Modernist Manifestos & WW1: We Didn’t Start the Fire—Oh, Wait, we Totally Did ·

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Literary history is written by the winners, who in recent years have been people who don’t believe in truth, so it shouldn’t be much surprise that contains lies.  You can’t trust a literary history written after 1960; you must check the original sources.

One example, which I’ll blog on later, is the agreed-on misrepresentation of the ideas of the New Critics.  Another is the myth, promulgated by musical modernists, that the music of the great Classical and Romantic composers was thought to be just as discordant in their day as modernist music is today.  Another is, arguably, the claim that post-modernism is a thing that both arose later than modernism and can be usefully distinguished from it.  Today, though, I want to talk about the revisionist story that World War 1 was a critical influence on modernism.


1. The Big War and the Big Lie

Some quick Googling tells me about “the galvanic impact of World War I” on modernism (New York Times) and “how World War I gave birth to the modern” (CNN).  Wikipedia says, “Among the factors that shaped modernism were the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed then by reactions of horror to World War I.”

English professor Jarica Watts said,

This was Modernism, a reaction against the conventions of liberal, bourgeois, material, decadent, Western civilization. It’s what we might call the avant-garde, or bohemian or abstract today. But for the lost generation of post-war Europe, it seemed to be the only way out of either depression or suicide. In a world now proven to be without values, what else was left but experimentation—to try, by putting the pen to the page, what had not yet been accomplished before.

The Los Angeles TImes wrote,

ART FOREVER CHANGED BY WORLD WAR I

Along with millions of idealistic young men who were cut to pieces by machine guns and obliterated by artillery shells, there was another major casualty of World War I: traditional ideas about Western art. …

“It created an epoch in art,” said Leo Braudy, a USC professor of English and author of “From Chivalry to Terrorism: War and the Changing Nature of Masculinity.” “The question is, what was on one side and what was on the other?”

The simple answer as to what lay on the near side of World War I is Modernism, that slippery but indispensable term denoting a wide range of new sensibilities and aesthetic responses to the industrial age. Modernism took shape decades before World War I, but its clamorous arrival was vastly accelerated by the greatest collective trauma in history to that point.

The Amazon blurb for Susan Cole’s 2012 At the Violet Hour: Modernism and Violence in England and Ireland says,

Literature has long sought to make sense of the destruction and aggression wrought by human civilization. Yet no single literary movement was more powerfully shaped by violence than modernism. As Sarah Cole shows, modernism emerged as an imaginative response to the devastating events that defined the period, including the chaos of anarchist bombings, World War I, the Irish uprising, and the Spanish Civil War.

[Ezra] Pound felt the best part of his generation had been ravaged by an absurdly wasteful war, and he expressed some of his bitterness in his most powerful poem of the period, “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley”: … He loathed Western civilization because it had no room left for its artists, and because it seemed systematically bent on its own extinction through warfare.
— (Tytell 1987 p. 6)

In visual art, Surrealists and Expressionists devised wobbly, chopped-up perspectives and nightmarish visions of fractured human bodies and splintered societies slouching toward moral chaos….  Amy Lyford, a professor of art history and visual arts at Occidental College, said that Surrealism developed partly from artists’ desires to depict the massive traumas the war inflicted on individual human beings.
Art forever changed by World War I, page 2

Yet, looking for these pictures, the closest thing I find is Hitler-inspired paintings by Dali.

“Hitler turned me on in the highest.”
–Salvador Dali, the most-influential postwar Surrealist painter, quoted in The New Statesman

The accepted narrative about the development of Modernism, as shown above, is that it was created as a humanistic reaction against the mindless violence of World War I.  There are several problems with this theory:

– An inspection of easily-available facts shows that modernism was already fully-formed before the start of the war.  I have searched in vain for any style, technique, doctrine, or attitude in any of the many variations of modernism which can be traced to an origin in the events of World War 1.

– What you’ll find instead is that the founders of modernism were often pro-violence and anti-humanistic, and did not react to the horrors of war because few of them went to war.  Modernists were more excited than most people about the revolutionary potential of violence, less likely than other young people to go to war, less likely to write about or make art about the war, and much more likely to rush to embrace the violent solutions of fascism or Stalinism almost immediately after the war.

– War veterans who wrote about the war did not usually use modernist techniques.  Modernists stole their legitimacy by declaring that writings about the war were by definition modernist.


2. Pictorial History of Modern Art

Modernism was fully-formed before World War I started.  It had some growing left to do, but its adult shape was already clear.  Frank Lloyd Wright had been building “prairie houses” for a decade. Chicago, Buffalo, and New York City were already sprouting glass-walled skyscrapers. Arnold Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire was already famous, though he didn’t invent 12-tone music until 1915.

John Cage’s supposedly post-modern masterpiece 4′33″ (1952) is an exact duplicate of Alphonse Allais’ Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man (1897), except for having a different duration [1].  The Red Badge of Couragewas published in 1895.  And it’s hard to say whether anyone has ever written a more post-modern novel than Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1759).

Rather than a long argument, here’s a series of paintings I collected by googling “art 1890”, “art 1900”, “modern art”, and “modern art 1920s”.


Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Doctor Gachet, 1890 (link)


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge, 1890 (link)


Monet, Wheatstacks, 1891 (link)


Edvard Munch, Jealous, 1895 (link)


Henri Matisse, Le bonheur de vivre, 1906 (link)


Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907 (link)


Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 (link)


Picasso, Girl with Mandolin, 1910 (link)


Francis Picabia, 1912, Tarentelle (link)


Franz Marc, Fate of the Animals, 1913 (link)


Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle), 1913


Wassily Kandinsky, Color Study: Squares with Concentric Circles, 1913 (link)


Fernand Léger, Contrast of Forms, 1913 (link)


Piet Mondrian, Composition XIV, 1913 (link)


Lyubov Popova, Air Man Space, 1913


Amadeo Souza-Cardoso, Untitled Still Life, 1913 (link)


Fernand Léger, Discs, 1918 (link)


Piet Mondrian, Composition With Gray And Light Brown, 1918 (link)


Piet Mondrian, Composition III, 1917 (link)


T. van Doesburg, Simultaneous Counter-Composition, 1930 (link)


Pablo Picasso, Tête de Marie-Thérèse, 1932 (link)


Joaquín Torres-García, Locomotora con casa constructiva (Locomotive with Constructive House), 1934 (link)


Picasso, The Weeping Woman, 1937 (link)


Georgia O’Keeffe. White Shell with Red, 1938. (link)


Piet Mondrian, Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue, 1942 (link)


Jackson Pollock, The She-Wolf, 1943 (link)


Stanley William Hayter, Cinq Personnages or alternately Atelier 17, 1946 (link)


Jackson Pollack, Summertime Number 9A, 1948 (link)


Hans Hofmann, The Gate, 1959–60 (link)


Seb Farrington, Venus Isle, 2010 (source)

 

I think it’s clear that the inflection was between 1907 and 1913, not 1913 and 1930.  This wonderful chart gives a good picture of modern art’s genealogy, which shows that all that was added after the start of the war was Dadaism, Surrealism, and architecture.

