This image was printed on the postcard commemorating the Armory Show ofthe art show that introduced Modern Art to the American public. The first half of the twentieth century is an extremely rich period for American letters. Whatever I list here will only scratch the surface. But I have tried to include a sampling of the most famous and characteristic works of the most-discussed writers, a great start for anyone who wants to capture the flavor of American Modernist Literature.
For an introduction to the characteristics of American Modernist Literature, see this post. You can find most of these poems online to read for free. Try searching Poetryfoundation. The Monongahela River Valley, Pennsylvania. Painting by American artist John Kane showcases Modernist interest in primitive and folk styles.
Edgar Lee Masters.
Elements of Modernism in American Literature
Spoon River Anthology This work is a series of short free verse poems written from the points of view of various residents of the small Midwestern town of Spoon River. In just a few short lines, Masters shows how each individual would sum up their lives, revealing the sins, sorrow, and frustrations they hid from others while alive.
Most of the characters were based on real people whom Masters knew in Lewistown, Illinois, where he grew up. In our day, however, according to an article in Humanities magazine, Lewistown celebrates the work penned by their famous resident. You can read about how Lewistown celebrates Spoon River here. This work also captures the cramped unhappy lives of small town Americans, but in the form of fiction rather than poetry. I think you will enjoy sampling some of the many poems from the volume.
Ezra Pound is now as famous for his fascism as for his poetry. Eliot, Robert Frost, Williams, H. For a sampling of his own work, see the following:. These two brief excerpts from his writings summarize the principles he and his colleagues thought should govern a new kind of poetry to suit the Modern age. For the quintessential High Modernist expression of 20th century angst, turn to poet T.
In the first two famous and fairly accessible poems listed here, Eliot explores the shallow meaninglessness of human life, especially within the newly impersonal mechanized culture of the early 20th century.
Want to wade deeper? In addition to a dose of angst-ridden Modernist confusion, Eliot also gives us some of the most unforgettable images and beautiful, musical sounds of any poem ever written, worth experiencing even if his view of life rubs you the wrong way.
Hilda Doolittle. She became one of the most accomplished and widely recognized Imagist writers. In Imagist poems, emotions are conveyed through means of vivid pictures, without long verbal explanations or abstract language.
This brief sample of H. These works also showcase the Modernist interest in classical mythology. Amy Lowell.
Another practitioner of Imagism, Lowell championed this method of poetry-writing through her work, and by giving talks on the Imagist method of writing poetry. William Carlos Williams. Just plunge in and sample! But now, understanding his aesthetic aims, and having experienced more of what life is really like, how I love his work!Stretching from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, Modernism reached its peak in the s; Post-modernism describes the period that followed during the s and s.
Monet painting in his garden in Argenteuil by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The shift to modernism can be partly credited to new freedoms enjoyed by artists in the late s. Traditionally, a painter was commissioned by a patron to create a specific work. The late 19th century witnessed many artists capable of seizing more time to pursue subjects in their personal interest. At the same time, the growing field of psychology turned the analysis of human experiences inward and encouraged a more abstract kind of science, which inspired the visual arts to follow.
With shifts in technology creating new materials and techniques in art-making, experimentation became more possible and also gave the resulting work a wider reach.
Officially debuting inImpressionism is considered the first Modernist art movement. With leaders like Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoirthe Impressionists use of brief, fierce brush strokes and the altering effect of light separated their work from what came before it.
Subsequent movements such as Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Constructivism, and De Stijl were just a sampling of those following the experimental path started by Impressionism. The Dada movement took experimentation further by rejecting traditional skill and launching an all-out art rebellion that embraced nonsense and absurdity.
Dadaist ideas first appeared inand the movement was made official in with its Berlin Manifesto. French artist Marcel Duchamp exemplified the haughty playfulness of the Dadaists. His piece Fountaina signed porcelain urinal, and his L.
In doing so, Duchamp predicted Post-Modernism. Artist Jackson Pollock working in his studio. Modernism reached its peak with Abstract Expressionism, which began in the late s in the United States. Moving away from commonplace subjects and techniques, Abstract Expressionism was known for oversized canvasses and paint splashes that could seem chaotic and arbitrary. Painter Jackson Pollack became famous for his method of dripping paint onto canvas from above.
