Showing posts with label Postmodernist reading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Postmodernist reading. Show all posts

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Modernism in English Literature: Rise,Development and the Main Features of Literary Modernism in English Literature

Modernity is a period in human history, roughly from the enlightenment (late 18th century and early 19th century) marked by the division of the religious and the secular, the increasing mechanization of the world, the rise of industrial capitalism, the increased role of the state, the increased regulation of time and space, and the discourses of emancipation of women, working classes etc. 

It may be taken to refer to a Euro- American trend in literature of 1920‘s with the works of James Joyce, T.S.Eliot, Hilda Doolittle, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett and Ezra Pound. The literature of the time was influenced by a number of movements and theories such as: Expressionism, Impressionism, Imagism, Cubism, Surrealism, Futurism or Vorticism. Expressionism first came into prominence around German artists under the influence of Vincent Van Gogh and Edward Munch. It believes in using violent colours and dynamic movements to capture moods. Modern dramatist Bertolt Brecht was influenced by expressionism.
Wyndham Lewis adapted its methods in Britain and created a new movement called Vorticism or Futurism which emphasized on ―vibrant energy. It exults aggressive action, a feverish insomnia the racer‟s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap….. the beauty of speed.” Ezra Pound wrote: “the image is a vortex through which ideas rush through.” The movement used modernism‘s fascination with technology and energy. The term Impressionism might have been derived from Claude Monet‘s painting Impression. The emphasis of this movement was on the impression of the object rather the object itself. For this purpose, the artists used light very effectively. 

Imagism emphasized that the poet remove himself and herself from the object and to deliver it  as objectively as possible. The images should capture emotions and events in “an instant of time”. Ezra Pound, T.E. Hume, E.A. Robinson, Ford, Amy Lowell, Hilda Doolittle and F.S. Flint were the poets who formulated this aesthetic. Surrealism was popularized by Salvador Dali which attempted to capture the mind‘s deepest and most unconscious aspect in painting. In literature, automatic writing and stream of
consciousness came closest to being influenced by this kind of approach. The surrealists saw the unconscious as source of creative energy. Dylan Thomas, James Joyce, David Gascoyne, George Barker, William Borough and Martin Amis were influenced by Surrealism. The interplay of theories and movements has brought in complexities into modern literature.
The Modern age in literature is grounded in achievement, amazing in their potential both for emancipation and destruction: atomic energy, space exploration, genetic and biomedical engineering and telecommunications. Technological advances in these areas can either save mankind and the universe or destroy it. The rapid urbanization has created the environmental problems. The race to colonize space, the discovery of DNA standing at par with the discovery of the radio waves, the theory of relativity have shattered the old certainties and have posed threats to the new ideas. The economic depression of 1930s proved to be a huge blow to the already suffering poor. The lack of job and the devaluation of money made life exceptionally tough. Many large business houses went bankrupt with the stock exchange crashes.

Wars significantly altered political and social relations. They brought out the truth that man is perfectly capable of destroying what he has built, that cruelty is an integral feature of human psychology, that war brings in suffering whatever the reason might be, and that war may be about heroism as has been shown by W. B. Yeats in his An Irish Airman Foresees His Death. The literature of the two World-Wars was an attempt to negotiate the trauma of such extensive suffering and the theme of power and cruelty. The Wars also revealed the fragile nature of human existence. T. S. Eliot refers to the very limited knowledge of human beings and the fragmented nature of human memory, identity, desire and existence itself in his The Wasteland: “these fragments I have shored against my ruins.

Twentieth century literature is the literature of hopelessness, and the fallibility of mankind in the face of war. Poets and artists sought to escape the harsh realities of suffering, destruction and cruelty by retreating into the self which is evident in the stream of consciousness technique of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. George Orwell‘s socialist sympathies made him deeply suspicious of capitalist modernity which he showcased by his non fictional works. His Animal Firm is an allegory on socialism. His 1984 is a bleaker picture of society in which the popular slogans of the political part are: ―War is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength”. 

James Joyce‘s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a kind of epiphany (revelation) of the consciousness. His Ulysses is a tale about identity, aesthetics and faith. The Campus Novels of Kingsley Amis, Tom Sharpe and David Lodge deal with university life; it‘s the question of research, funding, politics of contemporary literary theory and feminism. The Popular Novels of the twentieth century are thrillers, airport or train readings and plain entertainment that generated profits, celebrities and social criticism. Fashion, shopping and consumerism, tourism and travel, partying and socializing, crime and horror are the commonest themes of these novels.