Although personally, I think this is a better summary of its progress:


Alphonse Allais, Negroes Battling in a Tunnel, by Night, 1884 (source)


Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1915 (source)


Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Print, 1966 (link)


Robert Ryman, Allied, 1966 (linkGuggenheim)


Dimitris Tragkas, Circle, 1988 (linksource)


Robert Ryman, Connect, 2002.  Recently sold for $10,775,500.

Robert Ryman is a good figure to end our survey of modern art on.  He has painted nothing but white squares for the past 50 years, and is now #5 of the list of most expensive living American artists, with sales of on average $14 million per year.  The fact that he can reliably sell paintings which Google image search classifies as bathroom tiles for over $10 million is perhaps not as disturbing as the fact that modern art, a movement whose two most-often stated aims are to fight bourgeois capitalism and to make art more pure, has resulted in an art world that ranks artists by how much money their paintings sell for.


3. English Literary Modernism

Literary modernism in English did appear mostly after the start of WW1.  Not entirely; Gertrude Stein had already written Three Lives, for instance [2].  But Modernism was already fully-formed on the European continent, including its philosophies.  Either English literary modernism is the migration of European modernism to England, or it is not Modernism.

I think there is some distance between English literary modernism and “modern art”, but still–all the important English modernists met each other in Paris, not in London or America, where they looked at French paintings together in Gertrude Stein’s apartment, or met at Shakespeare & Co. or one of Ezra Pound’s other hangouts, and discussed French art and artistic philosophy.

Considering that they were young people writing immediately after the close of a World War, who had little adult experience but the war years, what’s striking is how little some of them wrote about the war.  Joyce, Fitzgerald, and Stein never mentioned it in their work that I know of.

The most-notable books that fit the “war art” narrative are The Red Badge of Courage (Stephen Crane, 1895), All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Remarque, 1928 or 1929), and A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway, 1929).  Aside from the question of whether these books use any modernist techniques–I would say the first two are Naturalist [7.5], and only Hemingway is Modernist–we have problems with the timeline.  Stephen Crane didn’t go to war, and his book came out 30 years after its war, and 20 years before WW1. Remarque and Hemingway went to war, but didn’t publish their books for 10 years. We can hardly say modernism received a formative impact in 1929. [3]  And if Hemingway was so traumatized by the war, why did he volunteer for both the Spanish Civil War and WW2–and spend much of the time in-between travelling around the world to shoot big animals?

And let’s look at some poems by the most-famous “modernist war poets”.  I’m adding one from WW2 just to show that the pattern continues.

The anguish of the earth absolves our eyes
Till beauty shines in all that we can see.
War is our scourge; yet war has made us wise,
And, fighting for our freedom, we are free.
Horror of wounds and anger at the foe,
And loss of things desired; all these must pass.
We are the happy legion, for we know
Time’s but a golden wind that shakes the grass.
There was an hour when we were loth to part
From life we longed to share no less than others.
Now, having claimed this heritage of heart,
What need we more, my comrades and my brothers?
–Siegfried Sassoon, “Absolution”, 1917

Why are they cheering and shouting
What’s all the scurry of feet
With little boys banging on kettle and can
Wild laughter of girls in the street?

Oh those are the froth of the city
The thoughtless and ignorant scum
Who hang out the bunting when war is let loose
And for victory bang on a drum

But the boys who were killed in the battle
Who fought with no rage and no rant
Are peacefully sleeping on pallets of mud
Low down with the worm and the ant.
–Robert Graves, “November 11th”, 1918 (first published in 1969)

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
–Wilfred Owen, “Dulce et Decorum”, 1921

From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
–Randall Jarrell, “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”, 1969

In what sense are these poems modernist?  The first would be called kitsch if it weren’t about the war; it is exactly the sort of Victorian or Georgian poem the modernists hated [4].  Also, it’s the sort of pro-war YOLO jingoism that Kipling would have written; WTF? The others are sentimental poems with clear, concrete meanings and regular or nearly-regular meter and rhyme.

These, by contrast, are modernist poems:

A lea ender stow sole lightly.
Not a bet beggar.
Nearer a true set jump hum,
A lamp lander so seen poor lip.
–Gertrude Stein, “Yet Dish” #2, 1913

The houses are haunted
By white night-gowns.
None are green,
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.
None of them are strange,
With socks of lace
And beaded ceintures.
People are not going
To dream of baboons and periwinkles.
Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
Catches Tigers
In red weather.
–Wallace Stevens, “Disillusionment Of Ten O’Clock”, 1915

Tumbling-hair
picker of buttercups
violets
dandelions
And  the big bullying  daisies
through the field wonderful
with  eyes a little  sorry
Another  comes
also picking flowers
–e e cummings 1923, Tulips and Chimneys #3

She, then, like snow in a dark night,
Fell secretly. And the world waked
With dazzling of the drowsy eye,
So that some muttered ‘Too much light’,
And drew the curtains close.
Like snow, warmer than fingers feared,
And to soil friendly;
Holding the histories of the night
In yet unmelted tracks.
–Robert Graves, “Like Snow” [I can’t find the year]

The war poems aren’t modernist in any way [5].  Heck, (Jarrell 1942) said modernism was dead 27 years before he wrote that poem.

There is, as far as I can see, a less-than-expected intersection between poems about the war or poets who wrote about the war, and poems or poets showing modernist techniques.  Modernist poems were less about the horrors of war than other poetry.  The first-rank modernists were notable for not going to war and for seldom writing about or painting about the war.  Calling the war poems “modernist” is a PR coup in which the 4Fs, rich kids, and draft-dodgers stole the legitimacy of the war veterans by saying “We’re angsty, too–you’re one of us!”

TS Eliot seems on the surface to be talking about the war in “The Waste Land”, but it doesn’t resemble the poetry of war veterans as much as it resembles the weary, angsty, disillusioned poetry of TS Eliot before the war [6].

