Some notes on Modernism
What Modernism was depends on which critical school of criticism one favors.
version of modernism has its own heroes and heroines, and they all culminate in different versions
of what is best about postmodernism now.
Some critics like Hugh Kenner would say it centers around Ezra Pound and all of his friends
and contacts, especially in London and Paris (W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, H.D., James Joyce,
Hemingway, and many others.)
Such a vision of modernism would highlight its international flavor,
its fondness for hybrid forms, radical innovations, and fragments, and its elitist views of the
audiences for the arts.
This version of modernism between the World Wars fits well with other
international arts movements such as Surrealism, which was also influenced by the thought of Freud
on dreams and their interpretations.
This international modernism—quasi-American-British-
European movement in arts and literature—is called High Modernism.
Other critics thinking more nationally would favor English poets like, e.g. Thomas Hardy
and Philip Larkin, who did not seem as interested in an international arts movement.
Such a version
of modernism would stress regional cultures, landscapes and languages—it was art that was not hard
for most people in that culture to understand.
If one were to expand this Modernist canon to include Walt Whitman (especially the post-
Civil War Whitman), and Gerard Manley Hopkins (“Wreck of the Deutschland”), then the
distinctive feature would be how thinking and culture change as a result of war and its catastrophes.
At the same time, social class issues have come into literary consciousness so forcefully that it is as
though something irrevocable has changed what poetry can be and must be.
Whatever one decides about Modernism as a movement between World War I and World
War II, everyone agrees that World War I was the central disaster of the epoch, and the arts had to
reckon with it in sometimes extreme responses.
There was great disillusion with the main structures
of society and culture—God, King, and Country no longer seemed worth dying for as nationalisms
were looked upon unfavorably.
Further, there were some outstanding figures whose influence is so great that no one can
escape them whether one likes them or not.
T. S. Eliot