Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mrs D #1

Consider what you've learned about Modernism from the introduction and 3 poems we read + the presentations you and your classmates gave. What do you think are the most central or most distinctive aspects of this movement? What strikes you as especially unique or interesting or perhaps disturbing?


  1. Elsa : I think the most striking aspect of Modernism is the crisis of representation of reality. For example in painting, all artists question the possibility to represent reality and expirement their own theory :
    -cubism expresses the multiplicity of perspectives under which we can observe the Reality
    -surrealism reveals the diffrent between the conscious and unconscious vision of things
    -expressionsim expresses the thoughts and emotions of the artist.
    All these movements are very diffrent, even though they all have a common objective, and I think that this question of whether or not it is possible to represent what we see, by mimesis or other techniques, is a important idea of Modernism. It also appears in poetry (ex "Dulce et Decorum Est" : in this poem the writer tries to describe in details what he believes to be the Reality of war. It is a vision of horror, and totally in opposition with "the soldier" in which war is romanticised and glorified)
    I think that existentialism is the most intresting "innovation" of Modernism. I think the questionning of human existence and especially the -existence precedes essence- are very intresting points, for they question the impact of our actions on our image, and on ourselves.

  2. Delphine: I agree with Elsa when she says that the crisis of representation is the main aspect of Modernism. Indeed, modernists fear they are powerless to represent reality. Some try all the same by breaking conventions and others abandon representing reality altogether.

    Examples of those who do try:
    - poets who write in free verse in order to be more faithful to real speech,
    - novelists who use 'stream of consciousness' to express ideas in a mimetic fashion,
    - cubists by representing several angles try to show several realities.

    Examples of those who don't try anymore:
    - expressionists who no longer have any topic for their paintings and therefore no reality is defined, so it need not be represented,
    - in theater, the breaking down of the "4th wall" shatters mimesis too by speaking to what could be considered as the omniscient narrator,
    - Stravinsky has stopped trying to convey emotions through his music.

    I think that surrealism is very interesting, I especially like Magritte's works such as "The Treachery of Images" and "Golconda" (the one with the raining men) since they show a vision of reality that it so different from what we are used to seeing.

  3. Audrey: I'd like to highlight something Delphine said as in my opinion it is a very important aspects of the movement: "modernists fear they are powerless to represent reality". I entirely agree that the crisis of representation of reality is the central aspect of modernism but the origin of this crisis is simply fear. Just like somebody searching for himself in a moment of total loss, modernist seem to try all possible ways of representing reality in the objective to find the perfect one, the one that is truely "reality" in words, paint, any kind of art. Now some like the expressionist realized that the best representation of reality was itself and decided to not try any harder. Others however, stayed truely stubburn in their search for the real. I beleive modernist were perfectionists all the way, they could not accept the fact that they weren't able to represent perfectly what they see in real life which created insecurity and fear. I think the real difference between modernists and artists from other movements is that modernists realized they would never be able to get any close to reality. Therefore, this fear and insecurity is reflected in the seemingly unfinished poems, the incomprehensible meanings of paintings, mimetism and the multiple techniques which explore what could have seemed to them at first, THE right strategy to represent their world.

  4. Manon: I agree with all of you. However, what I think is so wonderful about modernism is how it broke completly from all the conventions that were already in place at the end of the 19th century. It has continualy created a new style and experimented new ideas maybe due to the fear, like Audrey says, of not finding anything during moments of loss.
    I believe that the two most interesting innovations of Modernism are cubism and existentialism. Indeed, cubism represents reality in a multiplicity of perspective and the inverse of perspective. In "Les demoiselles d'Avignon", Picasso has represented those five characters in such a way that the outlooker can be shocked to see a human represented sharp and flat. It gives a violent nature to the painting. Existitialism is another interesting innovation. I think the rejection of reason is an important point that the existentialists have raised.

  5. Elise : what strikes me about the crisis of representation which is, as you've all said, one of the most important aspects of the movement is the fact that is was a twofold crisis : a change in what was represented, as well as a change in how it could be represented. Trying, as Audrey said, to find the perfect reality, modernist artists created new artistic styles, totally different from what had been painted, drawn, composed or written before.
    There is one point I particularly appreciate about modernist works, it is the fact that there is much more room for interpretation (ex : "Dulce and Decorum Est", in contrast with "the Soldier"). When we read in class the short poem by Ezra Pound ("These apparitions of these faces in a crowd ; Petals on a wet, black bough"), it conjured up different images and feelings to all of us. As a result, the same piece of work can represent two opposite scenes, and have two contrary effects on two different people.

