Post-War Writing and Aesthetics

A Reaction against Modernism

Essay, 2010

15 Pages, Grade: A




Marcio Hemerique Pereira

Birkbeck College

University of London

“Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible; Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, seem to hang there complete by themselves. But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge, torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun in midair by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human beings, and are attached to grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in.”[1]

The present essay proposes to analyze Philip Larkin’s statement: ‘[T]he term ‘modern’, when applied to art, has a more than chronological meaning: it denotes a quality of irresponsibility peculiar to this century […] [T]he artist has become over-concerned with his material (hence an age of technical experiment), and, in isolation, has busied himself with the two principal themes of modernism, mystification and outrage [...],’[2] in a peculiar perspective – How far can post-war writing and aesthetics be construed as a reaction against modernism? Exploring these forms intrinsically attached to public and private concerns of the Post-Modernism which were issues to that society, I will try to go beyond the text message and understand what Larkin intended to say to the post-modern society and the implications it had in our society after that. Equally important, relate the motifs over Post-War writing and Aesthetics and Modernism inside-out world. Finally, the essay tangles the different efforts of the Modern and Post-Modern writers when using representative forms of speech and what considers being a more viable and broader definition of that Aesthetics.

The word modern can be used to describe the time period between 1870s and 1960s, and the cultural ideas, beliefs and art people developed during that period. In fact, this modernism had its footing on the Enlightenment ideologies that authority is centred in man and his abilities. This promoted a new and more liberated social and intellectual framework. This change was supported by the great scientific inventions like steam engine, electricity, and Darwin’s Evolutionary Theory. These developments considerably changed the man’s notion about the world and life. These changes, as Hurd points out, strengthened the belief that modern man could find a rational foundation for universal truth.[3]

In addition, there was optimism that man could find two treat things; meaning and material security. However, the world wars, the Stalin led Russia, and the Hitler led Germany, followed by mass annihilations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused a fall in the optimism and hope promoted by the Enlightenment ideologies. As a result, the argument arose that Enlightenment promotes universal oppression in the name of human liberation.[4] In addition, the artists in the modern era were looking for new and innovative ways of expressing ideas in unique ways, and producing art works which show individuality and artistic skill but the result was highly aristocratic artworks which had nothing to do with society or social reality. The postmodernism arose as a result of these social situations. The postmodernism, which took birth after World War II, was a response to the chaos created by modernism. In other words, it took birth as the result of the hollowness faced by modernist philosophy and art during the world wars, the holocaust and the subsequent disorder in the society. One can see an effort in postmodern art to bring back the cohesion, and coherence that were lost during the modernist period.

Modernism and Literature: A look into Modern Art

The modernist literary style had its birth in Europe after World War I as a result of the chaos the World War created and as a response to the destruction of the belief in universal truth and also as a result of the loss of faith in authority. The First World War marks itself as a turning point. It brought up a new spirit of progress. The mechanization would then power the production and consequently the new literature was to emerge. Soon after, we have the Second World War which expanded that new literature and saw the most thriving years of the world, the technology in constant development and its use came to disseminate knowledge and information. Of course, much of the powered and endorsed achievements of such periods were not fortunate given. After the battles which I therein call here the postwar era, was fueled by constructive conditions of this new world. In Britain, unfortunately, the post-war did not produce many new forms or styles of any art. It acted mostly to construct the worst ideas and the most mocking characterizations or expressions of intellectual life that they seem to be more appropriate in opposition to the overriding principles of contemporary Europe. “A mood of wretchedness and meaninglessness prevailed towards the end of the war where enormous sacrifice had brought modest achievement.”[5] It was not apparent where post-war resentment would be focused, but it would certainly be in antibourgeois politics. Literature reinvented itself in a short while and it was the time we have seen the prosperity of many writers.

Modernist texts both reflect and are detached from the empty forms of modern existence. Terry Eagleton observes, in ‘Capitalism, Modernism and Postmodernism’, that:[6]

Brooding self-reflexively on its own being, it distances itself through irony from the shame of being no more than a brute, self-identical thing. But the most devastating irony of all is that in doing this the modernist work escapes from one form of commodification only to fall prey to another [...] The autonomous, self-regarding, impenetrable modernist artefact, in all its isolated splendour, is the commodity as fetish resisting the commodity as exchange, its solution to reification part of that very problem. (p.68)

Modernism was visible in all forms of artistic expressions. The essential character of modernism was its chaos. It did not follow the linear sequence in the theme, images, characters, or in the plot. In addition, as against the traditional literature work of informing the reader as to what is really going on, the modern art did not guarantee to show the truth. Another vital feature is the fact that modern art exhibited the destruction of family unit. Yet another vital feature is the movement away from traditional role. In other words, it was common in the modern works to depict women performing male roles and vice versa. The traditional racial concept was seen eroding in modernist writings. Another factor worth mentioning is the denial of religion in the modern works.


[1] Virginia Woolf. A Room of One’s Own. New York:HB&Co. [1929], 1989, pp.43-44

[2] Robert Gottlieb (ed.). Reading Jazz: A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage, and Criticism from 1919 to Now. Vintage, 1999

[3] Wesley Hurd. “Postmodernism”. McKenzie Study Center. June 1998. Web. 06 April 2011 <>

[4] Harvey pinpointed in his book that the Enlightenment project was doomed to turn against itself and transform the quest for human emancipation into a system of universal oppression in the name of human liberation. See The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change by David Harvey, chapter 2 – Modernity and Modernism. Blackwell Publishing, 1990.

[5] Ralph Anerson. Elements of Literature. Texas: Holt, Rinehart & Winston Inc. 1989, p.79

[6] Terry Eagleton, ‘ Capitalism, Modernism, and Postmodernism’. 1985. New Left Review 152. pp.60-73

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Post-War Writing and Aesthetics
A Reaction against Modernism
Birkbeck, University of London  (Humanities)
Modern and Contemporary Literature
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
472 KB
post-war, writing, aesthetics, reaction, modernism
Quote paper
MA Marcio Hemerique Pereira (Author), 2010, Post-War Writing and Aesthetics, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Post-War Writing and Aesthetics

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free