The transition period between Modernism and Post-Modernism happened throughout the s. Pop Art served as a bridge between them. Pop Art was obsessed with the fruits of capitalism and popular culture, like pulp fiction, celebrities and consumer goods.Modernismin the fine arts, a break with the past and the concurrent search for new forms of expression.
Modernism fostered a period of experimentation in the arts from the late 19th to the midth century, particularly in the years following World War I. In literature, visual art, architecture, dance, and music, Modernism was a break with the past and the concurrent search for new forms of expression. All the arts sought an authentic response to the industrialization and urbanization of the late 19th century.
In literature, Modernist writers such as Henry James and Virginia Woolf cast off traditional continuity, employing stream-of-consciousness narration instead. Architects sought unique forms for new technologies. Choreographers rebelled against both balletic and interpretive traditions, and composers used untried approaches to tonality.
There were discernible shifts in all the arts: writers turned to irony and self-awareness; visual artists focused on the process rather than the finished product; postmodern architects used decoration for the sake of decoration; choreographers replaced conventional dance steps with simple movements, including rolling, walking, and skipping; and composers jettisoned such traditional formal qualities as harmonytempo, and melody.
In an era characterized by industrializationrapid social changeand advances in science and the social sciences e. New ideas in psychology, philosophyand political theory kindled a search for new modes of expression.
The Modernist impulse is fueled in various literatures by industrialization and urbanization and by the search for an authentic response to a much-changed world. Although prewar works by Henry JamesJoseph Conradand other writers are considered Modernist, Modernism as a literary movement is typically associated with the period after World War I.
A primary theme of T. With its fragmentary images and obscure allusionsthe poem is typical of Modernism in requiring the reader to take an active role in interpreting the text. Portions of the book were considered obscene, and Ulysses was banned for many years in English-speaking countries. The term Modernism is also used to refer to literary movements other than the European and American movement of the early to midth century. See also American literature ; Latin American literature.
Composers, including Arnold SchoenbergIgor Stravinskyand Anton Webernsought new solutions within new forms and used as-yet-untried approaches to tonality. Each of them examined a specific aspect of dance—such as the elements of the human form in motion or the impact of theatrical context—and helped bring about the era of modern dance.
The avant-garde movements that followed—including ImpressionismPost-ImpressionismCubismFuturismExpressionismConstructivismde Stijland Abstract Expressionism —are generally defined as Modernist.
Over the span of these movements, artists increasingly focused on the intrinsic qualities of their media—e. By the beginning of the 20th century, architects also had increasingly abandoned past styles and conventions in favour of a form of architecture based on essential functional concerns.
Modernism and Post-Modernism History
They were helped by advances in building technologies such as the steel frame and the curtain wall. In the period after World War I these tendencies became codified as the International stylewhich utilized simple geometric shapes and unadorned facades and which abandoned any use of historical reference; the steel-and-glass buildings of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier embodied this style. In the mid-to-late 20th century this style manifested itself in clean-lined, unadorned glass skyscrapers and mass housing projects.
In the late 20th century a reaction against Modernism set in.The history of American literature stretches across more than years.
It can be divided into five major periods, each of which has unique characteristics, notable authors, and representative works.
The first European settlers of North America wrote about their experiences starting in the s. This was the earliest American literature: practical, straightforward, often derivative of literature in Great Britain, and focused on the future. In its earliest days, during the s, American literature consisted mostly of practical nonfiction written by British settlers who populated the colonies that would become the United States.
John Smith wrote histories of Virginia based on his experiences as an English explorer and a president of the Jamestown Colony. These histories, published in andare among the earliest works of American literature.
Nathaniel Ward and John Winthrop wrote books on religion, a topic of central concern in colonial America. American poetry and fiction were largely modeled on what was being published overseas in Great Britain, and much of what American readers consumed also came from Great Britain. Philip Freneau was another notable poet of the era. By the first decades of the 19th century, a truly American literature began to emerge.
Though still derived from British literary tradition, the short stories and novels published from through the s began to depict American society and explore the American landscape in an unprecedented manner. James Fenimore Cooper wrote novels of adventure about the frontiersman Natty Bumppo.