And, wait–Graves again?  Well, I put Graves in the first batch as a ringer.  Could you tell him apart from the “modernists”? He’s not considered a modernist at all, despite writing more-modernist poetry.  Graves was a model modernist poet in the 1920s–he came back from the war traumatized, and (allegedly) rejected patriotism, marriage, conventional morality, modernity, and reason.  The problem was that, unlike other WW1 poets, he didn’t die and he didn’t stop writing poems. He began to get better, instead of staying in the permanent state of disillusionment and near-psychosis so conducive to modernism, and as he did, he found himself more and more at odds with other modernist poets.  In (Riding & Graves 1927) he disapproved of their reliance on technical gimmicks, their focus on style rather than content, and their focus on social and political issues rather than on the poet’s experiences and vision. He tried to introduce a more-nuanced view and use of modernism, which was not at all what the other modernists wanted.  Graves disliked modernity, but simply returned to classical studies and to humanistic optimism about the possibility of improving society rather than tearing it down and starting over. (Quinn 1999, see esp. p. 44, 52, 54) Rather than being remembered as a dissenting modernist, he has been cast as the arch-anti-modernist, to keep modernism ideologically pure, and, I suppose, to avoid drawing attention to the fact that the only major WW1 poet I know of who kept writing abandoned modernism.


4. The Two Families of Modernism

At the start of WW1, “Modernism” in the sense I wish to use it–as a term describing a set of artistic approaches that all claimed the same influences, all looked pretty similar to each other and vastly different from everything else, and were advocated at the same time by people who all had the same sort of background and behaved pretty much the same way–included groups with opposite attitudes towards modernity.

Architectural modernism tries to “be modern” by finding beauty in forms that are rational and efficient (“form follows function”).  Futurist modernism originated in Italy and celebrates the power of the machine. Constructivism originated in Russia, inspired by Marx & Engels’ writings against the fine arts (Shiner 1990 p. 236) and by Futurism (theartstory.org, “Constructivism“) and art in France.  It supported modernity in the service of communism, though it was close to anti-modernity Dadaism in its anti-art stance.

The mostly-victorious branch of artistic and literary modernism, on the other hand, reacted against being modern, rational, and efficient.  That branch is what people mean by “modernism”.  They often call Futurism and Constructivism “avant-garde”, an umbrella  term which means anything descended from weird French stuff developed after 1850 that most people didn’t like, but is generally reserved for the period before 1900.  However, both are much more like the rest of modern art that they were contemporaries of than they are like the many forms of avant-garde art that came before 1900.

Virginia Woolf, writing in 1924, said English modernism began in 1910.  People in 1910 said “the revolution” began in the 1890s with the French avant-garde movement.  People in the 1890s said it began in the 1870s with Rimbaud’s poetry, or maybe with the Paris commune of 1871.  People in the 1870s said it began with Gustave Courbet’s realist paintings of 1849-1851 or the French Revolution of 1848, and people in 1848 said they were completing the French Revolution of 1793, which Wordsworth (Vondeling 2000) and Beethoven were both enthusiastic about at the time.

Randall Jarrell wrote an excellent essay in 1942 which used this continuity of revolutionary spirit from modern art back to the French Revolution to argue that modernism is better seen as the next stage of romanticism.  The key qualities they had in common were:

  • a disdain for all art that had come before
  • fetishizing “originality” and constant change
  • calling ugly, discordant, or senseless things “art” as long as they were new
    • this makes more sense if you’re familiar with late 19th-century French Symbolist poetry–I’m not, but I’ve read articles about it; basically the French were writing proto-modernist poetry in the 1870s.  (See below on Stéphane Mallarmé. Also see Martindale 1990 chpt. 3, “Crucible in a Tower of Ivory: Modern French poetry”.)
  • hatred of science, industrialism, humanitarianism, and the notion of progress
  • a desire to return to an idealized past that is literary, theological, and personal

GhostOfHeraclitus has just posted a short companion piece on Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898).  Its conclusion is:

“In summary, a lot of what was supposedly purely Modernist was written by Mallarmé first, and this penchant for experimentation suffused with the vision of art as new religion for a world that’s gone and killed God was transmitted to the Modernists either through Mallarmé’s fame or through his famous salons. This ‘new religion’ business is especially vital as it speaks to the (more paleo- than neomodern) notion that meaning had gone from the world and that Art-with-a-capital-sodding-A must put it back.”

1914 is a ridiculous date for the birth of modernism.  The 1890s would be a better date. But moving the date up to 1914 has several advantages to the winners.  It makes modernism seem newer, gives its perpetual childish outrage and arrogance an excuse, and, perhaps most importantly, lets them kick out the Futurists, who had split from the rest of the modernists by 1910.  Saying modernism began during WW1 is thus akin to saying that the Russian Revolution began when Trotsky was expelled from the Politburo in 1926.

(If you want to read a counter-argument, the New York Times published a piece in 1996 defending the official date of 1914 or later against a book by Peter Stansky arguing that “in 1910 England was belatedly introduced to the modernism that was already taking the Continent by storm.”)

The futurists didn’t adopt the anti-modern modernists’ nihilistic doctrines such as the unimportance of the artistic subject or content.  Also, their art was a little more popular because it was representational and energetic.

Umberto Boccioni 1912, Elasticity (link)

Giuio D’Anna, 1930 (link)

The surviving modernists are, amazingly, still hurling invective at Futurism’s corpse over 100 years later, as shown by this 2012 Smithsonian article calling Futurists a dark and dangerous set of artists whose influence we should be wary of, conveniently ignoring the equally loathsome political views of most non-futurist modernists.

The artistic and philosophical revolution, as often happens, preceded the military one.  (The Renaissance, for instance, can be seen as the artistic half of a long revolution against the iron grip of medieval feudalism, while the Age of Enlightenment was the scientific and political continuation of it.)

The modernists weren’t reacting against a devastation caused by the callous indifference of science to the plight of real people, because the modernists came first.  If anything, the poison of their own fanaticism, their screams for rage, violence, and destruction, and their loathing of those ordinary people, cheered on the coming devastation.


5. Modernist Manifestos and World War One

Many people have tried to define modernism, but they mostly observe its products rather than giving it what it’s crying for–psychoanalysis.  A glaringly obvious characteristic of modernism, which people are now so used to that they don’t even notice, is its furious, political, totalitarian nature.  Most famous modernists (I haven’t counted, but I’m pretty sure it’s most; see for instance Will 2012 [7]), were political extremists, either fascist or Stalinist.  The two most-important literary modernists, in terms of organizing modernism into a movement, were Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein.  The same Pound that Tytell said was bitter about “an absurdly wasteful war” signed the Blast Manifesto in 1914 with its calls for a great purgative violence, and later made radio broadcasts for the Italian fascists during World War 2.  Stein supporters claim that she was just being ironic when she said “Hitler deserves the Nobel Peace Prize”, but she supported the Vichy regime too consistently to make this excuse.