  6. Tiennot:
    I think "modernism" is in fact a word meant to describe the association of different movements created by individual artists of the time. In my opinion, it means that modernism is the movement of movements of the age.
    According to tradition, every movement introduced by a group of artists should have a name of its own,... but how many name would we have to invent for every group of modernists wishing to break from any actual convention and create a new style? "Modernism" is the term applied to group them all (and indeed, never had there been so much individual movements going on at the same time) and express the idea of having a constant process in the renewal of representation of Art...
    Therefore, I think that what draws the limits of modernism is not a unity of subjects or methods of reprentation but Time (late nineteenth - early twentieth century) until bigger movements would take over (like the rise of existentialism - although it was discreetly present during modernism, and was part of it as it was a movement among others).
    It does not seem surprising at first to know that modernism is a movement aiming to break with past conventions, as every new movement somehow does... but not as one of its goal, not with as much vigour and intensity.
    Modernism is centered around art and thought(poetry, theater, architecture, painting, music, writing) and a determination of finding new ways of expressing and showing reality (after the crisis of representation in which people feared not to be able to represent reality... reality that was divided in two, objective (which they could not) and subjective (which they could)) which can only be explained by a change of mentality, people were tired of being confronted with the restrictions of tradition, resulting into the freedom which the modernist movement gave (and is expressed in the term "FREE verse").

  7. The movement of modernism can be resumed by a quote from Lisa Higgins, excellent english teacher of the 21 century, in one of her famous “Do Now”s: “Make it new!”. Various movements have found many ways to create a new reality by transgressing conventions, such as through the crisis of the reglementary presentation, with the free verse, or through the limits of the dimensions, with cubism, or the 4th wall. It thus can be considered more as an original experimentation than as a concrete way to express feelings, or any other motif for past art, which is remarkably interesting in itself.
    However, what amazes and scares me at the same time is the degree to which the experimentation is led. For example, one of Stravinsky’s most famous compositions The Rite of Spring was, as Gabriel said, so disharmonic that the public went crazy, which led to a riot and general chaos barely controlled by the police of Paris. However, it is nowadays considered as a modernist masterpiece, and Disney has actually integrated a shortened version of The Rite of Spring in Fantasia, which shows a very good popular opinion of this radical piece.

  8. I just would like to add to everything that has been said, that modernism is a movement that helped people to go forward. Like Audrey said, what drove many artists was fear and their need to find some sort of reality, wether or not it was faithful to the one we know. By innovating, modernists reshaped the world to make it better and to erase the rationalism that had led to war. We can indeed see that in surrealism art, or for instance in the poem "dulce et decorum" which condemn war, and yet is written in a new style using, free verse to represent some sort of reality.

    In short i think that the main caracteristic of modernists is their great capacity to innovate, to ask questions about the world in which they live in, to emphasize imortant notions, like wether or not we can represent reality (crisis of representation) and wether or not it is a good thing to represent it.

    And if it is true that, every movements aim to break with the past, modernism is perhaps the most striking example of people who could no longer accept the conventions of their society, and were trying to find their way, and reality in a pretty disturbed world.

  9. Nicolas:
    I agree with everyone that the crisis of representation of reality is the most important aspect that led to the birth of Modernism.
    However, in my opinion, crisis of representation is not specific to Modernism. As an example, when Romantics tried to break from Classicists conventions, one of the main points of dispute between the two was that the subjects represented in theatre, art and literature (antiquity was abundantly used by classicists at the time) weren't adapted to the time period.
    I think each new movement tries to bring a new representation of reality because reality keeps changing through time.
    The appearance of Modernism at the end of the 19th century changed the belief that reality could be interpreted in a single way. Therefore, Modernism differs from previous movements as there are no specific rules: artists, writers are free to give their interpretation of reality whereas Romanticism and Classicism imposed a number of codes which people had to follow. Progress in art and literature was therefore slow (evolution).
    Modernism pushed the belief of progress further by giving more liberty to artists and writers "Make it new" (revolution).

  10. As it seems to be the case of many people the most caracteristic aspect of modernism for me is their "constant renewal" (thanks tiennot) of representation's techniques.

    However, I do not consider them as a common ideological or philosophical conception but rather as a shared mean to try and approach reality through Art.

    There are indeed very few ideas shared by all modernists. This can be shown by the diversity of medias employed (literature, painting, cinema (need to check for photography)), the multitude of themes of reflections (feminine independence in A Room of One's Own, pacifism in Dulce et Decorum Est) or even the controversies between different artists (Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen have two completely different points of view on War).

    As there is no complete unity in the intellectual background, the word modernism must be justified through the means artists used. And even though there seems to be none at first, a common process outlined itself through all the presentations we saw/give : the rejection of conventions.

    We could then say that the unity that lies behind the artistic movement called modernism is more an unity of method than an unity of ideas which in itself is already a major innovation compared to previous movements.

  11. Mariam: Like everyone said modernism's central aspect is innovation, breaking from past ideas and questioning everything that had not been question before. Modernists believed that by rejecting tradition they could discover new ways of making art, and they did.

    Another interesting thing in modernism, I think, is its variety. The word modernism itself does not have a single definition. It can be applied to the content of the work or its form, or both. There are various types of modernist works, poetry, painting, music...

