Twentieth Century Literature Week 6: Modernism

The visit to the art gallery of NSW last week was a perfect introduction to what we entered into today. It makes so much more sense talking about Virginia Woolf’s “Stream of Consciousness” and T.S. Eliot’s fragmented narratives (“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”- The Waste Land) after having seen and discussed Picasso and Kirchner and Rodin and Van Gogh and De Maistre and…..


In all the arts, after the First World War, there was such a huge explosion of new ways of trying to access “the truth”. All the old ways had failed. People -writers, artists, musicians in particular- were hungry for a way of understanding the inner mysteries of what it is to be human. How could human beings be so colossally stupid! There must be some kind of answer awaiting us in the depths of our psyche. In this context it makes so much sense when we hear Virginia Woolf in “The Mark on the Wall” saying: “I want to sink deeper and deeper, away from the surface, with its hard separate facts.” This is exactly what she proceeds to do in this wonderful essay (“The Mark on the Wall”) and what she also does repeatedly in such small prose poems as “Monday or Tuesday” where she describes the magical process of reading and writing in the following amazing metaphor: “From ivory depths words rising shed their blackness, blossom and penetrate.”

The_Heart_of_DarknessSo what kinds of Blog Questions will help you to deepen your understanding of what  Virginia Woolf and other Modernists are attempting to do?????

Let’s try one of the following exercises:

1/ Try to write a short paragraph that captures the flow of your own mind. Don’t worry about punctuation too much, just let it flow out. Then tidy it up a bit and see whether it works for you and maybe for a friend…. then publish it right here for all the world to see. It might end up being a glimpse of truth that we don’t usually  have time for!!

2/ In a similar vein try taking a single sentence from Virginia Woolf’s writing and build your own paragraph on what she has said. Try to stay close to the way she constructs her sentences, close to the kinds of words she choses, close to the atmosphere she manages to create.

3/ Take any one of the modernist paintings we looked at last week (or any other modernist painting that has caught your attention) and try to turn the painting into words. Publish the painting in your Blog and show how the construction of words matches the shape, flow, and possible meaning of the painting.

4/ Create a mini-digital kit on any aspect of Modernism that really interests you. It might be one of the authors, it might be one of the strands of modernism: cubism, expressionism, dadaism, surrealism……..

5/ Write the first paragraph of your own terrifying fantasy story of how you woke up one morning and found yourself turned into a…… (make your paragraph as Kafkaesque as you possibly can.)

  2 comments for “Twentieth Century Literature Week 6: Modernism

  1. September 6, 2014 at 11:11 am

    I woke to hear the voice blaring on the radio as normal. I wriggled down further under the doona not wanting the alarm to penetrate too far into my skull. I coil into the fetal position. Against my wishes the humour, the songs, the weather man were slowly waking my brain and I resigned to the fact that I needed to arise, don my uniform and face another day.
    I tried to reach out to hit the button to bring silence to the room. It was thrn I realized I could not feel my arms. “Weird” I thought. Again I stretched my body and I then couldn’t feel my legs. “Oh God NO, I have somehow been paralyzed and not feel my limbs.”
    I opened my mouth to scream to my mother for help.
    “SSSSSsssss” was the only sound which came from my voice box.
    Opening my eyes then further than ever before, I bent my head to look at my body.
    Yesterday Susie had called me a slimy snake( for cheating on her). It seems she was right.

  2. September 6, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    Dave that is fabulous: you are joining our class activities! Well done. You write expressively in such a way that the reader is immediately drawn into your experience.

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