There were modernist manifestos going at least back to the Symbolist manifesto in 1886, but from 1909-1921 modernists competed to see who could crank out the angriest, craziest manifestos.  I don’t know how many there were. Enough that “manifesto studies” is now a thing.

From F. T. Marinetti​’s “The Futurist Manifesto” , 1909:

2. The essential elements of our poetry will be courage, daring, and revolt.
3. Literature having up to now magnified thoughtful immobility, ecstasy, and sleep, we want to exalt the aggressive gesture, the feverish insomnia, the athletic step, the perilous leap, the box on the ear, and the fisticuff.
7. There is no more beauty except in struggle. No masterpiece without an aggressive character. Poetry must be a violent attack against the unknown forces, summoning them to lie down before man.
9. We want to glorify war — the only hygiene of the world–militarism, patriotism, the anarchist’s destructive gesture, the fine Ideas that kill, and the scorn of woman.
10. We want to demolish museums, libraries, fight against moralism, feminism, and all opportunistic and utilitarian cowardices.

It is in Italy that we launch this manifesto of tumbling and incendiary violence, this manifesto through which today we set up Futurism, because we want to deliver Italy from its gangrene of professors, of archaeologists, of guides, and of antiquarians.

I think you all know how that went.

This next bit is a long quote, but I think it’s worthwhile.  It shows the violent and political atmosphere of the European art world in 1912, and one account of how modernism came from a Hegelian synthesis of classicism and romanticism.

Also notice that Hulme, the modernist, is rabidly pro-Christian and anti-scientific, and skeptical of ‘Progress’ (hence the snide uppercase P).  (He says he’s anti-rationalist, but he’s using the term to mean something like “science”, without regard for how it and its cognates were used during the previous 2000 years.  Christianity is rationalist, while romanticism is anti-rationalist.) This is a point I’ll hopefully get to sometime this year: modernism and post-modernism are religious, theocratic, rationalist, anti-scientific movements.  Post-modernism in particular is very Catholic, and looks back to the Middle Ages to find ancient philosophies to replace modern scientific beliefs. (This shouldn’t be surprising, as it arose in France from people with classical educations but no scientific understanding.)  Hulme’s view is that romanticism needs an injection of God.

From a speech by T. E. Hulme, 1912, published in 1924 as “Romanticism and Classicism”:

I know that in using the words ‘classic’ and ‘romantic’ I am doing a dangerous thing. …  I ought really to have coined a couple of new words, but I prefer to use the ones I have used, as I then conform to the practice of the group of polemical writers who make most use of them at the present day, and have almost succeeded in making them political catchwords…  If you asked a man of a certain set whether he preferred the classics or the romantics, you could deduce from that what his politics were.
The best way of gliding into a proper definition of my terms would be to start with a set of people who are prepared to fight about it–for in them you will have no vagueness. …
About a year ago, a man whose name I think was Fauchois gave a lecture at the Odeon on Racine, in the course of which he made some disparaging remarks about his dullness, lack of invention and the rest of it. This caused an immediate riot: fights took place all over the house; several people were arrested and imprisoned, and the rest of the series of lectures took place with hundreds of gendarmes and detectives scattered all over the place. These people interrupted because the classical ideal is a living thing to them and Racine is the great classic. That is what I call a real vital interest in literature.  They regard romanticism as an awful disease from which France had just recovered.
The thing is complicated in their case by the fact that it was romanticism that made the revolution.  [I suppose he’s talking about one French Revolution or the other.]  They hate the revolution, so they hate romanticism.
I make no apology for dragging in politics here; romanticism both in England and France is associated with certain political views
People of all classes, people who stood to lose by it, were in a positive ferment about the idea of liberty.  There must have been some idea which enabled them to think that something positive could come out of so essentially negative a thing. There was, and here I get my definition of romanticism. They had been taught by Rousseau that man was by nature good, that it was only bad laws and customs that had suppressed him…  This is what made them think that something positive could come out of disorder… Here is the root of all romanticism: that man, the individual, is an infinite reservoir  of possibilities; and if you can so rearrange society by the destruction of oppressive order then these possibilities will have a chance and you will get Progress.
One can define the classical quite clearly as the exact opposite to this. Man is an extraordinarily fixed and limited animal whose nature is absolutely constant. It is only by tradition and organisation that anything decent can be got out of him
… the classical view … is absolutely identical with the normal religious attitude…  That part of the fixed nature of man is the belief in the Deity.  This should be as fixed and true for every man as belief in the existence of matter and in the objective world.  It is parallel to appetite, the instinct of sex, and all the other fixed qualities….  The repressed instinct bursts out in some abnormal direction. So with religion. By the perverted rhetoric of Rationalism, your natural instincts are suppressed and you are converted into an agnostic. Just as in the case of the other instincts, Nature has her revenge. The instincts that find their right and proper outlet in religion must come out in some other way.  You don’t believe in a God, so you begin to believe that man is a god. You don’t believe in Heaven, so you begin to believe in a heaven on earth. In other words, you get romanticism.

Hulme is a rabid conservative, on the anti-liberty, monarchist, Classicist side, and was a Catholic convert.  Classicists or Catholics who became modernists became High Modernists (or paleomodernists), like Joyce & Eliot, and often supported the fascists after WW1.  Romantics who became modernists became neomodernists, like Stein, and often became Marxists if they were not Catholic.

We all know that modernism is about God being dead, right?  So why does theology keep entering into it? Well, modernism and post-modernism are both movements that believe God is dead, but desperately want Him back to give the world a firm footing.  Modernism is what happens when romantics acquire a purely intellectual atheism, but still have a God-shaped hole in their hearts.  Futurists and paleo-modernists searched for replacements for God. More conservative and backwards-looking modernists, like TE Hulme and TS Eliot, decided they must have just had the wrong God, and would try out the Catholic one instead.  Post-modernists gave up and said reason only leads to contradictions because there is no God. (Not directly, but it becomes clear if you notice that their arguments come from rejecting scientific understanding and instead falling back on medieval beliefs about reality, which were carefully designed and selected to lead to contradictions if there were no God.)