    For me, the painting that best decribes modernism, more precisely existentialism is "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" by René Magritte. Here, we can really understand the crisis of representation. At first, the painting seems basic and paradoxal, but there is a whole revolution behind it. The onlooker is almost obligated to question himself and that is what is great about it. You almost have to wonder if we can represent reality, or ultimately: is there a reality ?


    Defining modernism is defining a revolution that occured in a wide variety of subjects, all at the same time. This is why we call it a movement.
    What is most central about this movement is that it is a new way of representing one's reality. Nobody actually knows what reality is, each person sees and resents things differently which is very well demonstrated by modernist artists.
    What is most distinctive about it is how each different chapters of this movement for example in painting : cubism, surrealism and expressionism follow the same aim: revealing the stream of consciousness; in other words, it is expressing the philosophy of one's mind using pictures (visual) and literature (reason).
    Modernism absolutely revolutionized all categories of art, artists experimented new styles, techniques and subjects that weren't explored before due to all the restrictions of earlier periods.
    For me, Modernism was an artistic liberation.

    What i feel is particularly disturbing about modernism is that it represents, tells and faces subjects people don't like to talk about nor admitt due to a natural fear and cowardice.
    For example existentialism was a movement of questioning humanity: death, reality, thoughts of the individual person, one's conditions of existence. In other words TRUTH. --> which is extremely well shown in Virginia Woolf's pieces. In Orlando, the trumpets of Truth appear during Orlando's transformation from man to woman. Plus she always questions her characters on subjects such as death, reality, humanity.
    It is a very interesting and profound questionment which can disturb people who are not prepared to face the truth.

  13. Wow! you guys are rocking this blog! I'm really enjoying reading the things you might not always have time to say in class.

    Also, to be honest, you're making me enjoy these works (artistic, literary, musical) more than I ever have before. This kind of lit has not traditionally been my cup of tea - but all this talk about crises, truth, representing reality, etc. Pretty interesting . . . tho I don't think I'll be listening to Stravinsky any time soon.

  14. Steven : What i find interesting in the Modernist movement is the original and completely new aspect of music. As we have seen in Gabriel's, Mattieu's, Simons's and Delphine's presentations, the content is just deprived of any emotion carrying melody, as it was traditionally in the past. While listening to Stravinsky for example (even if you're a great musician and want to brag about your ability to relate to certain melodies,) you can't understand whats going on as the rhythm always changes and so does the melodic scales he uses. I, myself, a musician, was astonished by the flabbergasting mixture of polyrhythm and assonances inserted in the musical piece (I do not brag).

  15. Gustave: The most important aspect of Modernism is its cut with old styles and traditional forms. Nothing is like before, there is NO main goal. Unlike most litterary movements, Modernists did not have the same ideals (if they had any). They just said that reality couldn't be described or painted but they did it their own way. Virginia Woolf is very honest in this way and tells the reader in Orlando that it is very difficult to write a biography, which means that there is no real way to make an account of someone.

    What I find interesting about Modernism is how ANYTHING becomes a form of art. For examples, the artist who took a chair and fixed it on a wall and said that this was art. I really don't understand it! How can a chair be considered as a piece of art. How can someone pay a ticket to see a chair...

  16. Maud: Clearly I agree in saying that the crisis of representation is the most striking aspect of modernism. However, I also think that this crisis is only a pretext for a more radical, unexampled change, which brings my reflexion closer to that of Gustave's. Modernism is in itself a philosophy, a manner of considering what we percieve and interpret as reality, an entire reconsideration of EVERYTHING and ANYTHING that had ever been stated and determined before. What I mean to say is that to me, Modernism is more than just another alternative to representation; it is a whole new, avant-garde movement that is based on the paradoxal rule that there are NO rules! The ways of then adopting this state of mind varied much; it seemed to take as many forms as imagination allowed for-
    Some like Stravinsky no longer used emotion to compose music - though it was not denied that expression could be felt in the final result - but considered the more logic, technical face of the art to innovate and break away from the regular, common inspirations and bases for composition.
    Others through literature suffered the crisis of representation by attacking the direct means of expression- turning backs on the romanticised version of 'reality' and presenting things in a much cruder, unpolished manner, as Owen does in Dulce Et Decorum Est. Some chose yet another path and tear down the fourth wall in theatre, thus denouncing the previous lack of accuracy of the tradition and imposing their more open-minded view of the 'modern world'

    What I find most interesting is the originality and courage of the modernists- seriously, trying to bring across the idea of multiple dimensions and perspectives by making everything cube-like? Very eccentric. Or the music! Making harmonies so strangely ambiguous - having the nerve to deny everything that had ever been established and taken for granted!
    How strange to then deliberate upon the veracity of representation when such a bundle of examples go to prove the fact- the undeniable fact that the interpretation is a process free from generality and subject only to the individual mind.