Modernism is an age dominated by the dialectical relationship between tradition and innovation, continuity and discontinuity, a period pervaded by influences of Proustian minute self-examination and Dostojevskian creation. A full definition of modernism would be rather difficult. First, it stands for certain tendencies, and secondly for a body of doctrine which, if it has not given birth to these tendencies (a practice often precedes theory), serves at any rate as their explanation and support.
a)modern character, tendencies or values;
b)adherence to or sympathy with what is modern;
c)a modern usage or characteristic;
d)from the theological point of view it means:
- the movement in Roman Catholic thought that sought to interpret the teachings of the
Church in the light of philosophic and scientific conceptions prevalent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries;
- the liberal theological tendency in Protestantism in the 20th century;
sometimes it could mean a deliberate philosophical and practical estrangement or divergence from the past in the arts and literature occurring esp. in the course of the 20th century and taking form in any of various innovative movements and styles.
Modernism deals with the radical shift in aesthetic and cultural sensibilities evident in the art and literature of post World War One. This age has no precise boundaries, but, at its strictest, in Anglo-American literature, it expands from 1890 to 1920.
Modernism “is the art consequent on the disestablishing of communal reality and conventional notions of causality, on the destruction of traditional notions of the wholeness of the individual character, on the linguistic chaos that ensues when public notions of language have been discredited and when all realities have become subjective fictions.” (Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane, eds. Modernism: 1890-1930. Harmondsworth; New York: Penguin, 1976. p. 27. ) .
The roots of Modernism lie much deeper in history than the middle of the 19th century. For historians, the modern period actually begins with the Renaissance, when we encounter humanism, the notion that man is the measure of all things and the utopian vision of a perfect society. The modernist thinking that emerged in the Renaissance took shape in the 18th century in the famous Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns which introduced the dichotomy between conservative forces supporting the Ancients and the progressive forces siding with the Moderns who conceived a world anew. The Moderns envisioned a world conceived anew, not one that merely imitated ancient models. After The Revolution of 1789, the Ancients came to be identified with old order, while the Moderns formed a new movement called Romanticism.
The term is used to describe the art and literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that self-consciously breaks with the past and actively seeks new forms of expression. The modern movement refers to the necessity of an individual rejecting the previous tradition, and by creating individual techniques, produces work which is original to that artist. In general, the modern movement sought to reach down to basic perceptual and primitive, in the sense of being fundamental, realities.
As the 19th century progressed, the exercise of artistic freedom became fundamental. Soon, it was claimed that art should be produced for art’s sake. It was a deliberate affront to bourgeois sensibility, which demanded that art should instruct, delight or moralize. From now on, art was to be discussed in terms of style, shape, color, space, composition, conveniently ignoring whatever social, political, remaining aloof from the malignant of an increasingly dehumanizing technological culture. Modernism, as a tendency, is rooted in the idea that the „traditional’ forms of art, literature, religious faith, social organization and daily life had become outdated. Modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence.
The first great experiment in creating a new and better society was undertaken in what was literally the new world and the new ideals were first expressed in the Declaration of Independence of the newly founded United States. It is Enlightenment thinking that informs such phrases as “we hold these truths to be self-evident” and which underpins the notion “that all men are created equal.” Its wordly character is clearly reflected in its stated concern for man’s happiness and welfare in this lifetime, a new notion that runs counter to the Christian focus on the afterlife.
Modernism marks a radical break with Victorian bourgeois morality, rejecting nineteenth-century optimism while presenting a deeply pessimistic picture of a culture in anarchy, which generates apathy and moral relativism.
The modern age is the modern dilemma of consciousness, a period in which the effects of various social changes preceding the 20th century, such as the Industrial Revolution, brought about new perspectives on life. The growth of science and technology was another significant factor. For example, the Darwinian theory of evolution challenged the existing perceptions, especially with regard on religion, for this theory promoted the idea that humanity had not been created by God, but that man had developed in an evolutionary line. During this period, we witness the industrialization and the movement away from the rural and nature-based relationship of man to the environment. Perceptions of man’s own nature were explored by Sigmund Freud and Nietzsche who broke with the Enlightenment tradition which conceived man as inherently good and they created a great cultural revolution characterized by the heightened awareness of the self, by means of intense introspection. Freud propagated the idea of the unconscious as a prime-determining factor in the understanding of the human self.