If, as Hulme said, classicists were conservatives and romantics were progressives, what were modernists?  I’m going to call them radicals. I’ll explain why in a later blog post, “Conservative, progressive, and radical art.”  But I think this next selection from the Blast manifesto will make the point equally well. It was written mostly by Wyndham Lewis (who in 1931 visited Berlin and wrote a book praising Adolf Hitler, a fact not mentioned on the Wikipedia page dismissing charges against him of Nazi sympathizing), and signed by Ezra Pound.  Lewis said the name “Blast” meant “the blowing away of dead ideas and worn-out notions.” The strange |6/ is supposed to represent a bomb exploding (as suggested by other words in the manifesto).  The messages of Blast were that (1) Futurists are bad; and (2) art is inherently violent, and springs from the same sort of thuggish vitality that the Futurist Manifesto praises.  It characterizes art as an explosive energy, like a bomb, so an artist must be “savage”, “primitive”, “violent”, and find his stimulus in “a chaos of imperfection, discord”.  It was published on June 20, 1914, 8 days before Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated by a Yugoslav nationalist, triggering World War 1.

From “Long Live the Vortex!”, Blast (1), June 20 1914  (Norton Anthology of English Literature, 8th edition, vol. 2, p. 2010-2012):

The only way Humanity can help artists is to remain independent and work unconsciously.
WE NEED THE UNCONSCIOUSNESS OF HUMANITY—their stupidity, animalism and dreams.
We believe in no perfectibility except our own.
Intrinsic beauty is in the Interpreter and Seer, not in the object or content.

WE ONLY WANT THE WORLD TO LIVE, and to feel it’s [sic] crude energy flowing through us.
It maybe said that great artists in England are always revolutionary, just as in France any really great artist had a strong traditional vein.
Blast sets out to be an avenue for all those vivid and violent ideas that could reach the Public in no other way.

AUTOMOBILISM (Marinetteism) [Futurism] bores us. We don’t want to go about making a hullo-bulloo about motor cars, anymore than about knives and forks…
Wilde gushed twenty years ago about the beauty of machinery.  Gissing, in his romantic delight with modern lodging houses was futurist in this sense.

[from here on you need to see the typography]

I realize that the Archduke was killed by a nationalist, not an artist.  The point I’m making is that those times were full of political violence by nationalists, Marxists, and anarchists–and the modernists thought that was totally cool.  They wanted to be a part of the violence. The anarchists, nationalists, Marxists, and modern artists were all part of a revolutionary culture of anger that glorified explosive energy and violence.

Look back at that sequence of paintings up above.  It looks like I selected a whole bunch from 1913 to show you what art was like immediately before the war started, doesn’t it?  I didn’t. It just happens that if you randomly select a bunch of paintings from the history of modern art with probability proportional to how many web pages there are about them, a large number of the important paintings were made in 1913.

The years immediately preceding World War I witnessed two parallel developments in the arts: landmark works and innovate styles appeared in such rich profusion as to make this period (1910-1914) one of the apogees of modernism; and, far more than in preceding years, artists in nearly all media formed and joined groups of fellow artists… the group structure intensified modernist innovation by enabling otherwise isolated artists to develop aesthetic ideas collectively… and… to dare to present their innovative art to a hostile, yet potentially curious public…. So aggressive were these modernist groups, so eager for combat, that fighting spilled over into their competition with each other for survival and prominence.
–Cohen 2004 p. 1-2

In other words, modern art was bursting with energy and action, at its peak strength, immediately before WW1 started.

And yet, I haven’t got a single painting from the 1920s.  But I tried. I searched for “modern art 1920s”, and all the images I clicked on turned out to be from before or after the 1920s, or didn’t have a specific date given, except for a bunch of Mondrians which all looked the same [8].  Modern artists didn’t emerge from the war energized to create new art in response to their experience. Modern visual art was apparently dormant immediately after the war.  Modern art wasn’t a reaction against violence, it was a violent reaction–and people were tired of violence.

World War 1 broke out at just the time that all of Europe’s upper and middle class was burning with rage over art–classicists, romanticists, and modernists all denouncing each other as barbarians.  The classicists were not a serious threat. The French modernists were hard-pressed to decide who they hated more, the German Romantics (their old enemy), or the Italian Futurists (the heretical modernists).

Wait, I’m not going to argue that World War 1 was split along artistic lines, am I?

No; Wyndham Lewis will.  In Blast issue 2, July 1915:

Germany has stood for the old Poetry, for Romance, more stedfastly and profoundly than any other people in Europe. German nationalism is less realistic, is more saturated with the mechanical obsession of history, than the nationalism of England or France.

This paper wishes to stand rigidly opposed, from start to finish, to every form that the Poetry of a former condition of life, no longer existing, has foisted upon us. It seeks to oppose to this inapposite poetry, the intensest aroma of a different humanity (that is Romance) the Poetry which is the as yet unexpressed spirit of the present time, and of new conditions and possibilities of life.

Under these circumstances, apart from national partizanship, it appears to us humanly desirable that Germany should win no war against France or England.

… and a few pages later:

A fact not generally known in England, Is that the Kaiser, long before he entered into war with Great Britain, had declared merciless war on Cubism and Expressionism.  Museum directors, suspected of Cubist Ieanings, were removed from their posts. Exhibitions that gave shelter to Pablo Picasso or even Signac, were traitorous institutions. … This good Emperor smells the Divine, the Sober and Sheet-Iron puritanism underneath these art-manifestations, and he feels his trade would suffer. …

(Do note that Blast 2 describes modern art as divine, sober and sheet-iron puritanism.  That will become important in later posts.)

I mentioned earlier that Arnold Schoenberg didn’t invent 12-tone music until 1915.  That was a major development in modernism. So… maybe that was his response to the mindlessness of WW1?

Schoenberg drew comparisons between Germany’s assault on France and his assault on decadent bourgeois artistic values. In August 1914, while denouncing the music of Bizet, Stravinsky and Ravel, [Schoenberg] wrote: “Now comes the reckoning! Now we will throw these mediocre kitschmongers into slavery, and teach them to venerate the German spirit and to worship the German God!”
–Wikipedia on Schoenberg, citing Ross 2007, p. 60.

Schoenberg said later that he suffered terribly from the corrosive effects of war.  But at the time, he was enthusiastic about it, enlisting in 1914. He only finished his training in the autumn of 1916, and was released from service in November 1916 (Ewans 2004 p. 309-313).  As far as I can tell, he never saw action, thanks to the efforts of “his colleagues” to keep him out of danger (Roshwald & Stites p. 140).

Schoenberg, the German, identified France with the bourgeois, while Wyndham Lewis identified Germany with the bourgeois.  “Bourgeois” allegedly meant “upper middle class”, yet it was by then used only as an insult, and only by members of the upper middle class.  By 1914 it had already come in artistic circles to refer not to any economic class, but to anyone who did not appreciate avant-garde art.  By intersecting revolution and avant-gardism, It expressed in one word the sentiment that people who did not like modern art must be killed.