These novels, called the Leatherstocking Tales —41depict his experiences in the American wilderness in both realistic and highly romanticized ways. It also values the wildness of nature over human-made order. Romanticism as a worldview took hold in western Europe in the late 18th century, and American writers embraced it in the early 19th century. Edgar Allan Poe most vividly depicted, and inhabited, the role of the Romantic individual—a genius, often tormented and always struggling against convention—during the s and up to his mysterious death in Its eeriness is intensified by its meter and rhyme scheme.
In New England, several different groups of writers and thinkers emerged aftereach exploring the experiences of individuals in different segments of American society. James Russell Lowell was among those who used humor and dialect in verse and prose to depict everyday life in the Northeast.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes were the most prominent of the upper-class Brahminswho filtered their depiction of America through European models and sensibilities.
The Transcendentalists developed an elaborate philosophy that saw in all of creation a unified whole. Margaret Fuller was editor of The Dialan important Transcendentalist magazine.
Three men— Nathaniel HawthorneHerman Melvilleand Walt Whitman —began publishing novels, short stories, and poetry during the Romantic period that became some of the most-enduring works of American literature. In the s he crossed paths with the Transcendentalists before he started writing his two most significant novels— The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables Walt Whitman wrote poetry that described his home, New York City.
He refused the traditional constraints of rhyme and meter in favor of free verse in Leaves of Grassand his frankness in subject matter and tone repelled some critics. But the book, which went through many subsequent editionsbecame a landmark in American poetry, and it epitomized the ethos of the Romantic period.
During the s, as the United States headed toward civil war, more and more stories by and about enslaved and free African Americans were written. William Wells Brown published what is considered the first black American novel, Clotelin He also wrote the first African American play to be published, The Escape Wilson became the first black women to publish fiction in the United States. Emily Dickinson lived a life quite unlike other writers of the Romantic period: she lived largely in seclusion; only a handful of her poems were published before her death in ; and she was a woman working at a time when men dominated the literary scene.
They are sharp-edged and emotionally intense.Modernism was a cultural wave that originated in Europe and swept the United States during the early 20th century. Modernism impacted music, art and literature by radically undoing traditional forms, expressing a sense of modern life as a sharp break from the past and its rigid conventions. In literature, the elements of modernism are thematic, formal and stylistic. During the First World War, the world witnessed the chaos and destruction of which modern man was capable.Babylon: Ghetto, Renaissance, and Modern Oblivion
The modernist American literature produced during the time reflects such themes of destruction and chaos. But chaos and destruction are embraced, as they signal a collapse of Western civilization's classical traditions. Literary modernists celebrated the collapse of conventional forms. Modernist novels destroy conventions by reversing traditional norms, such as gender and racial roles, notable in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," for example. They also destroy conventional forms of language by deliberately breaking rules of syntax and structure.
Related to the theme of destruction is the theme of fragmentation. Fragmentation in modernist literature is thematic, as well as formal.
American Literature-American Modernist Literature: 1915-1945
Plot, characters, theme, images, and narrative form itself are broken. Take, for instance, T. The poem itself is fragmented, consisting of broken stanzas and sentences that resemble the cultural debris and detritus through which the speaker modern man wades.
Modernist literature embraces fragmentation as a literary form, since it reinforces the fragmentation of reality and contradicts Hegelian notions of totality and wholeness. Modernist literature is concerned with representing modernity, which, by its very definition, supersedes itself. Modernity must, in order to emerge, annihilate the past.
Problematically, modernity must annihilate itself the very moment it is actualized, as the moment it emerges, it becomes a part of the past. Modernist literature represents the paradox of modernity through themes of cycle and rejuvenation. Eliot's speaker in "The Waste Land" famously declares "these fragments I have shored against my ruins" line The speaker must reconstruct meaning by reassembling the pieces of history.
Importantly, there is rebirth and rejuvenation in ruin, and modernist literature celebrates the endless cycle of destruction, as it ever gives rise to new forms and creations. Modernist literature is also marked by themes of loss and exile. Modernism rejected conventional truths and figures of authority, and modernists moved away from religion.
