Monday, August 24, 2009

Of Modernism

The main ideas that I guess I associate with Modernism that don’t seem to have come up so much in our readings are the concepts of a more globalized and consumerist consciousness. The former I associate mainly with the advent of World War I, as a major event that involved so many countries in such a profound way, so that its literature couldn’t be limited to primarily a British or American perspective. The latter I think of more in terms of the realization of a kind of literary culture (with both “high” and “low” varieties, such as Joyce acknowledged in Ulysses) and a greater interest in the role of money to shape literary ability (as Woolf discussed).

I think in this regard Modernism would be distinguished from Post-Modernism (or perhaps a post-Post-Modernism) by the fact that even while there may be a greater engagement with other mediums (such as art, music, film, etc), there still seems to be for the most part an acknowledgement of cultural difference at this point, without the challenges to genre boundaries and pop culture appropriations that can often be found in contemporary literature. It seems to me that the high/low literary distinctions may be a factor in the differences between British and American Modernism, since my impressions from my previous experiences so far have been that the ideas of highbrow and middlebrow literature have maybe been a bit more fluid with American writers (or at least with popular and acclaimed women writers such as Cather, Ferber, Loos, and Parker). I guess I mainly associate Modernism with both World Wars (and beginning around I guess the 1880s or 90s), though I think it probably changed over time in some way, particularly with the development of, and changes in, the New Woman concept.

With the gender issue in particular, I associate Modernism with a more politicized approach that seeks to address women’s rights struggles more directly in New Woman literature and war poetry, or in a way that seeks to emphasize sensory and conscious perceptions of domestic life over traditional narrative structures (as with the novels of Woolf and May Sinclair). I also associate this period as being when women could take more dominant roles in different literary movements and subcultures (as Woolf and other writers like Loy did), rather than being perceived as rather uncomfortable parts of the fringes (as many women associated with earlier movements like Romanticism were). Of our readings, I was particularly interested in Reed’s discussions of the Bloomsbury group in terms of their approach to domesticity, and the “Utopia vs. Subculture” issue, because it helped me to better conceive what the circle was about. Otherwise I think I may just agree to some extent with Clive Bell’s attitude towards criticism that Reed cited at the end of his Introduction, though that’s probably because I’m not too familiar with the Bloomsbury writers’ actual works (other than some Woolf), so I don’t want to try setting up some specific notion of what Modernism is.

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