Is the idea that a fight over art made people eager to fight WW1 any more ridiculous than the current teaching that they fought it for no reason at all?  Is it any more ridiculous than the idea that one major reason Rome fell and Europe plunged into the Dark Age was a religious internal and external war lasting from 300-800 A.D. over exactly how literally to interpret the phrase “God’s only begotten son” in John 3:16? [9]  Or that disagreements over art helped cause the Holocaust?

But the modernists quickly saw the error of their ways, right?  During the War they began to draw some link between their cries for mindless violence, and mindless violence, right?

Like Dada.

Dada was born out of negative reaction to the horrors of World War I.
–Dona Budd 2005, The Language of Art Knowledge Cards

Dada was an art movement formed during the First World War in Zurich in negative reaction to the horrors and folly of the war.
The Tate Gallery’s website

Dadaist artists expressed their discontent with violence, war, and nationalism, and maintained political affinities with the radical left.
–Wikipedia, Dada

Dada emerged amid the brutality of World War I (1914–18)—a conflict that claimed the lives of eight million military personnel and an estimated equal number of civilians….

For the disillusioned artists of the Dada movement, the war merely confirmed the degradation of social structures that led to such violence: corrupt and nationalist politics, repressive social values, and unquestioning conformity of culture and thought. From 1916 until the mid-1920s, artists in Zurich, New York, Cologne, Hanover, and Paris declared an all-out assault against not only on conventional definitions of art, but on rational thought itself. “The beginnings of Dada,” poet Tristan Tzara recalled, “were not the beginnings of art, but of disgust.”
The Museum of Modern Art’s website

There are no world-renowned Dadaists on the scale of a Hemingway, or a Shostakovich, or a Picasso, and no Dadaist produced a particularly large body of work– not least because so many of the good ones killed themselves as the ultimate expression in Dadaist performance art….  Dada was a fully-realized, soulless expression of Dionysian excess. A howl of existential despair. And a casualty of war.

… The Dada movement is believed to have begun on October 6th, 1916, at the Café Voltaire in Zurich, part of neutral Switzerland, where Ball and others… congregated in order to discuss art and vent their spleen against the war lighting the sky all around them…. Their outrage was real, a genuine reaction to the horrors of the war.
History of the Dada Movement, dadart.com

So the Dadaists were, like, hippies, right?  They just wanted to give peace a chance. Get people to be reasonable.

A small part of Tristan Tzara’s “​​Dada Manifesto​“, 1918:​

The principle: “love thy neighbor” is a hypocrisy. “Know thyself” is utopian but more acceptable, for it embraces wickedness. No pity. After the carnage we still retain the hope of a purified mankind… All pictorial or plastic work is useless: let it then be a monstrosity that frightens servile minds, and not sweetening to decorate the refectories of animals in human costume…

I assure you: there is no beginning, and we are not afraid; we aren’t sentimental. We are like a raging wind that rips up the clothes of clouds and prayers, we are preparing the great spectacle of disaster, conflagration and decomposition….

What is divine in us is the awakening of anti-human action. … Morals have an atrophying effect, like every other pestilential product of the intelligence. Being governed by morals and logic has made it impossible for us to be anything other than impassive towards policemen – the cause of slavery – putrid rats with whom the bourgeois are fed up to the teeth, and who have infected the only corridors of clear and clean glass that remained open to artists.

Let each man proclaim: there is a great negative work of destruction to be accomplished. We must sweep and clean. Affirm the cleanliness of the individual after the state of madness, aggressive complete madness of a world abandoned to the hands of bandits, who rend one another and destroy the centuries. Without aim or design, without organization: indomitable madness, decomposition. Those who are strong in words or force will survive, for they are quick in defence, the agility of limbs and sentiments flames on their faceted flanks.

Morality has determined charity and pity, two balls of fat that have grown like elephants, like planets, and are called good. There is nothing good about them. Goodness is lucid, clear and decided, pitiless toward compromise and politics. Morality is an injection of chocolate into the veins of all men.

What is Dada and what does it want in Germany?  The international revolutionary union of all creative and intellectual men and women on the basis of radical Communism.
–the Berlin Dadaist Manifesto, 1920, quoted in Egbert 1970 p. 633, as cited in Golomstock 1990 p. 59

Dada is German Bolshevism.
–Carl Richard Hülsenbeck, founder of German Dadaism, quoted in Egbert 1970 p. 633, as cited in Golomstock 1990 p. 59

To make literature with a gun in my hand had for a time been my dream.
–Carl Richard Hülsenbeck, En avant Dada, 1920. Translated and cited by Wikipedia: Richard_Huelsenbeck

After 1923 “Die Neue Sachlichkeit” was born from the meeting of Dadaism and Expressionism; this was probably the most pointedly social movement in the art of its time…. Some saw in it the highest manifestation of the German or Nordic spirit, others were attracted by its aesthetic extremism, its refusal to accept bourgeois tastes and morality, and its open criticism of the capitalist system. Among those who sided with it where the communists George Grosz and Hans and Lea Grundig, the Soviet sympathizers Käthe Kollwitz and Max Pechstein, together with Emil Nolde, the father of the movement and one of the first to join the national Socialist party.
–Golomstock 1990, p. 60

The Dadaists weren’t hippies complaining about violence.  They were radical left-wing draft-dodgers who wanted a different kind of violence.

It’s not easy to make sense of the Dada Manifesto–sense was one of the things it rejected–but we can note consistencies in it:

– It uses the language of racial or religious purity, comparing people who disagree with their theories to disease, vermin, decay, and filth that must be wiped out.
– It speaks not of persuasion but of strength and violence.
– It continues the modernist association of art with madness.
– It speaks against compromise, morality, charity, and pity, insisting that only total destruction of the bourgeoisie and their culture is acceptable.
– It says little about the war.  Mostly just the part in the quote above.
– It says a lot about the basic principles of post-modern theory: subjectivity, relativism, amorality, the non-existence of truth, the inapplicability of logic and rationality, the deconstruction of arguments as having ulterior motives.
– It’s not outrage against violence; it’s outrage that it isn’t the violence they wanted.

In other words, this “reaction against the mindless horrors of war” is panic that the pent-up rage they were hoping to unleash for their vaguely-Marxist revolution is getting wasted.  They’re trying to get in on the mindless violence, before it’s too late.

Also notice that the wartime Dadaists were in Switzerland.  None of them went to war.

What about the famous modernist writers of the 1920s and 1930s?  James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald [10], William Carlos Williams, D. H. Lawrence, Wallace Stevens?  Despite all being of draftable age, only Hemingway went to war–and he seemed to like it pretty well; he went back for two more. (In WW2, Hemingway was court-martialed for fighting too much–he organized unauthorized operations against the enemy.)

