American Literary History

Klausurvorbereitung


Abstract, 2013
10 Pages, Grade: 1,0

Excerpt

MODERNISM (ca. 1900-1950)

Historical Background

Three Phases of Literary Modernism

1. Avant-garde (early 20th century) e.g. Dada (go away from old literary traditions)
2. Classic Modernism (after WW I) à high phase= 1920s (& between WWs)
3. late phase (after WW II) (Canonization through new criticism)

Modernism and the Victorians/ Transatlantic Modernism

- many artists move to Europe (esp. Paris) because US wasn’t best place for them to liveà living in Europe was cheaper
- too little respect for art in the USA à in Europe greater appreciation of lit.
- very influential period
- expressionism influenced US-American drama and caused it to become high-culture
- WW II not as influential as WW I

High Phase of Literary Modernism – The Jazz Age (1920s)

- Revolt against Victorianism: general disillusionment with civilization after WW I à leads to Primitivism (=particular interest in Afr. Am., Native Am. and other marginalized groups)
- more extensive exchange of cultures characterizes literature and arts
- emphasis on change/make sth. new (= effect of disillusionment as well)
- general increase in living conditions -> middle class can afford cars, vacation…
- automobile industry pioneered mass-production, aviation begins to develop for travelling, advertising becomes important
- “consumer durable revolution” -> people purchased these goods (=lasting longer than one year like cars, TVs or household goods) often on credit à after 1923: new consumer society
- US becomes most influential global player after WW I
- Rise in stock prices during 1920s
- More people live in cities than in countries àliterature in urban environment
- Electrical stuff replaced servants of middle class peopleà but didn’t mean that you lose social status
- Women started to smoke, cut hair short à youth culture
- Alcohol was prohibitedà drinking became fashionable (à revealed in 1933)
- Radio influential role but more and more film (Hollywood), sports in addition to news on TV
- African Americans had high hopes to improve their living standards/perspectives after WW I à but rather a backlash as blacks were lynched
- Ku-Klux-Clan re-established itself after 35years in underground
- important representative = F. Scott Fitzgerald à innovative writing style (= captures atmospheres; describes cultures, only uses selected items of black culture but white ideal remains; strong color symbolism)

Literary Modernism

- experimentation with narrative technique à representing thoughts, feelings, semi-conscious states through “stream of consciousness” narration, interior monologue, free indirect discourse
- experimentation with literary formsà often difficult to readà did this because old forms thought to be limited
- literary texts characterized by fluidity, dynamism, fragmentation, openness
- foregrounding of materiality of language à draw attention to what language can express and show its limits
- literature on urban environment
- prominence of black writers
- “black wing” of literary modernism (Harlem, Jazz Clubs) à starts a bit earlier than white modernism; art had a strict propaganda/political function= “The New Negro” (name for black writers)

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) – high modernism, poems 1920s

- New consciousness of Afr. Am. à going back to history to show that Blacks were part of the emergence of high culturally traditions

- uses black music and black English venecular (=folk) in his poems (thought it had value as cultural issue) à recognizable that jazz and blues structures taken over by him to structure his poems

- most prominent and versatile member of Harlem Renaissance/New Negro Movement (~1900-1930)
- starts because black movement from south to north after WW I (= great
migration)
- aim= bring about racial and social uplift
- forms writers used: venecular language, oral story-telling, different poetry forms e.g. sonnet, jazz, blues

- wanted to capture the dominant oral and improvisatory traditions of black culture in written form

- representative of Jazz Poetry
= uses jazz form, rhythm, content (1. input, 2.statement with other words, 3.
ironic variation), actually patronized by whites

- chose to focus his works on modern, urban black life

- modelled his stanza forms on the improvisatory rhythms of jazz music

- adapted vocabulary of everyday black speech to poetry

- poems demanded that African Am. be acknowledged as owners of the culture they gave to the U.S. and as fully enfranchised Am. citizens

- “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (1921, 1926)

- “river” represents: history of humankind, symbol of life, afr. Am. History, cultural memory, soul
- “my soul has grown deep like rivers”: awareness of history and its richness
- Chronological overview/account of the development of human culture
- Illustrates identity of black race through time
- Talking to Afr. Am. community but also to human kind in general, addresses white people
- Illustrates identity of the black race through time
- Black race has a heritage like any other race à equal identity as white race

Modern US-American Drama

- Before 1900: theatre as big business (Broadway)à comedy and melodrama (=exaggerated stereotypical contrasts, happy ending after unrealistic turn of story, virtue is rewarded/vice punished, dramatic developments to evoke emotion)
- ~1900: still melodrama but more realistic elements
- After 1900: change through European influenceà theatres as high-art (playwrights became central, not actors)
- against entertainment orientated commercial theatre, organized around the star system (=actor is center)
- non commercial: Little Theater Movement (small groups, remote locations) à Provincetown Players
- experimentation with stage techniques
- between the two poles expressionism and realism

