Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Modernists Got It Right...100 Years Ago

So one of my New Year's Resolutions is to blog at least weekly. I know, I know. I tried that once and then failed kind of miserably by the end of the year. But that's what new years are for, right?

So, anyway, here I am, but I don't really know what to talk about. So I'm just going to kinda mention something I've been thinking about a little. So I'm working on my Master's and my current class is the Modern English novel ("Modern" not "Contemporary" -- think 1890ish through WWII). We've only discussed it a little bit, but we've examined a few novelists' philosophies on their art, and I have to say, they had it figured out a hundred years ago.

Be realistic. Henry James and Virginia Woolf believed that in order for literature to "live" and breathe, it must be realistic. That does not, however, negate  fiction. Fiction in some cases can be even more "realistic" than reality if treated correctly. It just means that the writing must reflect the accuracies of life (however you personally define those accuracies).

Trust the tale. D.H. Lawrence believes that literature should be separated from its author. Only when the author tries to remove him/herself from the writing can it really have a strong social impact. The author may write about moral topics, but he/she should not try to define that morality to the reader. Let the story carry the author's point by itself.

Play with words. Gertrude Stein advocated experimentation with language. Concentrate on the sound and flow of words more than the grammatical structure, and sometimes an alternate, equally provocative meaning will emerge.

Be aware of the new. Ford Madox Ford was a fairly successful author himself, but encouraged and supported the younger authors coming behind him in their art. He recognized the potential and allowed for an outlet for such names as Joseph Conrad and Ezra Pound. Thus Ford did what he did well, but also encouraged the success of those around him.

Imagine it. All the modernists emphasize imagination in one form or another. I do not believe anyone can write without some amount of experience coming into play -- even if that experience is reading a news article. After that experience, the imagination can take over and dramatize the events from the article into a new, personal, unique story.

Caveat: Anyone who knows much about the modernists will probably disagree with my brief analysis above, and that is why I publish a caveat. I will be the first to agree that many of these novelists are difficult to read, and their styles are vastly different from contemporary literature. And here's the difference -- the modernists did figure it out 100 years ago, but they each figured out a separate piece. The examples listed above focused solely on their piece of the philosophy to the detriment of the other pieces. For example, Stein experimented with language and punctuation so much that some of her writing is almost nonsensical. And we all know how difficult Pound can be to figure out sometimes. And although Lawrence says the author should be separated from his/her writing, he certainly did not do it himself. His sexual issues come blatantly through in his writing, and it makes it almost painful to read. Nevertheless...

So the summarized caveat is that they had it figured out, just not all put together. Now, zoom forward a hundred years to 2011, and the best literature is a balance of all the philosophies listed above.