Same with the other artists.  Picasso, Le Corbusier, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp–none of them fought in the war.  (BLAST artist Henri Gaudier-Brzeska went to war, found trench warfare “great fun” (Moody p. 259-260), and was killed in 1915.)  In a Europe where most young men went to war, modern art was very noticeably practiced mostly by young people who did not. If it was a reaction to the horrors of war, why were people who didn’t go to war so much more likely to have this reaction?  (It’s not because everyone who went to war died. About 1 in 6 did.)

And if these modern artists were shocked by the horrors of war, why were they so eager to embrace or cooperate with Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin so soon after WW1? (Note that article lists only the fascists, and still they outnumber the moderates.)  Marinetti-Mussolini (Tryphonopoulos & Adams 2005 p. 191), Picasso-Stalin [11], Dali-Hitler, Pound-Mussolini, Gertrude Stein-HitlerKnut Hamsun-Hitler, Dadaism-communism, Surrealism-communism. There are too many cases of famous modernists praising fascism or Stalinism, and too many books asking why, for me to bother enumerating them; just Google the subject on your own.  The interwar history of modernism contains a great deal of politics, often as farce [12], as both fascist and leftist modernist extremists strove to win over a proletariat who found them both, frankly, revolting [13].


Picasso’s portrait of Stalin, drawn in 1953 “as a token of respect and affection” (link)

But artists were done with revolutionary violence after WW2, right?  Genocide wasn’t cool anymore. No more allying modern art with radical purges against the bourgeois and/or the fascists, right?

​From ​George Maciunas’ “Fluxus Manifesto“,​ ​1963:

Purge the world of bourgeois sickness, “intellectual”, professional & commercialized culture, PURGE the world of dead art, imitation, artificial art, abstract art, illusionistic art, mathematical art, — PURGE THE WORLD OF “EUROPANISM”!

PROMOTE A REVOLUTIONARY FLOOD AND TIDE IN ART.

Promote living art, anti-art, promote NON ART REALITY to be grasped by all peoples, not only critics, dilettantes and professionals.

[Theodor Adorno’s Philosophy of Modern Music (published posthumously in 1973)] argues that music must expunge all familiar sounds and conventional notions of the beautiful. In a world of triumphant kitsch, composition can justify its survival only by becoming a mirror image of physical and spiritual destruction…. Stravinsky, who, at the time of the “Philosophy,” was still working in the neoclassical mode, stood for falsehood and regression. There was, of course, something fascistic about Stravinsky. Adorno did not base this argument on the fact that Stravinsky himself voiced sympathy for Mussolini in the nineteen-thirties; instead, he felt that a Fascist mentality was ingrained in the music, simply in its reassertion of tonality after Schoenberg’s putative annihilation of it…. Merely by choosing to write in the key of A minor, Stravinsky is acting like you-know-who.
–Alex Ross, “Ghost Sonata: Adorno and German Music”, The New Yorker, March 24 2003
(Adorno was an extremely influential Marxist art critic and cultural theorist)

The Modernists had no reason to feel bad about WW2–they were the only winners.

It was thought that no music resisted the Nazi taint more thoroughly than the modernist school that Hitler detested. Thus did Arnold Schoenberg, the inventor of atonality and of twelvetone composition, become a heroic figure in the post-war years; he had stayed, it seemed, absolutely pure. After 1945, a new morality of music evolved, based on two questionable but potent syllogisms: (1) if Hitler liked it, it must be bad; (2) if Hitler hated it, it must be good.
–Alex Ross, “Ghost Sonata: Adorno and German Music”, The New Yorker, March 24 2003


6. Modernism Today

Okay, but all that batshit insane revolutionary madness is irrelevant now, right?

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”  — The Matrix, 1999

…sounds like a reference to a (postmodern, deconstructionist) passage in Tristan Tzara’s “​​Dada Manifesto​”:

With the blue eye-glasses of an angel they have excavated the inner life for a dime’s worth of unanimous gratitude. If all of them are right and if all pills are Pink Pills, let us try for once not to be right…  There is no ultimate Truth. The dialectic is an amusing mechanism which guides us / in a banal kind of way / to the opinions we had in the first place.

What am I saying–that the Wachowski brothers (now sisters) were secretly deconstructionists referring to an 80-year-old radical manifesto–that the point of the Matrix wasn’t (as the first film suggested) that there was a reality beneath the simulation, but that it was simulations all the way down?  How deep does the rabbit hole go?

So the first movie is sort of classical in its approach. The second movie is deconstructionist, and it assaults all of the things that you thought to be true in the first movie, and so people get very upset, and they’re like “Stop attacking me!” in the same way that people get upset with deconstructionist philosophy. I mean, Derrida and Foucault, these people upset us. And then the third movie is the most ambiguous, because it asks you to actually participate in the construction of meaning…
— Lana Wachowski, Movie City News, October 13, 2012

I don’t believe in the Wachowski’s rabbit hole, but the modernist movement hasn’t hit bottom yet.  That’s not surprising; it’s just one part of a very old pseudo-intellectual tradition. That tradition began at least as far back as the Arian Wars and runs through medieval scholasticism, splits across continents between the Puritan and the Hegelian / Marxist traditions, then rejoins in modernism, and continues through post-modernism, right up to the Social Justice Warrior contingent of today’s left–and it goes straight through America’s English Literature departments.  But that’s a topic for future blog posts.


7. Why were modern artists so combative and so totalitarian?

This table shows the number of artworks chosen to be shown at the Paris Salon Exhibition, and the population of Paris (the city) at the time.

Year    # artworks  Population of Paris (census year)
1740      127
1750      151     565,000
1761      157
1771      320
1781      318     630,000 (1789)
1800      537     546,856 (1801)
1810     1120     622,636 (1811)
1819     1615     718,966 (1817)
1831     3182     785,862
1840     1349     935,261 (1841)   The entry notes that artists were protesting that the Salon jury was rejecting too many works.
1850     3915   1,053,262 (1851)
1861     4097   1,696,141
1870     5434   1,851,792 (1872)
1880     7289   2,269,023 (1881)

Modern artists had to fight for attention.

A young artist can’t be easily recognized for being “good”, since art is so subjective.  As the number of artists kept growing, in order to get shown at exhibitions, to distribute their little magazines, to get reviews in newspapers, young artists had to form herds, draw up doctrinal manifestos, and act like a political party to promote their work (see Cohen 2004). Art, like academia, developed its own politics.  Romantics were individualists. Most modernists could not be.