In modernist literature, man is assured that his own sense of morality trumps. But individualism results in feelings of isolation and loss. Themes of loss, isolation and exile from society are particularly apparent in Ernest Hemingway's novels, the protagonists of which adopt rather nihilistic outlooks of the world because they have become so disenfranchised from the human community. Another element of modernist literature is the prevalent use of personal pronouns.
Authority becomes a matter of perspective. There is no longer an anonymous, omniscient third-person narrator, as there is no universal truth, according to the modernists.
The conflicting perspectives of various narrators and speakers reflect the multiplicities of truth and the diversities of reality that modernism celebrates. Modernist novels did not treat lightly topics about social woes, war and poverty. Modernist novels also reflect a frank awareness of societal ills and of man's capacity for cruelty. Ernest Hemingway's anti-heroic war tales depicted the bloodiness of the battlefields, as he dealt frankly with the horrors of war.
Audrey Farley began writing professionally in She teaches English composition at a community college.American modernismmuch like the modernism movement in general, is a trend of philosophical thought arising from the widespread changes in culture and society in the age of modernity. American modernism is an artistic and cultural movement in the United States beginning at the turn of the 20th century, with a core period between World War I and World War II.
Like its European counterpart, American modernism stemmed from a rejection of Enlightenment thinking, seeking to better represent reality in a new, more industrialized world. Characteristically, modernist art has a tendency to abstraction, is innovative, aesthetic, futuristic and self-referential. It includes visual artliteraturemusic, film, designarchitecture as well as life style. It reacts against historicismartistic conventions and institutionalization of art. Art was not only to be dealt with in academies, theaters or concert halls, but to be included in everyday life and accessible for everybody.
Furthermore, cultural institutions concentrated on fine art and scholars paid little attention to the revolutionary styles of modernism. Economic and technological progress in the U. The victory in World War I confirmed the status of the U. In this context, American modernism marked the beginning of American art as distinct and autonomous from European taste, by breaking artistic conventions that had been shaped after European traditions until then.
American modernism benefited from the diversity of immigrant cultures. Artists were inspired by African, Caribbean, Asian and European folk cultures and embedded these exotic styles in their works. The Modernist American movement was a reflection of American life in the 20th century.
In the quickly industrializing world and hastened pace of life, it was easy for the individual to be swallowed up by the vastness of things, left wandering, devoid of purpose. Social boundaries in race, class, sex, wealth and religion were being challenged.
As the social structure was challenged by new incoming views, the bounds of traditional standards and social structure dissolved, and a loss of identity was what remained, translating eventually into isolation, alienation and an overall feeling of separateness from any kind of "whole".
The unity of a war-rallied country was dying, along with it the illusion of the pleasantries it sold to its soldiers and people.
The world was left violent, vulgar and spiritually empty. The middle class worker fell into a distinctly unnoticeable position, a cog much too small to hope to find recognition in a much greater machine. Citizens were overcome with their own futility. Youths' dreams shattered with failure and a disillusioning disappointment in recognition of limit and loss.
The lives of the disillusioned and outcasts became more focal. Ability to define self through hard work and resourcefulness, to create your own vision of yourself without the help of traditional means, became prized. Some authors endorsed this, while others, such as F.
Scott Fitzgerald, challenged how alluring but destructively false the values of privilege can be. Modernist America had to find common ground in a world no longer unified in belief.
The unity found lay in the common ground of the shared consciousness within all human experience. The importance of the individual was emphasized; the truly limited nature of the human experience formed a bond across all bridges of race, class, sex, wealth or religion. Society, in this way, found shared meaning, even in disarray. Some see modernism in the tradition of 19th century aestheticism and the " art for art's sake " movement. Clement Greenberg argues that modernist art excludes "anything outside itself".
Others see modernist art, for example in blues and jazz music, as a medium for emotions and moods, and many works dealt with contemporary issues, like feminism and city life. Some artists and theoreticians even added a political dimension to American modernism.
American modernist design and architecture enabled people to lead a modern life. Work and family life changed radically and rapidly due to the economic upswing during the s. In the U. In order to make life more efficient, designers and architects aimed at the simplification of housework.
