What is modernism?
Modernism is a historical and artistic period ranging from around 1865 until the end of World War II. Modernism parallels the rise of industrialism and technology. Modernism is also considered to be a varied response (political, philosophical and artistic) to the challenges of a new fast-paced world and a response to the work of thinkers such as Freud, Marx, Nietzsche and Darwin who, in each their own ways, challenged humanity to consider how culture is a construction, not something inherent. And with Darwin, the awakening was a challenge to ideological authority (in his case, particularly the authority of the Bible) and therefore a challenge to the traditional foundations of morality, science and social life. So, Modernism was a rethinking of past beliefs and attempts to form new narratives (or metanarratives); that is, new ways of thinking about the world which take into account all these dramatic changes.
Some of these new narratives, artistic innovations and philosophies include: psychoanalysis (Freud), Marxism, sociology (modern sociology beginning with Auguste Comte in the 19th century), relativistic physics, Cubism, Futurism, Imagism, Impressionism, and stream of consciousness.
Modernism is quite a broad topic, historically and as an art movement. In general, as a response to challenging long held traditions and beliefs in terms of religious doctrine and the way society is actually structured, this was a period of awakening but also disillusionment. It was a disillusionment because artists (and people in general) were faced with rethinking the past (kind of a loss of nostalgia) as well as being faced with having to come up with new ideas. This came with a diffused (over time) flourish of art but still with a sense of loss (of the past) and a present wandering from present to the future. This artistic and social wandering is underscored by artists, such as Hemingway, who migrated to Europe following World War I, a geographical/national/cultural wandering; then dubbed by Gertrude Stein as the "lost generation."
In addition to the excellent answer above, here are some more points regarding Modernism:
•Modernism places faith in the ideas, values, beliefs, culture, and norms of the West
•Modernism attempts to reveal profound truths of experience and life.
•Modernism attempts to find depth and interior meaning beneath the surface of objects and events.
•Modernism focused on central themes and a united vision in a particular piece of literature
•Modern authors guide and control the reader’s response to their work.
• utopian, elitist, belief in universal values
• European, Western
• objectivist values, masterpieces
• formal disciplines
• purposeful, meaningful
• belief in progress
• analytical & synthetic
• simplicity, elegance, spartan, streamlined
• logical, scientific
• harmonious, integrated
• communicative, prefer to be understood
• unified, coherent
• objective truth
• apolitical to occasionally political
disciplines primarily indifferent to power struggles
• reality is not anthropocentric
Modernism in American Literature refers to literature written between about 1915 and 1945.
What was going on historically:
- Overwhelming technological changes
- World War I first war of mass destruction
- Grief over loss of past; fear of eroding traditions
- Rise of youth culture
- Dominant mood: alienation/disconnection
- Writing highly experimental: use of fragments, stream of consciousness, interior dialogue
- Writers seek to create a unique style
Some of the major writers were:
- Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
- F.Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)
- William Faulkner (1897-1962)
- John Steinbeck