The devastating consequences of the World-Wars carried in the themes like trenches, wounds and death. The volume of modern poetry is: What a Lovely War! British Soldier‟s Songs (1990). Sassoon Satirizes hypocrisy of the authority:

―The Bishop tells us: When the boys come back
They will not be the same; for they‘ll have fought
‗In a just cause; they led the last attack
‗On anti-Christ; their comrades‘ blood has bought
‗New right to breed an honourable race,
They have challenged death and dared him face to face;
‗We‘re none of us the same‘ the boys reply.
For George lost both his legs; and Bill‘s stone blind;
‗Poor Jim‘s shot through the lungs and like to die;
‗And Bert‘s gone syphilitic: you‘ll not find;

‗A chap who‘s served that hasn‘t found some change.
‗And the Bishop said: ―The ways of God are strange!‖
(Siegfried Sassoon)
Ezra Pound nurtured several poets- one of them is T.S. Eliot. Pound edited Eliot‘s The Wasteland and was at the fore front of major literary movements and development like Vorticism and Imagism. He was also associated with Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway and Hilda Doolittle first in London and then in Paris. He has an obsession with accurate language, minimalism and sharp imagery:
―See, they return; ah, see the tentative
Movements, and the slow feet,
The trouble in the pace and the uncertain
(Personae, 1909)
He assimilated the ancients and the non-European cultures in English poetry, Eliot recognized this and described him as being both “objectionably modern” and “objectionably antiquarian”. He was an advocate of spare imagery and free verse:

―The apparitions of these faces in the crowd;
    Petals on a wet, black bough.
                                          (In a Station of the Metro)
W.B.Yeats is surely Ireland‘s great poet who was influenced by the French symbolists and adapted from Celtic mythology and various mystic traditions. He was a deeply political poet and was engaged with Ireland‘s struggle with England. His love poetry has been far more popular. The mystic vision fuses present and past and suggests a harmony and unity that is truly organic:
―O chestnut trees! Great-rooted blossomer
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance
How can we know the dancer from the dance?‖
(Among School Children)

T.S.Eliot, the most complex poet of the twentieth century selected the city as the 'topos‘ or the setting of his The Love song Alfred Prufrock” where there is the sense of ennui as the city, its people and the very character seem to be in coma. There is a breakdown of communication between people. Meanings of words and language are being constantly questioned. The characters of the poem are together and yet they are separate which conveys the modernist theme of urban alienation. The man in the poem wants to convey something to the woman in the poem but she does not seem to understand. Time is non-linear and space is surreal in the poem. Characters like Prufrock are many in Eliot poems such as Gerontion, Hollow Men and Ash Wednesday. The characters are portraits of failure. The Wasteland is an unparalleled work in modern poetry in the form of fragments, and is meant to indicate how human knowledge is limited and incomplete:
―Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images,
The poem explores the collapse of contemporary civilizations. Sexuality is meaningless, religion has failed, technology and science are used in wars to kill people. In a sense the poem is an apocalypse- as civilization fall, cities corrupt and ghost wail. There is, however, a hope for the future, symbolized in the prophecy of rain in the poem.
George Barnard Shaw, the first major playwright of the modern period published his Quintessence of Ibsenism in 1891and popularized Ibsen in England. His Arms and the Man (1894) focused on war as a theme, Candida looked at marriage and love, Major Barbara (1905) is an exploration of ethics in Christianity, Pygmalion (1914) is a story of the English language and The Apple Cart (1929) is a play that surveys the multiple political philosophies of the time.
T.S. Eliot‘s verse play Murder in the Cathedral (1935) invokes the past to comment on the present, a play about the slow erosion of Christian ideas and ideals by fascism and Nazism. Christopher Fry‘s period piece The Lady‟s Not For goers with its very contemporary characters including a war-weary soldier, Thomas Mendip who is tired of life and situation. J.M. Synge‘s Playboy of the Western World created a riot on its opening night in Dublin in 1907. Sean O‘Casey showcases the Unionism and nationalism that was his enduring theme in The Shadow of a Gunman (1923). He also writes a play glorifying socialism, The Star Turns Red (1940). 

The Angry Young Men were the writers from the working class who were unhappy at the cultural and class-bound elitism of England, the social inequalities and what they perceived as the injustice of the state. The group includes dramatists like John Osborne and Harold Pinter, poets like Philip Larkin and John Wain, and novelists like Kingsley Amis, John Wain, John Braine and Allan Sillitoe. As a consequence of all these factors, literature in modern times has become a complex world filled with tension, anxiety and doubt. Doubt, Question, and Protest, have become the watch-words of the modern period.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A post-modernist Reading of Waiting for Godot

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1948) is an absurd play that falls into both the genre of modernism and postmodernism. Considering its publishing period and other features such as subjectivism, fragmentation, paradox, existential crisis, identity crisis etc we can see that the play more tends to belong to postmodernism than to modernism. Moreover, this play is also a leading play in the Theatre of Absurd, a theatrical outcome of postmodernism, which was inspired by existential philosophy and its view that at the root of our being there is nothingness. In the play, two major characters Vladimir and Estragon are waiting on a country road, by a tree for Godot who never comes. Through the barren setting and meaningless waiting the play actually symbolizes the psychological barrenness of modern people that arouse after two world wars. Modern people fall in the trap of waiting, a waiting that has no solution except keeping on waiting.

