Subject: English
Level: A Level
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20th Century Modernism

The first decade of the twentieth century saw, even through Edwardian continuity, the primitivist rejection of modernity at the same time as the futurist celebration of the modern. Although these might seem like a strange amalgamation, they were both movements that drew on idealised images of different historical eras in order to criticise the perceived “narrowness” of the present or the recent past; inspiration came in particular from Nietzsche’s theory of the will to power.

Edward VII’s death in 1910 brought about the general feeling that English society was in need of a radical change, not only in the aesthetic realms but in the socio-political sphere

The years before WWI saw the introduction of post-impressionism, futurism and vorticism in London Woolf claimed that “on or about December, 1910… all human relations have shifted- those between masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children”

She claimed that three key human relations were changing. Sexuality- ‘husbands and wives’- perhaps the most evident in literature with the rise of primitivism The gap between ‘parents and children’ was felt as a generational divide The most pressing political challenge lay in the gap between ‘masters and servants’- the upper and working classes- the colonialists and the colonised. These changes led to key movements in England, namely the radicalisation of trade unions; the suffrage movement; and the conflict over Home Rule for Ireland. Historian George Dangerfield would describe this as “the strange death of Liberal England”. He also described women as the symptom of a national neurosis, as well as modern art as the convulsive shedding of the repressive Victorian culture. Strikes became legal in 1906 following a new Liberal law

In 1857 Flaubert was reprimanded by the court for not remembering that art “must be chaste and pure not only in its form but in its expression”. His prosecutor, Pinard, had more luck in convicting Baudelaire for The Flowers of Evil, when the court banned six of these poems (on themes of lesbianism and sadomasochism) until 1949, when the ban was officially lifted.

These trials cemented the two figures as leaders of the realist movement, the most modern movement at that time. They took place during the Second Empire, aka the reign of Napoleon III- the nephew of the first Napoleon.

Plebiscite: a referendum, whereby the entire public is asked their opinion on a political matter In Dorian Gray, Dorian himself is corrupted by reading Huysman’s Against Nature, which Wilde had himself read on his honeymoon.

Aestheticism tried to make life a work of art in itself. In the conclusion to The Renaissance, Pater wrote that it was the responsibility of each and every individual to experience life in all its richness and intensity, to “burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy… Experience, already reduced to a group of impressions, is ringed around for each one of us by that thick wall of personality through which no real voice has ever pierced on its way to us”

The trajectory of French literature during the nineteenth century exposes the tensions that art perpetrated amongst the public, the artist, the government and the official institutions of art. National insularity meant that European and French movements tended to reach the British shores rather late, and most often this happened through the Irish Protestants such as Bernard Shaw, Wilde and Yeats- or even Americans such as Henry James and Whistler. Rudyard Kipling foresaw the failure of the British Empire, aligning its fate with that of the Empires before it- “Lo, all our pomp of yesterday / Is one with Ninevah and Tyre”

TS Eliot’s The Waste Land combines this Kipling-esque dismay surrounding the fate of the Empire with the surreality of Baudelaire- “Falling towers/Jerusalem Athens Alexandria/Vienna London/ Unreal.” Symons wrote of symbolism as “an attempt to spiritualise literature” in his 1899 book The Symbolist Movement in Literature, dedicated to Yeats Hermann Hesse had the opinion that “Already half of Europe, already at least half of Eastern Europe, is on the way to Chaos.” The Great October Revolution of 1917 in Russia, under Lenin, created a “dictatorship of the proletariat”- Lenin being the head of the Bolshevik section/faction of the Marxist Social Democratic Party.