Meanwhile, between the French Revolution and WW2, the spread of democracy and the West-wide loss of faith in religion was breaking up totalitarian culture, which had previously thrived among monarchists and the Catholic Church.  People with a totalitarian nature require hierarchy, order, stasis, uniformity within their culture, distinctness from all other cultures, doctrine, and some guiding transcendental logos such as Church or Crown.  Europe in the latter half of the 19th century was full of totalitarian souls in search of a new God, and the options on offer were Marx, nationalism, and art.  Like pagans throughout history, many played it safe by creating a syncretistic religion combining 2 or all 3 of them. Artists of a totalitarian bent could colonize or organize the new orderly herds of modernists, and replace religion or the crown with a religious devotion to art.  This explains the fanaticism, and the consistently totalitarian politics, of modern artists.

Between WW1 and WW2, the various new Gods shook out into a few new totalitarian systems, which each settled on their own compatible artistic style by the end of 1934, plus today’s mainstream anti-modern modernism, which attached itself to academic culture among Germany and the Allies.  And so totalitarian culture, whose God had lost face and whose monarchs had lost their thrones, found new footholds among the Nazis, Stalinists, fascists, and in academia.

All this did not cause WW1.  No kind of modern art was then popular in any country.  Furor over art did not cause the mobilizations of Russian and Austria, the bungled diplomatic reactions to them, nor the unforgivable use of the Schlieffen Plan.  The jingoism of traditional art probably did more damage than the factious rage within modern art.  But modern art was on the same side. If, as Kant said, the social conscience is a product of art and education, modernism helped silence that conscience in the lead-ups to WW1 and WW2, by convincing progressives that instead of opposing violence, they should try to ride the tiger themselves.


Footnotes

[1] Honestly.  Not one note is different, because there are no notes.  Okay; seriously, I realize Cage’s stated intent was different.  I still want my 4’33” back.

[2] Three Lives has a plain style which probably influenced Hemingway.  The relationship of Hemingway to modernism is an interesting question: his style is minimalist, and in that sense modernist, yet the typical “modernist” literary style is more the opposite of Hemingway: convoluted, difficult to follow, dry, symbolic arguments, rather than Hemingway’s literal, sentimental, non-articulated sensory real-life experiences.  Hemingway’s main qualification as a modernist is his bleak view of life, as in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”

[2.5] All Quiet on the Western Front has been called part of the German “New Objectivity” in order to somehow claim it for Modernism.  But New Objectivity wasn’t even a literary movement, and a glance at New Objective artworks shows they’re not realistic.  They’re just representational (not completely abstract):


Helmut HerzfeldHurrah, die Butter ist Alle!, 1935


George GroszThe Eclipse of the Sun, 1926

All Quiet is straight-up 19th-century Realism, which is a literary style.

[3] We see the same pattern in Word War 2 and Vietnam:  the books expressing the trauma come out 10-30 years after the end of the war.  The most-notable books deconstructing World War 2 were Catch-22 (1961) and Slaughterhouse 5 (1969).  The first Vietnam book that comes to mind for me is The Things They Carried (1990).

[4] I agree.  With respect to the author’s experience, it is a bad poem.  “Horror of wounds and anger at the foe, And loss of things desired”, etc.–it’s half histrionic hyperbole, and half cliches and bland, generic infodumps.

[5] Inb4 someone says they’re modernist because they’re about the futility and pointlessness of war: No; that’s my point. Modernists didn’t write about that more than anyone else did. War veterans did. Then modernists claimed the war veterans as modernists, because “everybody knows” that modernism was shaped by the experience of veterans in WW1.  Now they hold up the poems by war veterans, who were stamped as modernists for writing about the war, as proof that modernists wrote about the war. It’s circular logic.

[6] Although “Prufrock” was published in 1915, he wrote the first version of it in 1911.

[7] Those who’ve read T. S. Eliot’s political views may argue with his presence on that list.  I expect that he’s listed as an authoritarian because he longed for a return to a powerful medieval-style state Church.

[8] Mondrian painted the same painting repeatedly from 1917 (“Composition III”) to 1942 (“Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue”).  Way to milk it, Piet.

[9]  Like Modernism, Arianism was hopelessly tied up with politics (Hilaire BellocNew Advent).  And just as Modernists today still hate the Futurists even though they’re all dead, Christian scholars today, especially Catholics, are still angry at Arianism, calling it “debasing” and a “plague” (Gwatkin 1900) or a “taint” (New Advent’s online Catholic Encyclopedia), and writing extremely biased “reviews” of it.  Christianity Today published an argument against Arianism in 2005, writing, “If the Arian belief in Christ as an exalted creature won the day, the gospel itself would be lost.”  Father Longenecker wrote a joint condemnation of Arianism and humanism in the National Catholic Register in 2015, saying that “Today Arianism takes a different form, and comes to us in the guise of humanism.”

[10] “Near the end of his life, Fitzgerald wrote that the two greatest regrets of his life were not having seen overseas combat, and not being big enough to play college football.” (Schmoop)

[11] It is educational and entertaining to read this attempt to interpret Picasso’s drawing of Stalin as critical: “Only step by step I started to grasp Picasso’s idea of Stalin – moral monstrosity is not something exceptional to human nature and to human beings. It is enough to be rude and instinctive, to perceive the world as a place of fight, not to be emotionally warmed up by the disinterested contact with other human beings, to have ambitious and rivaling predisposition, and not to be educated – to be prone to behave indifferently, hatefully and destructively. It is enough, like Stalin, not to be nurtured by the serious art, and to be a believer in power over life and other people – to become a relaxed lout and brute, and a silent murderer.”

[12] As, for instance, Ezra Pound’s failed attempts to write popular verse plays to teach the proles high culture (and good luck finding any mention of them on Google), or the time when the Parisian Dadaists dragged a token workman off the streets to pose with them for a group portrait.

[13] Sorry.


References

Theodor Adorno 1973. Philosophy of Modern Music. Seabury Press.

Dona Budd 2005. The Language of Art Knowledge Cards. Menlo Park, CA: Pomegranate Communications

Milton A. Cohen 2004. Movement, Manifesto, Melee: The Modernist Group, 1910-1914. Lexington Books.

Donald Egbert 1970. Social Radicalism and the Arts in Western Europe: A cultural history from the French Revolution to 1968. New York: Knopf.

Michael Ewans, Rosalind Halton, John A. Phillips, eds. 2004. Music Research: New Directions for a New Century.

Igor Golomstock, translated 1990 by Robert Chandler. Totalitarian Art in the Soviet Union, the Third Reich, Fascist Italy and the People’s Republic of China. Harper Collins.

Henry Melvill Gwatkin 1900.  Studies of Arianism: Chiefly referring to the character and chronology of the reaction which followed the council of Nicæa.

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