The Great Depression at the end of the '20s and during the '30s disillusioned people about the economic stability of the country and eroded utopianist thinking. The outbreak and the terrors of World War II caused further changes in mentality.Literary modernismor modernist literatureoriginated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mainly in Europe and North America, and is characterized by a self-conscious break with traditional ways of writing, in both poetry and prose fiction.
Modernists experimented with literary form and expression, as exemplified by Ezra Pound 's maxim to "Make it new. In the s, increased attention was given to the idea that it was necessary to push aside previous norms entirely, instead of merely revising past knowledge in light of contemporary techniques. The theories of Sigmund Freud —and Ernst Mach — influenced early Modernist literature. Ernst Mach argued that the mind had a fundamental structure, and that subjective experience was based on the interplay of parts of the mind in The Science of Mechanics Freud's first major work was Studies on Hysteria with Josef Breuer According to Freud, all subjective reality was based on the play of basic drives and instincts, through which the outside world was perceived.
As a philosopher of science, Ernst Mach was a major influence on logical positivismand through his criticism of Isaac Newtona forerunner of Albert Einstein 's theory of relativity.
Many prior theories about epistemology argued that external and absolute reality could impress itself, as it were, on an individual, as, for example, John Locke 's — empiricismwhich saw the mind beginning as a tabula rasaa blank slate An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Freud's description of subjective states, involving an unconscious mind full of primal impulses and counterbalancing self-imposed restrictions, was combined by Carl Jung — with the idea of the collective unconsciouswhich the conscious mind either fought or embraced.
While Charles Darwin 's work remade the Aristotelian concept of "man, the animal" in the public mind, Jung suggested that human impulses toward breaking social norms were not the product of childishness or ignorance, but rather derived from the essential nature of the human animal. Another major precursor of modernism was Friedrich Nietzsche especially his idea that psychological drives, specifically the " will to power ", were more important than facts, or things.
Henri Bergson —on the other hand, emphasized the difference between scientific clock time and the direct, subjective, human experience of time. Initially, some modernists fostered a utopian spirit, stimulated by innovations in anthropologypsychologyphilosophypolitical theoryphysics and psychoanalysis.
The poets of the Imagist movementfounded by Ezra Pound in as a new poetic style, gave modernism its early start in the 20th century,  and were characterized by a poetry that favoured a precision of imagerybrevity and free verse.
Many modernist writers also shared a mistrust of institutions of power such as government and religion, and rejected the notion of absolute truths. Modernist works such as T. Eliot 's The Waste Land were increasingly self-aware, introspective, and explored the darker aspects of human nature. The term modernism covers a number of related, and overlapping, artistic and literary movements, including ImagismSymbolismFuturismVorticismCubismSurrealismExpressionismand Dada.
Early modernist writers, especially those writing after World War I and the disillusionment that followed, broke the implicit contract with the general public that artists were the reliable interpreters and representatives of mainstream "bourgeois" culture and ideas, and, instead, developed unreliable narratorsexposing the irrationality at the roots of a supposedly rational world.
From this developed innovative literary techniques such as stream-of-consciousness, interior monologueas well as the use of multiple points-of-view.
This can reflect doubts about the philosophical basis of realismor alternatively an expansion of our understanding of what is meant by realism. For example, the use of stream-of-consciousness or interior monologue reflects the need for greater psychological realism. It is debatable when the modernist literary movement began, though some have chosen as roughly marking the beginning and quote novelist Virginia Woolfwho declared that human nature underwent a fundamental change "on or about December ".
Among early modernist non-literary landmarks is the atonal ending of Arnold Schoenberg 's Second String Quartet inthe Expressionist paintings of Wassily Kandinsky starting in and culminating with his first abstract painting and the founding of the Expressionist Blue Rider group in Munich inthe rise of fauvismand the introduction of cubism from the studios of Henri MatissePablo PicassoGeorges Braque and others between and Sherwood Anderson 's Winesburg, Ohio is known as an early work of modernism for its plain-spoken prose style and emphasis on psychological insight into characters.
James Joyce was a major modernist writer whose strategies employed in his novel Ulysses for depicting the events during a twenty-four-hour period in the life of his protagonist, Leopold Bloomhave come to epitomize modernism's approach to fiction.
The poet T. Eliot described these qualities innoting that Joyce's technique is "a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history Instead of narrative method, we may now use the mythical method.