A little authoritative and paternal, but a Romantic poet. A modernist, brilliant with language but precise in meaning, abstract, somewhat philosophical. They say he had a deathbed conversion. Here’s another line of his:
“The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully.“
And then just to frustrate matters more:
Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.
‘Imagism was a sub-genre of Modernism concerned with creating clear imagery with sharp language. The essential idea was to re-create the physical experience of an object through words. As with all of Modernism, Imagism implicitly rejected Victorian poetry, which tended toward narrative.‘
‘The most exemplified phase of Modernism, referred to as “High Modernism,” occurred during the inter-war years (1918-1939). This was the time when writers synonymous with Modernism, such as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and D.H. Lawrence, thrived. While Victorians typically concerned themselves with rendering reality as they understood it into fiction, Modernists recognized that reality was subjective, and instead strove to represent human psychology in fiction.‘
During the post-war years, the confessionals, with a fair amount of free and blank verse became dominant, with a kind of feelings-first, psychological exploration of the (S)elf.
Dear Reader, this photograph represents the closest I’ve gotten to elements of the modernist imagination so far. I hope you enjoy. The Straussian movement pushes back to a kind of classicist revival, an embrace of tradition, and rejection of much modernity.
***On second-thought, the photo of these parts of very real thing is abstracted into a kind of modernesque design.
‘In the late 1830s, Cole was intent on advancing the genre of landscape painting in a way that conveyed universal truths about human existence, religious faith, and the natural world. First conceived in 1836, the four pictures comprising The Voyage of Life: Childhood, Youth, Manhood, and Old Age fulfilled that aspiration.’
These scenes in the Romantic style can have an emotional pull for me, as generally does the work of the Hudson River School. Such allegory certainly tends to function as a vehicle into memory (Cole’s work has really stuck with me…in a sort of haunting way, mixed with some thought of how I’m supposed to live and what might be coming next).
Also, the wild, untamed nature we Americans have often faced is perhaps requiring of a spirited and grand attempt at putting our experiences within Nature into some context: To soar as high as our hopes often do.
Or at least, to find in paintings: Familiarity. I like to see the roll of a hill like I’ve seen, or an opening of clouds, sky and light like I’ve seen.
Perhaps Wild Nature can be ordered in a Romantic, neo-classical or more modern way. Perhaps Nature can be made, with the tools at our disposal, to conform to some of our deeper ideas about Nature, mirroring our hopes in some recognizable fashion; giving some basic comfort and meaning.
Maybe, after all, we can find a home here.
On the other hand, allegory with overt moral/religious meaning can also come across as heavy-handed, sentimental, and moralistic. Too lush and pretentious; perhaps a bit anachronistic.
Do I really have to hunt for all the symbols and put the puzzle together?
‘So, you’re going to reveal universal truths, eh?’
This can seem distant from the experiences of the modern viewer, often finding himself a little further down the modern/postmodern ‘river’, where such attempts at universality might seem a wash.
Much more common these days are the very personal shards and glimpses of the inner life of an artist, attached to high ambition and great talent surely in some cases; as well to form and tradition, but generally making less bold claims to knowledge than ‘The Voyage Of Life‘.
In painting, I’m reminded of the abstract expressionist movement seeking meaning in reducing experience to the abstract in order to reveal something essential within Nature, or essential about our relationship to Nature: A transcendent place where shape, form and color can be isolated from anything immediately recognizable in the world.
‘The movement’s name is derived from the combination of the emotional intensity and self-denial of the German Expressionists with the anti-figurative aesthetic of the European abstract schools such as Futurism, the Bauhaus, and Synthetic Cubism. Additionally, it has an image of being rebellious, anarchic, highly idiosyncratic and, some feel, nihilistic. In practice, the term is applied to any number of artists working (mostly) in New York who had quite different styles, and even to work that is neither especially abstract nor expressionist.’
