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Modernist Literature Mr. Bailey
What Is Modernism? What do you think this painting is trying to suggest?
I. Historical Context • Loosely: World War I until the early 1960s • American prosperity led to rapidly changing social boundaries • Civil rights • Women’s liberation • “Hippies” in latter part of era • Era exists as a paradox: commercialization led to conformity, yet conformity resulted in desire for individualism.
II. Overarching Principles • Often summarized as “Make it New!” • Focused bold experimentation with traditional ideas • To “modernize” art, literature, and music
II. Overarching Principles (cont.) B. Common Theme: Importance of Individuality 1. Protagonists often seen in conflict with a corrupt society 2. Literature often focused on protagonists’ struggle to achieve individualism. 3. While protagonists often fail, the authors intend to show them as triumphing in spirit Most important question: Who Am I?
1953 1951 1951 1962 Each of these Modernist novels deals with the struggle of individualism versus society. 1959 1949
II. Overarching Principles (cont.) C. In religion, Modernism rejected traditional views of God and religion – secular humanism 1. Ethics and morality are applied to relative circumstances 2. Right and wrong determined by individual, not God and dogma
III. Literary Style • Emphasis on direct, clear, concise language in both prose and poetry. • Extensive use of symbolism • Abstract, surreal, and fantasy elements return to literature (sometimes called Neo-Romanticism)
1st Paragraph of Poe’s “House of Usher” DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country ; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was - but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable ; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me - upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain - upon the bleak walls - upon the vacant eye-like windows - upon a few rank sedges - and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees - with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium - the bitter lapse into everyday life - the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart - an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it - I paused to think - what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher ? It was a mystery all insoluble ; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. • Words per sentence: 39 • Reading Level: 12
1st Paragraph of Catcher in the Rye • IF YOU REALLY WANT TO HEAR about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. They're quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father. They're nice and all. I'm not saying that-but they're also touchy as hell. Besides, I'm not going to tell you my whole goddam autobiography or anything. I'll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy. I mean that's all I told D.B. about, and he's my brother and all. He's in Hollywood. That isn't too far from this crumby place, and he comes over and visits me practically every week end. He's going to drive me home when I go home next month maybe. He just got a Jaguar. One of those lithe English jobs that can do around two hundred miles an hour. It cost him damn near four thousand bucks. He's got a lot of dough, now. He didn't use to. He used to be just a regular writer, when he was home. He wrote this terrific book of short stories, The Secret Goldfish, in case you never heard of him. The best one in it was "The Secret Goldfish." It was about this little kid that wouldn't let anybody look at his goldfish because he'd bought it with his own money. It killed me. Now he's out in Hollywood, D.B., being a prostitute. If there's one thing I hate, it's the movies. Don't even mention them to me. • Words Per Sentence: 14 • Reading Level: 5
Your Loyola Modernist Experience • Hemingway was an important Modernist Author • Good friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald • Believed in “Iceberg Theory” of writing that many modernists emulated.
Hemingway Short Story • Possibly apocryphal, Hemingway is said to have once wagered that he could write an entire short story in only six words.
Conclusion • An era built on paradox and conflict, Modernism is the most complicated literary era to define • Americans of all backgrounds raised their voices crying for individuality, while a rapidly commercialized culture produced commonality. • In an attempt to “Make it New,” American authors sought to write literature unlike any that had been written in America before.
The Challenges of Chronology Realism (Civil War, Reconstruction, Into WWI) Modernism (WWI, Depression, WWII, Maybe Into 60’s) Postmodernism (WWII, Cold War, Maybe into 80’s or Today) 1860 1880 1900 1920 1940 1960 1980
Romantic Poetry Hear the sledges with the bells- Silver bells! What a world of merriment their melody foretells! How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, In the icy air of night! While the stars that oversprinkle All the heavens, seem to twinkle With a crystalline delight; Keeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells From the bells, bells, bells, bells, Bells, bells, bells- From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells. “The Bells” By Edgar Allan Poe
Modernist Poetry I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast Forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold “This is Just To Say” By William Carlos Williams
Post-Modern Poetry Why don't you answer your phone, you jerk. I love you. Call me to build your business, press idols for mayhem. Have drinks in the barcar. Don't be such an idiot, I love you. Take care of your foot. What restaurant? The man who has no mind keeps changing it. He lies upon the idle grassy bank, like Jacques, letting the world flow past him. It's spotless. The philosophic finger must not be allowed to show; yet where else, if not here, may it reveal itself in the search for form. The result is the individual, one which almost everyone feels. True enough, the following voices would be hard to confuse… “Tom Hanks is a Homosexual” By Andrew Levy
IV. Postmodernism • An extension of modernism, born late in the period but coexisting with it. • Accepts the same basic principals of individuality and the desire to “make it new,” but takes them further. • Primary difference: Modernism finds meaning in chaos and disorder. Postmodernism creates chaos and disorder so the viewer will find meaning.
Modernism Vs. Postmodernism (according to your textbook) Modernism Postmodernism Literature that “allows for multiple meanings and multiple worlds…literal worlds, past worlds, and dreamlike metaphorical worlds may merge…postmodern writers structure their works in a variety of nontraditional forms…they do not abide by conventional rules for shaping fiction…also intensely self conscious: they comment on themselves, criticize themselves, take themselves apart” (802) • Literature that “calls for bold experimentation and wholesale rejection of traditional themes and styles…[demonstrates] thorough disillusionment, that at the mysterious center of creation lay nothing at all…a belief in the self and in such qualities as decency, bravery, competence, and skillfulness …the writers of this era experimented boldly with forms and subject matter. But they were also still trying to find the answers to basic human questions: Who are we?” (566-568) Do you see how difficult it is to define the difference?!