The Journey of Modernist Literature

What binds together the literature I read, and write about here, is that the writers engage to varying degrees with the continuing spiritual vacuum of the last hundred or so years.

A crisis precipitated by a global war that began in 1914 continued unrelentingly in both hot and cold phases through to the early 1990s until a particular ideology secured a definitive victory. Concurrent and not unconnected with this prolonged conflict was a sense of disillusionment with the first massive imperialist project and the void left by an apparent collapse of religious and, in some sense, moral values.

As a consequence of this ideological victory the pace of industrialism and commercialism  is unabated, and attempts to fill the spiritual vacuum with a particularly shallow form of consumer lead culture and an oddly puritanical morality.

The literary recognition of this crisis came to be termed modernism, whether approached by those excited with the freedoms of the time, or by those yearning for a bygone age. Malcolm Bradbury made this distinction between nostalgic first generation modernists and the more optimistic second generation modernists.

The need to struggle against an evolving and different crisis makes it more necessary than ever for writers to continue to engage with modernism. The writers who explore modernism most effectively are those than enable us to translate or reconfigure the sacred into new contexts. Those are mostly the writers you will read about on this blog.

7 thoughts on “The Journey of Modernist Literature

  1. A perfect Anthony post. Brief, uncluttered & suggestive. No attempt to do all the work for the reader or lay bare your every thought about the subject. A blog post, as ever, I actually have time to read!

    And I wholly agree that the issues you raise here are worth placing at the heart of any reading life.

  2. Do you know The Pound Vortex by Guy Davenport? It’s collected in The Geography of the Imagination but there’s a lovely reading of it with appropriate illustrations on the net if you google Videos of Davenport. It purports to be a review of Kenner’s The Pound Era but is really Davenport’s meditation on the greatest explosion of artistic brilliance since the Renaissance being killed in 1915.

  3. gravity waves were officially “discovered” today. i wonder if that will have any effect on the way reality is viewed in this new “quantum universe”… enjoyed the broad perspective of your post.

  4. Pingback: Books That Make My Ears Burn | Time's Flow Stemmed

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