Where are we coming from?
– the individual
– the imagination
– Truth of subjective
– Inherent innocence
and goodness of humans
• Response to rapid changes
– Post war industrialization (war is
a victory of the industrial over the
– Immigration (factory workers)
– Science and technology (e.g.
phonograph, light bulb, train,
Naturalism (the philosophical roots of realism)
• Idealism and reverence for individual realities are weak and avoid
the messy complexities of the “real” world.
• Freud, Darwin, and Marx: Human actions are driven by repressed
fears and desires (the unconscious), the physical environment
(survival of the fittest), and socioeconomics (relations between the
haves and have-nots—or between capital and labor).
• Tell me what your relationship with your mother/father was like,
how much money you make, and where you live and I’ll tell you
what you fear, desire, and think.
• And on top of all that, the universe is completely, totally, utterly,
absolutely indifferent to those fears, desires, and thoughts. It is
“amoral” and ambivalent.
The literary/artistic response:
Realism (a technique)
• Empiricism trumps intuition and subjectivity: truth is verified by
• Observation of the objective and the individual response to it.
• Mimetic art: portray life as it is lived in the world of conditions.
• That is, portray ordinary people (e.g. Harte’s outcasts of poker flat,
Crane’s boatmen and hotel guests, London’s dying men),
• speaking like ordinary people (e.g. Twain’s storyteller, the characters
in The Awakening),
• struggling against their fears/desires (e.g. Edna, Farquar), their
immediate physical environment (e.g. “The Open Boat,” “The Law
of Life,” “To Build a Fire”), and social/economic forces (e.g. the
Swede, Daisy Miller, Sylvia)
century ideas take root, flower, and produce poisoned fruit:
• Science becomes “scientism.” Culture created by science/technology—
Freud (unconscious), Darwin (environment), Marx (socioeconomics).
• Birth of mass communication and popular culture—an attack on the “local”
and the “commodification” of culture (language, beauty, morality become
co-opted, bought, and sold).
• Time/Space relations change: the automobile, suburbs (changes notions of
“home,” “here,” and “soon.”)
• “Free market capitalism” rationalizes and institutionalizes disparities
between capital and labor (i.e. the haves and have-nots).
• “Great migration”--increases diversity in culture, language, and social
structures—and incoherence and stability of communities.
• The biggie: World War I. A new kind of war.
• Bottom line: life is fundamentally different, and “old” or traditional ways of
Alienation: The Heart of Modernism
From culture (“pop culture” and “the masses”).
From society (the Depression, growing rich/poor gaps).
From politics (world war and the political “elites”).
From nature (scientism, technology, urbanization).
From self (you think what you think and do what you do because
of either unconscious drives that are out of your control [Freud] or
because of social conditioning out of your control
• From meaning (the world is a meaningless, chaotic, Godless place
where humans impose meaning): “God is dead”—Nietzsche.
So, what if you wake up one day and realize all the
world’s a meaningless mess? What do you do?
• You search for and/or create meaning and clarity.
• Life is a quest for meaning, and the quest, not the particular
meaning, becomes the subject of art.
• Allusions to archetypes, mythology, and history are common in
modernist literature. They allow the writer and the reader to
participate in the crafting of a human history in a meaningless
• Perspective, subjectivity, and the experience of these becomes the
subject of art (cynical, despair-riddled romantics, sort of).
So what does this mean for literature?
• Fragments, unresolved conflicts, and open endings rather than
coherent, resolved wholes.
• Ambiguity, idiosyncrasy, subjectivity, irrationality.
• Literature should be an artistic “experience”—not a lesson or a
commentary or something otherwise corrupted by its connection
to the world.
• “Art for art’s sake”—form privileged over content.
• Use of the disillusioned “anti-hero”—who lives by a personal
code that demands vigilance against traditional, but fraudulent,
heroic codes of allegiance to social and political institutions.
• Representation of the inner life—the psychological reality and
“flow of experience”—stream of consciousness.
Every aspect of the whole subject,
broken down into fragments,
analyzed, reassembled and
portrayed simultaneously in a
Woman Playing a Mandolin, Picasso,
The Head of a Woman, Picasso
Anti-art. Reflected irrationality and cynicism toward
social values. Sometimes absurd and playful, emotive
and intuitive, and often cryptic. Response to a world
Bride Striped Bare, Marcel Duchamp
Bicycle Wheel, Marcel Duchamp
Seeks to present the inner life of humanity rather
than its outward appearance.
The Scream, Edvard Munch
Interior of the 4th Dimension, Max Weber
• Depict/evoke the feeling or experience of the
thing rather than the thing.
• Focus on light and color, not on lines
(believed that we see light not matter).
• Visible brush strokes (calls attention to the
individual process of creation).
Water Lilies, Claude Monet
Imagism: Early Modernist Poetry
• Use the language of common speech.
• Use the exact word and use no extraneous words—
precision and concision.
• Avoid clichés.
• Create “moods.”
• Present a concentrated image (and an image for
• Suggest, rather than dictate.
Ezra Pound on Imagism:
“An ‘Image’ is that which presents an
intellectual and emotional complex in an instant
of time.” An image “gives that sense of sudden
liberation; that sense of freedom from time
limits and space limits; that sense of sudden
growth, which we experience in the greatest
works of art.”
“In a Station of the Metro,” Pound (1913)
The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.
“The Red Wheelbarrow,” WC Williams
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
Every aspect of the whole
subject, broken down into
reassembled and portrayed
simultaneously in a single
Picasso, Seated Nude
Picasso, The Head of a Woman
Reflected irrationality and
cynicism toward social values.
Sometimes absurd and playful,
emotive and intuitive, and often
cryptic. Response to a world
gone mad. “Anti-art.”
Max Ernst, untitled
Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a
Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle
Hydrometric Demonstration of how to Kill by Temperature, Max
Seeks to present the inner life of humanity
rather than its outward appearance. A
heightened reality, often via the non-objective
use of symbols, stereotyped characters, and
stylization, in order to give objective expression
to inner experience
Lavender Mist, Jackson
Study for Woman, Willem De
A means of reuniting conscious and
unconscious realms of experience so
completely that the world of dream and fantasy
would be joined to the everyday rational world
in "an absolute reality, a surrealist“(quote from
Andre Breton). Drawing heavily on theories
adapted from Sigmund Freud, surrealists saw
the unconscious as the wellspring of the
Lobster Telephone, Salvador
Persistence of Memory, Salvador
The Age of Enlightenment, Rene Magritte
I am the Walrus, Beatles
Yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog's eye
Crabalocker fishwife pornographic priestess
Boy you been a naughty girl
You let your knickers down
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen
I am the walrus, goo goo goo joob
Semolina pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower
Elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna man
You should have seen them kicking Edgar Alan Poe
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen
I am the walrus, goo goo goo joob goo goo goo joob
Goo goo gooooooooooo jooooob
In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey
Butane in my veins and I’m out to cut the junkie
With the plastic eyeballs, spray-paint the vegetables
Dog food stalls with the beefcake pantyhose
Kill the headlights and put it in neutral
Stock car flamin’ with a loser and the cruise control
Baby’s in reno with the vitamin d
Got a couple of couches, sleep on the love-seat
Someone came in sayin’ I’m insane to complain
About a shotgun wedding and a stain on my shirt
Don’t believe everything that you breathe
You get a parking violation and a maggot on your sleeve
So shave your face with some mace in the dark
Savin’ all your food stamps and burnin’ down the trailer park