Eugene O’Neill (1888-1963) modern U.S. Am. Drama (high modernism)

- first major playwright, the first to explore serious themes in the theatre and to experiment with theatrical conventions

- mostly associated with US-American drama, even though also other genres and there were also other authors influential even before him

- influence of expressionist theatre à central idea= express a subjective view of reality (usually the protagonist’s), uses sounds and light as major effects, includes psychological dimensions, frequent use of symbols

- experiments with techniques to convey inner emotions that usually were not openly expressed in drama

- influence of Greek drama à use of masks, adoption of classical plays

- importance of psychology and psychoanalysis

- critical rereading of US-American history

- tendency for no happy-endingà reason: chose form of tragedy

- “Emperor Jones” (1920)

- a station-play (=loose sequence of scenes) 1 actà classic expressionist form
- Expressionism: central topics: trauma, social misery, poverty, alienation, Angst à need to find new modes of artistic representation/expression à new artistic forms (station-drama/play)
- tells tale of Brutus Jones, Afr. Am. man, who kills a man, goes to prison, escapes to Caribbean Island and sets himself up as emperor
- his story is recounted in flashbacks as Brutus makes his way through the forest in an attempt to escape former “subjects” (the natives) who have rebelled against him
- ignored standard play divisions of scenes and acts, paid no attention to the expected length of plays à quality of intense concentration
- about a black manà innovative effect used by white author
- stage design: “plaster sky dome”=white plaster half igloo which is lit from back à effect: actors can appear in color (=realistic) and black and white
- color symbolism: uniform-> strong colors, golds à looses clothes during
wood=social decent symbolized, from civilized to primitive (“rebecoming” slave)
- Smithers= “a dirty white”à seen from clothes; worst kind of colonizer (has
alcohol problem, is sneaky, does not learn native language)
à traditional roles reversed (esp. in opening scene)
- Jones= working and intellect (even though veecular speech)
- Smithers= lazy, cockney accent
- “Tom Toms” = most striking feature, new stage construction à signify Jones’ heartbeat à viewers
heartbeat might be affected as well à empathy because you want to stop
them as well; stop when Jones is dead
- Process of self-understanding and self-exploration
- Themes: human life itself, conflict of good and evil, racism, imperialism

The Gender of Modernism

- centrality of women as authors, editors and patrons (=wealthy women who supported artists because had few chances to get one of the rare scholarships)
- modernist writing qualities that are associated with femininity: fragmentation, fluidity, discontinuity, irrationality
- importance of subconscious
- new constructions of sexuality à women have sexual desires as well-> becomes more accepted
- importance of consumption, but modernists ambivalent to mass/popular culture
- 1920: suffragette movement successfulà women=full citizens in terms of voting
- Availability of contraceptivesà family size sinks, women can influence number and point of time when children born
- New ways of moving and dressing allowed (bob-haircut, smoking in public, Charleston dance, use of cars, travelling, no more courgettes)
- New household appliances help domestic household a bit
- Visual image/look/body ideals become more important
- “femme fatale”à Vamp =fashion style
- Very influential movie industryà first silent movies, after 1920 talkies

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)

- one of most influential female modern writers

- more radically experimental than most

- pushed language to its limits – and kept on pushing

- work was sometimes literal nonsense but exciting à thought of writing as a craft and language as a medium with its possibilities and limits

- texts hard to read/to access à breaks up hierarchical structures in language = paratactic sentences instead of hypotactic constructions e.g.

- links her writing to Cezanne’s painting with dot-method(à she wants every word to a weight like the single dots) and to democracy (à”the evenness of everybody having a vote”)

- language is a medium & not transparentà emphasis on materiality of language

- against logocentrism (=fact that our language has certain structure that we regard as normal)à wants to disturb these notions through other perspectives and sub-consciousness

- coins term “the lost generation”

- cubist movement= believed that in painting the “representational paintings” conveyed not what people saw but rather what they had learned to think they saw

- friendship with modernist painters important for her à because of them she came to think of words as tangible entities in themselves as well as vehicles conveying meaning or representing reality

- “Tender Buttons” (1916)

- poem-like short story à hard to classify (Cubist prose-poem) à closely related to lit. Modernism: both movements wanted to distance themselves from the authoring, one-dimensional view in reality à interpretation of her work: multi-dimensional
- collage of domestic objects
- more like meditations/free associations with objects, rather than description/def. à emphasis on sounds and rhythm rather than sense of words à ignored/defied connection between words and meanings continually undercutting expectations about order, coherence and associations
- departing from conventional meaning, grammar and syntaxà attempts to capture “moments of consciousness” independent from time and memory à writes down what comes to her mind (subconscious forces made visible through writing)
- Reduced vocabulary, punctuation, feminist reworking of patriarchal style= uses binary oppositions differently à everything is not less worthy but just different
- provides new lexicon of old words
- influenced by movements: present objects from a different/innovative revolutionary perspective (new way of perceiving ordinary objects of daily use which have become so normal that their essence has been forgotten)