Lenin nationalised most of the country’s industry signed a peace treaty with Germany at Brest-Litovsk Had the Tsar and his family executed Defeated the counter-revolutionary Whites in the form of a civil war Converted most of the old Russian Empire to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics After Lenin died in 1924, Stalin won a power struggle between himself and Trotsky in order to become general secretary of the Communist Party and effectively, dictator for life

Trotsky was then exiled from the Soviet Union in 1929 and was murdered in Mexico in 1940, almost definitely on the orders of Stalin. It is estimated that under Stalin, eight million Soviet citizens were either imprisoned or killed for alleged political crimes The Soviet Union, despite the plethora of blood-soaked crimes, held great attraction for the Western European intellectuals in the 1930s as a model of alternative economic organisation, a more just social order and the key to defeating fascism. Western intellectuals involved in the admiration of the Soviet experiment included Malraux, Robeson, Bernard Shaw, the Webbs and HG Wells, who all visited Russia. The centralised economy of Russia allowed rapid industrialisation, which compared favourably against the failures and crisis inherent in Western capitalism.

The avant-garde became an important factor in the overall acceptance of fascism as a whole; in the beginning, the way in which the Russian futurists supported the communist government was akin to how Mussolini would be later embraced in Italy

The nature of philosophy as passive, not active, was put forth in Marx’s statement of 1845 that “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it”

###1880 can be seen as the artistic and ideological threshold, after which the ensuing movements would be collected under the umbrella of Modernism


was a theorist that was grounded upon the principles of French political history, German philosophy and English economic theory Born in Germany, educated in Bonn and Berlin, born into a Jewish family that had to hide their Judaism in order to escape the anti-Semitic movement. Emigrated to Paris in 1843, where he met Engels; ideas developed here include that of the separation of the human in capitalism and the necessity for proletariats to perform revolutions for social change

Moved to Brussels in 1845, where he wrote the Communist Manifesto; then moved to London in 1849

Marx wrote about the human movement away from capitalism towards socialism, paralleled importantly in the Modernist belief that the Modern movement itself is one away from capitalism

Marx places crisis at the heart of capitalist development; crises “by their periodic return put the existence of the whole bourgeois society in question, each time more threateningly”, and in accordance with this, Modernism is seen as a crisis of representation within literature

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx writes about how society flourishes through crisis points in the manner of cycles “on the one hand, by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by conquest of new markets and more thorough exploitation of the old ones” (Berman 1983). Much Modernist writings show this important of cycles yet they are more emphatically natural than created by society, i.e. Darwin

“From a Marxist viewpoint, Modernist art grew out of a European loss of communal identity, out of alienating capitalism and constant industrial acceleration. The work of avant-garde artists was fuelled by the rise of urban living, the invention of the proletariat and the bringing together of the human with the machine”

For Marx, the modernist movement was a product expression of society’s wish to transcend and solve the crises caused by capitalism. The fluid nature of worth in the capitalist society was further underlined by the fact that art became aesthetic in the extreme, with prices and senses of worth only denoted by what they were decided to be Darwin


Grandson of the physicist Erasmus Darwin- born in Shropshire, educated at Edinburgh and Cambridge** Took a place on HMS Beagle as a naturalist, visiting Tenerife, Brazil, Buenos Aires, Chile, the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti and New Zealand amongst others This took its place firmly in the Marxist viewpoint as one of the main foundations of the capitalist structure; the selfish gene legitimises struggle for self-preservation and promotion Marxism can be seen in turn to be the evolution and development of society from feudalism to capitalism to communism

Evolution created new hierarchies. The survival of the fittest lifted humankind out of the system of the bourgeoisie but placed it into the divisions between the strong and the weak, both physically and financially; it was entrapping as it was liberating

The repercussions of Darwin’s theories placed humans closer to animals than to God, and tried to correct the rhetoric of humanity moving towards a final Judgement Day to a concept of humanity as forever evolving in cycles and progressions

“Degeneration was the term used to describe a sense of a social status quo under threat from the freer values of a younger generation sceptical about the worth of their society’s strictures on morality, customs and properties, especially sexual, raising fears over chastity, homosexuality or same-sex love, perversity, masturbation, morbidity and syphilis.” P37- Max Nordau’s book Degeneration in 1895 was massively influential He thought that the downfall of the human race would be foretold in the literature and the rise of the Decadents, naturalists and mysticists were assimilated into the apocalyptic vision Sin and disease were so often thought of together that they developed a link, so that sin became to be seen as a precursor to disease


