American Modernism Literatura Norte-Americana II
The Centers of Modernism • 1. Stylistic innovations - disruption of traditional syntax and form. • 2. Artist's self-consciousness about questions of form and structure. • 3. Obsession with primitive material and attitudes. • 4. International perspective on cultural matters.
Modern Attitudes • 1. The artist is generally less appreciated but more sensitive, even more heroic, than the average person. • 2. The artist challenges tradition and reinvigorates it. • 3. A breaking away from patterned responses and predictable forms.
Contradictory Elements • 1. Democratic and elitist. • 2. Traditional and anti-tradition. • 3. National jingoism and provinciality versus the celebration of international culture. • 4. Puritanical and repressive elements versus freer expression in sexual and political matters.
Literary Achievements • 1. Dramatization of the plight of women. • 2. Creation of a literature of the urban experience. • 3. Continuation of the pastoral or rural spirit. • 4. Continuation of regionalism and local color.
Modern Themes • 1. Collectivism versus the authority of the individual. • 2. The impact of the 1918 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. • 3. The Jazz Age. • 4. The passage of 19th Amendment in 1920 giving women the right to vote. • 5. Prohibition of the production, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages, 1920-33. • 6. The stock-market crash of 1929 and the Depression of the 1930s and their impact.
Unemployedmenvying for jobsatthe American LegionEmployment Bureau in Los Angeles duringtheGreatDepression.
Modernism and the Self • 1. In this period, the chief characteristic of the self is one of alienation. The character belongs to a "lost generation" (Gertrude Stein), suffers from a "dissociation of sensibility" (T. S. Eliot), and who has "a Dream deferred" (Langston Hughes). • 2. Alienation led to an awareness about one's inner life.
The large cultural wave of Modernism, which gradually emerged in Europe and the United States in the early years of the 20th century, expressed a sense of modern life through art as a sharp break from the past, as well as from Western civilization's classical traditions. Modern life seemed radically different from traditional life -- more scientific, faster, more technological, and more mechanized. Modernism embraced these changes.
In literature, Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) developed an analogue to modern art. A resident of Paris and an art collector (she and her brother Leo purchased works of the artists Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Pablo Picasso, and many others), Stein once explained that she and Picasso were doing the same thing, he in art and she in writing. Using simple, concrete words as counters, she developed an abstract, experimental prose poetry. The childlike quality of Stein's simple vocabulary recalls the bright, primary colors of modern art, while her repetitions echo the repeated shapes of abstract visual compositions. By dislocating grammar and punctuation, she achieved new "abstract" meanings as in her influential collection Tender Buttons (1914), which views objects from different angles, as in a cubist painting:
A Table A Table means does it not mydear it means a whole steadiness.Is it likely that a change. A tablemeans more than a glass even alooking glass is tall. Gertrude Stein
Technological innovation in the world of factories and machines inspired new attentiveness to technique in the arts. • To take one example: Light, particularly electrical light, fascinated modern artists and writers. Posters and advertisements of the period are full of images of floodlit skyscrapers and light rays shooting out from automobile headlights, moviehouses, and watchtowers to illumine a forbidding outer darkness suggesting ignorance and old-fashioned tradition.
Photography began to assume the status of a fine art allied with the latest scientific developments. The photographer Alfred Stieglitz opened a salon in New York City, and by 1908 he was showing the latest European works, including pieces by Picasso and other European friends of Gertrude Stein. Stieglitz's salon influenced numerous writers and artists, including William Carlos Williams, who was one of the most influential American poets of the 20th century.
Vision and viewpoint became an essential aspect of the modernist novel as well. No longer was it sufficient to write a straightforward third-person narrative or (worse yet) use a pointlessly intrusive narrator. The way the story was told became as important as the story itself.
Henry James, William Faulkner, and many other American writers experimented with fictional points of view (some are still doing so). James often restricted the information in the novel to what a single character would have known. Faulkner's novel The Sound and the Fury (1929) breaks up the narrative into four sections, each giving the viewpoint of a different character (including a mentally retarded boy).