Political Advocacy in the 1930s

- economy strongly going down until 1933 à new president Franklin D. Roosevelt
- since then new role of women à achivements esp. of wife Elenore Roosevelt
- US-Am literature in 1930s
- turn towards more “realistic” narration but not end of modernist
experimentation
- new idea of America: solidarityy, democratic tendencies, working class (≠only
money)
- documentary impulseà photography/art produced to document current
political situation, e.g. poor woman with children
- Relief programs of US gov’t

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)

- Great Depression

- focus on lower middle class, Afr. Am. folk culture

- female self-determination and emergence of a distinct voiceà black venecular used in free indirect discourse

- raising star of Harlem Renaissance (=cultural movement 1920s-30s “New Negro Movement”)

- Afr. Am. Narrativeà main interest= achieve black narrative voice , make black dialect (=venecular) function as literary language

- “The Gilded Six-Bits” (1933)

- short story with omniscient third person narrator
- use of venecular speech -> deeply emotional, focus on individual
- “negro”= word for independence and standing up for Afr. Am culture
- story takes place at Eatonville, Fl = first incorporated all-black town in US
- several parallels to Hurston’s life e.g. Eatonville her hometown until 9, problems with marriage, had to leave school for financial problems
- marriage/love = main theme of story (->beginning everything is good- trouble husband truly forgives her and continue with rituals from before, but changed situation)
- sexuality also role (->she betrays husband)
- money plays important role
- appearance vs. reality à story shows that Slemmons is not as classy as he pretends
- protagonists are poor but happy
- gilded six-bits symbolize fake/being unreal/being white = symbol of fake American Dream
- rituals symbolize happiness
- moral of story: do not betray husband and be happy with what you have got!

New Criticism

- 1930: development of first Am. literary canonà Am. Dream and recognition that Am. literary culture is worth looking at ->Myth and Symbol School (=group of authors who shaped this process of canonization): Puritan view-> US= virgin land (≠ native Am. view: “long invasion”), looks also what influence industrialization has on US
- “New Critics” influential after WW II but esp. 1950s/60s (= group of male white from south) who defined methodology for Am. literary studiesà close reading best thing because they were mostly interested in form of literature ->intrinsic (= point of view, focalization analysis) and extrinsic approach (= relation to context)
- There ideal was William Empson’s “Seven Types of Ambiguity” (1930)

Jewish American Literature

- mid 20th century: Am. jewfish finally made it into mainstream à after WW II no more fights against anti-Semitism and because of their skill (which was only then realized and appreciated)

America in the 1950s

- conservative decade, president: Eisenhower, economic boom because after WW II not much destruction in country (benefitted from WW II) àrichest & most powerful country in the world

- large number of people joined middle-class, redistribution from bottom to middle à focus on material wealth and social mobility

- new forms of distributing goods= supermarket, new eating habits adapted to TV

- The Beat Generation

- group of writers centered in SF and NYC in later half of 1950s
- members shared antagonism towards middle-class values, commercialism and conformity (emphasis on the individual), as well as enthusiasm for the visionary states produced by religious meditation, sexual experience, jazz or drugs à against capitalism
- expanding one’s consciousness through drugs, sex, mystical elements of the Jewish, Christian and Buddhist religion
- spirituality as an antidote to the mindless materialism of the 1950s
- 2 meanings of “beat” 1.beaten = outsiders of society
2. beatific = felt social, special culture, blissful
- Writing style: oceanic prose (long sentences that refused establishes sentence formats) in fiction; use if colloquial language, free verse (elaboration on Whitman’s free verse (fairly ling lines)

[...]

Excerpt out of 10 pages

Details

Title
American Literary History
Subtitle
Klausurvorbereitung
College
Humboldt-University of Berlin  (Institut für Anglistik & Amerikanistik)
Course
American Literary History
Grade
1,0
Author
Year
2013
Pages
10
Catalog Number
V277887
ISBN (eBook)
9783656704119
ISBN (Book)
9783656706663
File size
540 KB
Language
English
Tags
Modernism, Victorians, Jazz Age, New Criticism, Jewish American Literature, Postmodernism, Multiculturalism, Feminism, late 20th century, Toni Morrison, tony kushner, neo-realism, jhumpa lahiri, foer, hughes, gender, hurston, anzaldúa, stein
Quote paper
Lea Lorena Jerns (Author), 2013, American Literary History, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/277887

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