Powerfully influential in this wave of modernity were the theories of Sigmund Freud, who argued that the mind had a basic and fundamental structure and that subjective experience was based on the interplay of the parts of the mind. All subjective reality was based, according to Freud’s ideas, on the play of basic drives and instincts, through which the outside world was perceived. Many modernists believed that by rejecting tradition they could discover radically new ways of making art. The idea of the unconscious was also explored by Carl Yung, who suggested that all human behavior was linked to the understanding of the Archetypes of the unconscious. The Archetypes refer to the deeper layer of the unconscious that are common to all cultures.
It is better regarded as part of a broad plexus of concerns which are variably represented in a hundred and twenty years of European writing: experimentation, ruthless rejection of the past, even iconoclasm, preference for allusion, rather than for description, world seen through character’s inner feelings and mental states, cultivation of an individual consciousness, estrangement from religion, nature, writing more cerebrally than emotionally, intellectualism, anti-realism etc.
Modernism encourages an interdisciplinary approach, linking music, literature, architecture, painting and all sort of visual arts. In its heroic beginnings, this movement compelled the artist to give up a particular means of pictorial rendering which has been the norm in the West, at least since the Renaissance. Thus, the two giants of European Modernism in painting, Matisse and Picasso gave up depiction and laid stress on the reinterpretation of the perceptual reality. Art historians speak of modern art as primarily concerned with essential qualities of color, while exhibiting a reduction of interest in the subject matter.
Modernism flourished mainly in consumer/capitalist societies, despite the fact that its proponents often rejected consumerism itself. However, modernism began to merge with consumer culture after World War II, especially during the 1960s. In Great Britaina youth sub-culture even called itself “modernists”.
The formalist critic Clement Greenberg, in an article entitled “Modernist Painting” asserted that “modern painting and sculpture abandoned the mundane affairs of the ordinary people and the materialistic world, placing emphasis on the visual side of these arts.”
In literature, this movement was expressed by writers who tried some radical experiments form, throwing off the aesthetic burden of the realistic novel, destroying the image of the omniscient narrator; poets like Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot have worked in free verse and their fragmented poetic forms revolutionized language; novelist such as Joyce, Proust and Woolf experimented the technique of consciousness, trying to capture the characters’ internal thought process. We can not talk about the modern period without making references to Virginia Woolf.
The stable and inherently meaningful world view of the 19th century could not accord “with the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history” said T. S. Eliot, another outstanding modernist. Modernism abandoned the social world, favouring its narcissistic concern with language and its process. Modernism is a set of aesthetic ideas and techniques that lay claim to the modern present
Modernism is a general term applied retrospectively to the wide range of experimental and avant-garde trends in the literature (and other arts) of the early 20th century…. Modernist literature is characterized chiefly by a rejection of 19th-century traditions and of their consensus between author and reader: conventions of realism … or traditional meter.
Modernist writers tended to see themselves as an avant-garde disengaged from bourgeois values, and disturbed their readers by adopting complex and difficult new forms and styles. In fiction, the accepted continuity of chronological development was upset by Joseph Conrad, Marcel Proust, and William Faulkner, while James Joyce and Virginia Woolf attempted new ways of tracing the flow of characters’ thoughts in their stream-of-consciousness styles. In poetry, Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot replaced the logical exposition of thoughts with collages of fragmentary images and complex allusions….. Modernist writing is predominantly cosmopolitan, and often expresses a sense of urban cultural dislocation, along with an awareness of new anthropological and psychological theories. Its favoured techniques of juxtaposition and multiple points of view challenge the reader to reestablish a coherence of meaning from fragmentary forms.
WRITTEN BY: NAE Mihaela