Modernism: Ernest Hemingway and T. S. Eliot

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MODERNISM (1901-1945)

Modernism, in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice. More specifically, the term describes a set of cultural tendencies and movements, originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s. The term encompasses the activities and output of those who felt the "traditional" forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organization and daily life were becoming outdated in the new economic, social and political conditions of an emerging fully industrialized world. The first half of the 20th century is then normally referred to in literary histories as ‘Modernism’, a very general term used to talk about a series of different movements and tendencies (impressionism, expressionism, imagism, futurism, Dadaism, surrealism...) that tried to break with old tradition and the realistic concept of art. Modernism challenged the assumption of reality which is at the roots of realism: that there is a common phenomenal world that can be reliably described. Psychoanalysis, Darwinism, Nietzche and Marxism questioned traditional assumptions and so did World War I and the skeptical spirit it brought about. They all helped to shatter traditional beliefs. (((Regardless of the specific year it was produced, modernism is characterized primarily by a complete and unambiguous embrace of what Andreas Huyssen calls the "Great Divide."[7] That is, it believes that there is a clear distinction between capital-A Art and mass culture, and it places itself firmly on the side of Art and in opposition to popular or mass culture. (Postmodernism, according to Hussein, may be defined precisely by its rejection of this distinction.)))))

The artistic response to all these changes took place both in the realm of form and content. From the point of view of content, the horrors of WW I and the arrival of the ideas mentioned before brought about a general spirit of pessimism, disillusionment and skepticism (reflected in The Waste Land, for instance). There was an important group of American writers (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos , e.e.cummings, Hart Crane) who shared this spirit of post-war alienation and lived in Paris for some time, who came to be known as the Lost Generation.

1. HIGH MODERNISM

Just as in painting artists were looking for a new form of expression, in literature writers were trying to experiment and find a new vocabulary and new techniques. Poets dislocated grammar and punctuation looking for new images and ways of expression, and novelists experimented with new points of view and a different conception of time and plot to try to reflect the hidden consciousness of the characters. The term ‘HIGH MODERNISM’ is sometimes used to describe a group of writers particularly interested in this formal revolution. With the exception of William Faulkner, this group is more European-based than American. The two masterpieces in English that best represent this movement are probably T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and James Joyce’s Ulysses, both first published in 1922. These are some of the FORMAL INNOVATIONS introduced by these writers:

In poetry, the concept of ‘image’ (Imagism): the writer’s response to a visual object or scene.

Obscurity, opacity. The reader is required to make an effort to understand the works. In Eliot’s and Pound’s poetry, for example, there are all kinds of cultural references the reader must work hard to understand.

Time is not presented in chronological order. Flashbacks and flash-forwards are used instead.

Fragmented plots, sometimes without a beginning or an end are also frequent.

Disappearance of the traditional omniscient narrator in the novel. In their search for different ways to represent reality, they replaced this narrator by partial points of view or by interior monologues or soliloquies that try to reproduce the ‘stream of...
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