The exploration of the Self is often pursued, as well as that of Nature, but the general hope that it might all make sense (life, death, Nature, purpose etc) in many more modern movements is often left abandoned.
Or so often, as we’ve seen in the past few generations: The pursuit of The Self can easily become subsumed to the pursuit of fame, celebrity, and money.
Towards a theme: Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Rothko chapel, in Houston, Texas.
Mark Rothko undertook the idea that within the modern context, one could create temples of universal meaning through aesthetics, art, and beauty:
‘The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the Chapel welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.’
Say of the gulls that they are flying in light blue air over dark blue sea
Music more than a breath, but less Than the wind, sub-music like sub-speech, A repetition of unconscious things, Letters of rock and water, words Of the visible elements and of ours.
The rocks of the cliffs are the heads of dogs That turn into fishes and leap Into the sea.
Star over Monhegan, Atlantic star, Lantern without a bearer, you drift, You, too, are drifting, in spite of your course; Unless in the darkness, brightly-crowned You are the will, if there is a will, Or the portent of a will that was, One of the portents of the will that was.
What is modernism, exactly? This blog is still trying to work towards a definition:
‘Like many scholars of modernism, I’m often asked two questions: What is modernism? And why is modernist studies, it seems, all the rage right now? I don’t have a good, succinct answer to either question — and I’ve no doubt frustrated plenty of friends because of that — but the reasons why I don’t are pretty telling.’
From the comments:
‘The most useful definition of modernist fiction I’ve encountered comes from Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction. He says modernist fiction tends to “foreground epistemological questions” such as “How can I interpret the world I’m part of? What is there to be known?Who knows it? What are the limits of that knowledge?” In contrast, postmodernist fiction tends to “foreground ontological questions” such as “What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there and how are they constituted? What happens when…boundaries between worlds are violated?’
‘There is no morality in art. There is morality in religion; there are philosophical objectives embedded in politics. The two are intertwined in a society and reflected in its art. When you sever art from its cultural moorings and make “newness” the overriding criterion by which the merits of a work are judged, then anything is possible. This results in crap. Not always’
James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, the Bauhaus, the imagists, the futurists etc. Some of those influences have morphed into post-modernism or where such currents have flowed and keep flowing.
The primary urge of the revolutionary and the modernist and the adolescent: impatience.’
About that new Barbie movie…
Here’s my riff without having seen the thing (alas, the cardinal sin). Maybe I shouldn’t be forgiven.
I’m guessing its director is grounding herself in a kind of epistemological feminism which grounds itself in the Bloomsbury Group, Virginia Woolf, and, say, Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft.
Here’s Greta Gerwig getting the treatment reserved for those in the bully pulpit (of course radicalism within postmodernism never inhabits the bully pulpit in good faith…without blame and utopian visioneering).
It’s sad to see actual talent, creativity and some vision hitched to such an idea-wagon.
What am I talking about?: We still have a lot of men and women not just having sex, but building trust and respect and tending to the garden of love (daily, patient work). Out of this comes the covenant of marriage, where each works to provide the cradle of safety, love and then structure, punishment and expectation for all of our future citizens.
Such people are known as ‘good citizens’ and ‘good parents.’ They know the world ain’t perfect and is full of suffering and patient duty. They often have jobs they don’t like. These people usually make rules and laws that are ‘square.’
These people are still there, but square views currently form a minority in the cultural, intellectual and entertainment spheres (as elite as many are). As square and sometimes unyielding and crushingly stupid such views can be when it comes to artistic creation, we need this family structure to form a civil society and have laws.
We have managed to create a creative, intellectual and elite class of people gone real and fake radical, denouncing anything remotely square, even within themselves. And they’re telling stories.
How did we get here? Rough men populated the mountains east of L.A. to mine ore from the ground (whoring, drinking, fighting and sometimes ‘murderin’…breaking their bodies in the mines, solving daily problems with ingenuity, some cool engineering and camaraderie).
A little later, there settled storytellin’ men into L.A.