Prior to our main discussion, we must know some background information and to do so we must look back to the events that takes place during the first half of the 20th century in the worlds of politics, literature, philosophy and religion. The early 20th century witnessed two World Wars. In literature it gives birth to two recognizable literary styles: modernism and post-modernism and all these happenings paved the way for the theatrical tradition the absurd drama, as we mentioned earlier, that it is an outcome of postmodernism. In fact it is a reflection of the age. The theatre of the absurd describes a mood, a tone towards life, where man's existence is a dilemma of purposeless, meaningless, and pointless activity. It is complete denial of age-old values. It has no plot, no characterization, no logical sequence, and no culmination. Samuel Becket introduced the concept of absurdity, nothingness and meaninglessness of life in his play Waiting For Godot.

Now, let us know some basic features of post-modernism which will help us to analyze the text perfectly. Post-modernism is the term used to suggest a reaction or response to modernism in the late twentieth century. Postmodernism has opposite characteristics to traditionalism, realism. Postmodernism believes in the premise ‘irrational is real, real is irrational’. Moreover, unlike modernism, postmodernism celebrates the fragmentation instead of lamenting over it.  Postmodernism does not care ground zero in its framework though traditionalism does. There is no pre-determined rules, well-established and long-term principles. Events, activities, thoughts, manners do not exist for a long time in postmodernism. All of these issues are subjected to change unlike traditionalism. Postmodernism argues that there is no absolute truth in the universe. Characteristics of literary works in postmodernism are so broad. Rules of classical literary works are not valid in these literary works. There is no unity of time, place and action in literary works in postmodernism. Unlike Classical literary works, there is no hero. However; characters of literary works in postmodernism are from middle or low class in other words they are ordinary man. Subject of literary works are inner world, thought and problems of these ordinary people. Endings of literary works can be interpreted in many different ways. Outcome of literary works may change from person to person. On the other hand, there is a close ending in classical literary works. There is only one lesson for everyone in classical works. For example, King Oedipus by Sophocles has a close ending and same lesson for everyone. The lesson is: “obey the fate”.

With the above information, now it will be a bit easier to analyze our text Waiting For Godot . Waiting for Godot written in the second half of the 20th Century in other words in just before the postmodernism, so; there are similarities between postmodernism and the play.

At first, the play celebrates the fragmentation in all dimensions. The language, plot, character, setting, and theme are presented in a fragmented form. It is as if the play were the supreme example of the fragmentations. The difference between The Waste Land and Waiting for Godot is that the latter laments for the glory of the past which has fallen apart, but the former never laments for the past. On the other hand, the play celebrates the fragmentations.    

Another key characteristic of postmodernism is that it holds the view that what is irrational is real and what is real is irrational. The play with its bizarre characteristics turns irrationality in the very rationality, the very unreality into the reality.

To add more, characters (Vladimir, Estragon) are not from high-class but ordinary man. The play is interested in their identity problem which is an inner problem. There is no plot as well as action in Waiting for Godot. So, nothing happens in the play. There is no order also in postmodernism. It is a common characteristic in both postmodernism and Waiting for Godot.

Then, in Waiting For Godot there is no absolute truth. All things are relative here. There is one truth for everything in traditionalism. Like modernism, postmodernism also believes the view that there is no absolute truth and truth is relative. Postmodernism asserts that truth is not mirrored in human understanding of it, but is rather constructed as the mind tries to understand its own personal reality. So, facts and falsehood are interchangeable.

Waiting for Godot, as we mentioned earlier, is concern with identity problem. We do not learn anything, about two major characters Vladimir and Estragon, such as their age, their status in society, their job etc.. Though they have name, but we do not know them as they do not call their names. Vladimir calls Estragon as Gogo and Estragon calls Vladimir as Didi. Their loss of memory is also associated with their identity crisis. The characters cannot remember their past. Loss of memory loss of identity. In Act II, Pozzo appears as blind and he cannot remember that they had met Vladimir and Estragon the previous day.

Waiting for Godot is also a play in the Theatre of Absurd, a theatrical outcome of  postmodernism. Through the portrayal of characters, Beckeet asserts that at the root of our being there is nothingness. Vladimir and Estragon face existential crisis as life seems nothing to them.This frustration is expressed through the repetation of the sentence, "Nothing to be done” by Estragon. Almost all modern people after two world wars experience the same feelings. Life appears to them as absurd thing with full of pureposeless, nothingness and meaninglessness.

Thus, we can say that the play Waiting for Godot is an interesting play for a study from postmodernist perspectives. The character, setting, language, and the style of the play go with the later 20th century literary movement called postmodernism.