Modernism in Art and Literature

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Modernism as a movement was a response to the horrors of World War-I and to the rising industrial societies and growth of cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It challenged the harmony and the rationality of the Enlightenment and sought to reinvent art and literature of the age. To do so, it broke away from the works of the past and conventions that were earlier held at a pedestal.

The conception that reality could be easily be comprehended was replaced by modernism with a more subjective argument. Reality became not what was directly seen but what was behind the apparent surfaces and it took a crude look at the ugly, the stark behind the glossy surfaces. It was to raise these questions that distortion became a crucial trope in the visual arts of the era. Comte’s Positivism could no longer be used to describe reality. The distorted images force the onlooker to step out of his comfort zone and to question his conception of reality. It highlights the dialectical relationship between the object of expression and the language that expresses it. This was echoed in the Literature of the time where sentences are fragmented and deliberately left incomplete as in Waiting for Godot: VLADIMIR: When I think of it . . . all these years . . . but for me . . . where would you be (Act I) Dialogues are seldom completed and there is an inability to find the correct words to describe the state of the self. This breakdown of language after the Wold War calls out for a need to reinvent language to fit the post war world.

Hitler’s use of almost an enigmatic, opera type use of words (he admired Wagner) that achieved his mass appeal, did also lead to the war. It was perhaps then necessary to breakdown language to reinvent it. The distortion and the fragments not only hint at the former but to a unity hat feeds to be rediscovered. The half-sentences make the reader seek to complete them and participate in the call for a search of a new unity and identity which is...
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