Monday, August 24, 2009

Blog One: What is Modernism?

Blog One
What is modernism?
I find that questions like this are best answered via the elementary school approach: who, what, when, where, why and how. All of the articles we were assigned addressed at least one of these elements, and some of the articles addressed all of the elements.

Who, Where
Many different specific names are listed in the articles, but two categories seem to emerge from the articles: Bloomsbury and others. The Bloomsbury group is composed, as we have already discussed in class, of a group of writers, artists and like-minded individuals who lived, worked and socialized together in the early 20th century in a certain academic portion of London. The figures most often mentioned by name in the assigned articles seem to be Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, TS Eliot and EM Forster. One of my favorite things about the Bloomsbury group is that it truly was “a group.” According to Reed, “…Bloomsbury stuck together, its members collaborating on books and artwork, corresponding, traveling and cohabiting…” (Reed 2) (Levenson suggests that this “group” mentality was to be found throughout the movement.) (Levenson 6)There were certainly other key and leading figures involved in the movement. Reed mentions Le Corbusier and Duchamp. Still another way to analyze the “who” of modernism is to consider nationality. It is not stated outright, but I believe that most of the Bloomsbury group was British. The articles cite other outside of Britain, however. Scott includes “colonials,” presumably meaning people from the British Empire though not from Britain proper. (Scott 1990 5) There are also Americans and Latin Americans that are part of the movement. (Scott 1990 5) One of Scott’s important themes is that women should and must be included when considering the period: “…the presence of women in modernism has been vastly underestimated.” (Scott 1990 7)

The “what” element of modernism seems to be the most difficult portion to address, as it seems to me that this portion should speak to the ideology(ies) of the movement. After reading the assigned articles, there seem to be two distinct ways of going about modernism. The Bloomsbury “way,” as explained by Reed, is not the same as “mainstream” modernism, suggesting a conflict within the concept itself. (Levenson also recognizes the divide. See page 7.) Similarly, Scott suggests “subcategories” of modernism. (Scott 1990 4)
The “mainstream” version “celebrates mass-production and standardization.” (Reed 1) The Bloomsbury version of modernism was quite different. Reed’s article distinguishes between the two by connecting Bloomsbury to domesticity while connecting the mainstream version to a “heroic” ideal. (This seems to be the more masculine interpretation, while Bloomsbury seems to be the more feminine interpretation.) My favorite quote from any of the articles, which I think does a great job of summing up what Bloomsbury was about, comes from a letter from Strachey to Grant, as quoted by Reed: “Good God! To have a room of one’s own with a real fire and books and tea and company, and no dinner bells and distractions, and a little time for doing something! It’s a wonderful vision, and surely worth the risks.” (Reed 6) Doesn’t that seem lovely and appealing? Reed goes on to discuss the key ideas of Bloomsbury: leisure, comfort, the privacy that protects diversity, and the pleasures of intellectual conversation and artistic creativity. (Reed 7) Despite the fact that Bloomsbury differed from mainstream modernism, it still contributed to what became the central ideas of the movement. At the same time, Bloomsbury never planned to become the majority.

There is a little conflict among the articles regarding “when” modernism occurred. Levenson starts the period earlier than the others, giving 1890-1930. (Levenson 4) Scott originally puts the period “roughly from 1910 to 1940.” (Scott 1990 5) She revises this to go back as far as 1880 in the later edition of the book. (Scott 2007 12) Reed puts the years 1910-1978 on Bloomsbury. (Reed 6) Thacker gives 1910-1939 as the central focus for his book. (Thacker 2)

For Bloomsbury, the answer to “why” seems to be because a) they wanted to be individuals and b) they saw a better way to do things than the way the majority of the world was going about their lives. This reasoning is part of what makes the group so appealing.

As Scott writes, “…modernism found its expression in many arts…” (Scott 1990 13) This obviously includes writing and painting, but I am unsure of what other forms it took.

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