Born of Jewish parentage in Austria, studied medicine at Vienna, worked as a neurologist from 1882 His move to Paris in 1885 marks his shift in interest to psychopathology 1900- The Interpretation of Dreams- said that dreams are the products of repressed desires After WWI he went on to publish Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) and Ego and Id (1923) For Freud, the ego is the middle ground between the primitive id and the socialised superego. A well-balanced ego is key to living a healthy life; dominance by the id leads to psychosis and dominance of the superego leads to neurosis None of Freud’s works were translated into English until 1915 Psychoanalysis took an important role in the effort to understand how the workings of human society both on the micro and macrocosm of behaviour could lead to international war

Proust: “reality takes shape in the memory alone” Individuals experience reality not through a continuum but through a series of important events in the context of their own lives; Modernists had to represent the actual experience of ordering reality externally from ‘normal’ time ** TS Eliot** says in The Waste Land that mental life is composed of memory and desire, and that the past and the future are organised in the individual mind within the present moment Chronology holds the body in a linear motion but the mind does not belong here; essential disjuncture Wyndham Lewis proposed that there is no continuity to time; it is fragmented, and we only inhabit it through projection and memory The clock is seen as the tyranny of space and time for many Modernists. The abrupt beginnings and open-ended endings of many modernist novels reflect the notion that nothing is ever forgotten but surfaces to form a conception of the world The ‘modern condition’ became a substitute for religion, especially for artists

### Nietzsche Born in Saxony, educated in Bonn and Leipzig; born to a Lutheran pastor, whereas Nietzsche himself was scathing of Christianity and liberalism Became a professor of classical philology at the University of Basel at the age of 24 He differentiated between Apollonian (rational discourse) and Dionysian (aesthetic pleasure) tracts and principles He foreshadows the self-scrutinisation of the Modernists in his Essay on Self-Criticism, where he explores aesthetics in terms of them being the responsibility of the artist (if not all individuals);  “Art- and not morality- is represented as the actual metaphysical activity of mankind… it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that the existence of the world is justified.”

In line with this, Modernism can be seen as the first deliberately secular religion; natural selection replaces divine order and the will to power masks the divine will. WWI shattered and destroyed any leftover belief in divine benevolence Deeply pessimistic view of the universe- The World as Will and Idea Believed along with Plato and Kant that the world is only a physical representation/manifestation of the ‘will’, the ‘some stuff’ of Thanes, the ‘will’ of Schopenhauer that he believed animated the universe, and that suffering was present because the will could never be sated For Nietzsche, the purpose in life was to exert personal power over others; if not checked by other convictions and social conventions, this would lead to sadism, self-flagellation, asceticism or dictatorship **Übermensch**: the idea of the highest goal achievable by humanity being the ‘overman’, the new creative beings who could transcend society, religion and morality (in Marxism, the superstructures) and could exist as part of culture and not reason, with the life-affirming slogan of ‘become what you are’

Nietzsche advocated a return to mythology, arguing that one of the problems of the modern age was that the people had lost touch with tragic myth

His ideas were propagated by the journal The New Age He opposed the idea of the individual mind to the mindless ‘herd’ Writers such as James, Conrad and Forster attempted to realign the movements of the mindless herd and to rationalise them in the context of the individual mind Held the thought that people should live life as if the moment were going to be eternally repeated


Born in Geneva, became professor at University of Geneva (Indo-European and then general linguistics) Was responsible for the shift in linguistic studies from concentrating on the science within linguistics, to that of language as a social phenomenon Langue: language as a structured system Parole: language as a particular utterance or speech act His legacy brings attention to the nature of language as a Postmodernist act; language in this case does not describe the world but instead constructs it. There is no access to reality except through language “Without a God to underwrite the Word, and without the old Victorian authority and confidence gained from God, the empire and progress, words, as Alice found in Wonderland, could mean so many things that they were difficult to control”.

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