Twentieth Century Week 6: Literary Modernism

So finding our way back from the visual, experiential feast of the NSW Art Gallery we plunge our way into the texts of the modernists of the early 20th Century. These include T.E. Hulme, F.S. Flint, Ezra Pound, H.D. and Mina Loy. Names to conjure with!

And following on from these Virginia Woolf with her praise of those “spiritual” authors, Joseph Conrad and James Joyce.

Ezra Pound provided us with some wonderful keys into understanding “Imagism” the language of so much Twentieth Century poetry and prose. His advice on using “no superfluous word”, on going “in fear of abstractions”, together with his many other advices helped generations of poets to escape verbosity and hone down to the essential of what they had to say. Pound’s advice is advice for us all, whether we are writing poems, prose pieces or even essays!!! This is the kind of advice we are going to see more of when we come in a few weeks to George Orwell’s amazing essay “Politics and the English Language” which I am recommending you read in advance!! F.S. Flint’s advice on composing “in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome”,  is also really good advice for understanding how so much modern writing is trying to free itself from an imposed exterior form and is looking for ways of allowing the meaning of any text to be mirrored in its natural rhythms.

by Alvin Langdon Coburn, collotype, 22 October 1913

by Alvin Langdon Coburn, collotype, 22 October 1913

Imagist poetry, against this background of advice is much more comprehensible. One can see and understand the reasons why poets and writers in general were so much more careful about what they included in their writing. Here are some really good directions for all of you deep into creating your own blogging space full of poems, prose pieces and literary analyses. Take heart and take direction from Ezra Pound and his companions.

Mina Loy provided us with a wonderful discussion point! She advocates radical freedom from the past- as do all the modernists!- but her take on this is that she wants to be free from the tyranny of the male stereotype that  demands that women be virtuous (while men escape all such demands). Her solution, drastic as it may seem, could undermine the basis of the male idea of what constitutes virtue in woman: “the unconditional surgical destruction of virginity through-out the female population at puberty-”  Modernists went very far in their quest to be free of tradition.

Viriginia Woolf took us most deeply into the essential core of the modernist quest in her essay “Modern Fiction”: “Look within and life, it seems, is very far from being ‘like this’. Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day….” What this produces for her is an amazingly free engagement with all that takes place in our experience, as seen in her wonderful prose experiment “Monday or Tuesday”.

Blog Topics:

1/ following the advice and example of Ezra Pound and his followers (eg HD) compose a few short imagist poems.

2/ “Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day…” Try this strategy as an experiment. Write your own paragraph that grows from the examination of your own mind….. Let’s see what happens!

3/ Who was HD? Produce an annotated digital kit that gives some insight into who this mysterious writers was.

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