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Summary of Modernism and Contemporary Periods

1. The Modern period seems to have come to an end about the time of the Second World War, when new currents began to emerge that we call Contemporary and that we are still experiencing.
2. Throughout the history of Western literature, writers have rejected the models of their predecessors, but never has the rejection been so total and the search for continually new forms been so determined as it was in the Modern Period.
3. Behind the quest for new forms lay the conviction that the modern experience was unique, qualitatively different from that of any time in the past.
4. At its most fundamental level the change was a massive disillusionment, an erosion of faith not only in religion but in a number of secular principles as well.
5. Modern artists just after World War I found themselves in a world deprived of a number of traditional ways of ordering experience. They could no longer accept the premises of the existence of God, of the human race’s right to a certain dignity and virtue of its special place in creation, of the supremacy of reason in human affairs, or even of life as being self-evidently worth living.
6. Much of Modern literature was born from this new spiritual confrontation with emptiness.
7. Disillusioned and contemplating a cosmos and a society either without order or so complexly ordered as to defy understanding, most Modern writers looked within themselves for a principle of order. The most striking feature of Modern literature, therefore, was its overwhelming preoccupation with the self, the nature of consciousness, and the processes of perception.
8. The French Symbolist poets reacted against both the materialism of their society and the crudity of naturalism by withdrawing into an ideal world of art. The Symbolists aimed to capture the most evanescent of personal experiences in shimmering, open-ended, essentially private symbols.
9. The disintegration of experience into fragments suggests the negative side of Modernism.
10. An equally important shaping principle in Modern literature was what might be called the “stream of unconsciousness,” the use of the irrational logic of dreams and fantasies. The Moderns search for an alternative logic to what they perceived as a sterile, exhausted rationality led them repeatedly to the shadowy structure of the dream.
11. Myth, stripped of its religious and magical associations, was mined for its power to give shape to experience.
12. The Modern writer’s quest for order created by individual consciousness led inevitably to a preoccupation with the artists themselves and with the artistic process.
13. Postmodernism’s principle extension of Modernism is in the direction of a preoccupation with the text itself.
14. Contemporary writers have brought about a strong resurgence of realistic writing, in which the text is treated as a transparent window onto reality, rather than the object of contemplation in itself.
15. Realism remains the main form of popular fiction and drama, but it is also favored by a number of serious writers with strong political convictions.

Last Updated on January 30, 2018

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