “canonical definition.”

      • “Canonical definition” based upon “marketing” or self-propagating agenda.


Modernism lecture thingie problematics of definition what is modernism

  • II. Canonical definition:

    • (now under revision, “modernism” is really “modernisms,” but canonical definition gives a starting point for discussion and revision, gives an illusion of cohesion to an innately non-cohesive movement. ) [though this is still problematic because of issues of gender, class, etc

    • A. Loosely 1899 – 1945, though others have noted different dates: 1910 (woolf), 1914 (Ezra Pound, others). These discrepancies point to the arbitrariness of definition.

    • B. Avant-Gardemovement for the intellectual / artistic elite by the elite.

      • 1. Restricted availability: Distributed via “Little Magazines” and Small Press books

      • Rarified


Modernism lecture thingie problematics of definition what is modernism

  • 2. Grew out of the Symbolist / Aesthetic movement: “Art for Art’s Sake”

  • i. Autonomy of the artist – above economics and social pressures

  • ii. Belief in the Redeeming Value of Art

    • a. Mathew Arnold saw ART AS NEW RELIGION

    • b. hence also, aspires to the Mythic

      • 1. ELIOT’s “Waste Land” AND FRASER, for example

      • 2. Ulysses and the Odyssey

        • c. Baudelire: “By ‘modernity’ I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal and immutable…This transitory, fugitive element, whose metamorphoses are so rapid, must on no account be despised or dispensed with.”


Modernism lecture thingie problematics of definition what is modernism

  • C. The Canonical Definition is based upon writings of “canonical” modernists: Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, Ford Maddox Ford, W. B. Yeats, Joseph Conrad (though he was also considered a Victorian), Eliot.

    • This is a Masculine Pantheon, begrudgingly included Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolf. (this, of course, is under revision)

    • Hence Modernism has many “masculine” traits

  • D. International movement: French modernism as early as 1860s with Baudelaire, Flaubert: Madame Bovary 1857; Germany: Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy (1872), some even consider later Goethe, etc…

    • 1. True globalism. Marked by expatriotism, international centers of modernism such as London, then Paris

  • E. Occurred across disciplines: Occurred in Music, Dance, Architecture, Plastic Arts, philosophy, etc.

    • 1. Influence of Painting upon literature, Picasso upon Stein, Impressionism upon Pound, Cubism on Hemingway, etc. Literary Movements were labeled Imagism, Impressionism, Symbolism, etc after visual techniques


Modernism lecture thingie problematics of definition what is modernism

George Antheil:

“Ballet Mechanique”


Modernism lecture thingie problematics of definition what is modernism

F. A product of modernity: Technology, Science, Psychology

1. Technology

i. Speed, communication, transportation

  • Temporal instability

    ii. Technological War  WWI

    b. Resulted in Mechanized trauma and fascination

    For example Marinetti, Lewis, Faulkner, Conrad Aiken, Robert Brown and Cubism


Modernism lecture thingie problematics of definition what is modernism

  • Manifesto of Futurism

  • We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness.

  • Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry.

  • Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggresive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.

  • We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.

  • We want to hymn the man at the wheel, who hurls the lance of his spirit across the Earth, along the circle of its orbit.

  • The poet must spend himself with ardor, splendor, and generosity, to swell the enthusiastic fervor of the primordial elements.

  • Except in struggle, there is no more beauty. No work without an aggressive character can be a masterpiece. Poetry must be conceived as a violent attack on unknown forces, to reduce and prostrate them before man.

  • We stand on the last promontory of the centuries!... Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the Impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed.

  • We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman.

  • We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.

  • We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we will sing of the multicolored, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals; we will sing of the vibrant nightly fervor of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with a glitter of knives; adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses bridled by tubing; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like an enthusiastic crowd.


Modernism lecture thingie problematics of definition what is modernism

Hans Bellmar


Modernism lecture thingie problematics of definition what is modernism

“Metrolpolis,” Fritz Lang. 1927


Modernism lecture thingie problematics of definition what is modernism

F. A product of modernity: Technology, Science, Psychology

1. Technology

i. Speed, communication, transportation

  • Temporal instability

    ii. Technological War  WWI

    b. Resulted in Mechanized trauma and fascination

    For example Marinetti, Lewis, Faulkner, Conrad Aiken, Robert Brown and Cubism

    2. Science

    i. Entropy

    ii. Darwinism

    iii. Einstein and time/spaceDuchamp and the Dada 4th Dimension


Modernism lecture thingie problematics of definition what is modernism

F. A product of modernity: Technology, Science, Psychology

1. Technology

i. Speed, communication, transportation

  • Temporal instability

    ii. Technological War  WWI

    b. Resulted in Mechanized trauma and fascination

    For example Marinetti, Lewis, Faulkner, Conrad Aiken, Robert Brown and Cubism

    2. Science

    i. Entropy

    ii. Darwinism

    iii. Einstein and time/space Duchamp and the Dada 4th Dimension

    iv. Resulted in a Bleak existential outlook which often takes the shape of IRONY AND SARCASM

    3. Psychology

    about i. Freud and Freudian Symbology

    4. Resulted in casting for alternatives to western religious and philosophical foundation

    i. Mysticism

    ii. Mythic

    iii. Pre-christianity

    G. Rebelled against Victorian Attitudes, stylistics, and morality with Open (and often shocking) sexuality


Modernism lecture thingie problematics of definition what is modernism

  • H. Marked by Stylistic Experimentation: other tensions manifested in modernist stylistics

    • Such as

      • Stream of consciousness

      • unreliable narrators

      • Displacement of the reader

      • Simultanaety and collage

      • Unstable texts and double voiced narratives

    • 2. Also marked by Erudition, difficulty, and inscrutability to Challenge the reader via a reinvention of the text.

      • a. Or Re-awaken the word “worn thin by careless usage”

    • 3. This Confirmed the idea of “artist as privileged”


Modernism lecture thingie problematics of definition what is modernism

  • Overall, tensions of modernity resulted in the “instability of the signifier,” i.e. the old truths no longer held true “the center can not hold / things fall apart” (Yeats).

    • Basic hierarchies fall apart, art (and truth) exists in the space (tension) between opposing forces (Dionysian/apollonian, Point / counter-point, the fugue, negative dialectic, blurring of boundaries)

  •  (But then doesn’t the traditional categorization of modernism as a cohesive movement falls apart or is or is exposed as false truth, self marketing, masculine posturing, etc…?)


Modernism lecture thingie problematics of definition what is modernism

  • III. IN ACTUALITY, Modernism is a rich tapestry, multiplicitous:

  • The danger of reductive definitions is that

    • They ignore liminal voices (women, gay, different ethnicities, lower classes)

    • They ignore troubling aspects or the Dangers of Modernism: “canonical” definition/tradition’s link to fascism;

    • Ultimately can be a misogynistic, elitist, and prejudiced tradition. –Violence of the break w/tradition

    • Simplifies output

    • Innately elitist

      • ART for Art’s sake ignores economics and class, relies on difficulty and privilege

  • B. Important to realize the role that Academia has played in this definition!!!


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