These men built studios, gathering the latest visual technology from far and wide. The business was much more built on good writers with actual life experience and maybe something to say. But there was also some whoring, drinking, fighting and somewhat less murderin’.
I can tolerate some misandry and cutting men down to size, as long as it’s well done. Oh, plenty of good women writers have stuff to say about that. In fact, I’m guessing ‘Barbie’ is probably well-made in terms of the apparatus (production, scoring, latest technology, some character stuff). There’s probably some good narrative structure.
But it’s also probably got a lot of internal logic which leads to oppressor/oppressed victimhood, pitting the sexes against one another, and nihilistic despair and therapeutic Self-help.
We’re slowly civilizing, but, right into the radicalism that’s caused so much un-civilization in Europe these past centuries.
Ultimately, the internal logic of such radical feminism encourages bouts of cynical self-loathing, world-hating and man-hating (woman-hating too), and a revolutionary terrorism against all existing rules and laws.
Not exactly good for civilization, and certainly not for young girls and boys, who will become future people holding civilization up.
‘Auden’s masterpiece came quickly because the occasion was one for which Europeans of his generation had been waiting, consciously or unconsciously, for most of their lives. The poet tapped into this ambient sense of dread before he was out of his teens.‘
I An old man sits In the shadow of a pine tree In China. He sees larkspur, Blue and white, At the edge of the shadow, Move in the wind. His beard moves in the wind. The pine tree moves in the wind. Thus water flows Over weeds.
II The night is of the colour Of a woman’s arm: Night, the female, Obscure, Fragrant and supple, Conceals herself. A pool shines, Like a bracelet Shaken in a dance.
III I measure myself Against a tall tree. I find that I am much taller, For I reach right up to the sun, With my eye; And I reach to the shore of the sea With my ear. Nevertheless, I dislike The way ants crawl In and out of my shadow.
IV When my dream was near the moon, The white folds of its gown Filled with yellow light. The soles of its feet Grew red. Its hair filled With certain blue crystallizations From stars, Not far off.
V Not all the knives of the lamp-posts, Nor the chisels of the long streets, Nor the mallets of the domes And high towers, Can carve What one star can carve, Shining through the grape-leaves.
VI Rationalists, wearing square hats, Think, in square rooms, Looking at the floor, Looking at the ceiling. They confine themselves To right-angled triangles. If they tried rhomboids, Cones, waving lines, ellipses As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon Rationalists would wear sombreros.
I quite like this one. Perhaps it’s because of what I see as a Romantic sensibility fitted to imagistic purpose.
As to that final stanza: That’s a lot of very lush language to describe what are, to my mind, very visual-field, mathematical concepts. Stevens was a poet of lush language, celebrating it like the old dandy he was, but also translating the Romantic arrangment of language to the spare, image-based aims of modernism. Make it new and strip it down.
Perhaps, this is more the tension occurring here rather than that of a frustrated mathematician.
I’ll try and stir the pot a bit:
‘…modern rationalism is what commonplace minds made out of the inspiration of men of discrimination and genius.’
Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. Pg 6.
One might ask what kind of genius? Artistic, linguistic and poetic? Or rather mathematical and physical? Parts of this debate could be said to stretch back to the Greeks, at least. They exist [such debates] all around us today, within our universities, politics and lives.
Personally, I’m reminded of many modern debates over reason, what it can do , what it can’t, and also many rationalist/anti-rationalist reactions to it.
The Romantic impulse generally involves a return to Nature and the countryside, away from civilization. The poet and the artist also invite one back to one’s own sense experience anew; the ambitious attempting to celebrate the emotions and grand themes without a hint of irony (love, death, war).
At least, many try and show us as we are and can be to ourselves.
The underground roads Are, as the dead prefer them, Always tortuous. – – – When he looked the cave in the eye, Hercules Had a moment of doubt. – – – Leaning out over The dreadful precipice, One contemptuous tree.