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Paleo- modernism and Neo- modernism

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Paleo- modernism and Neo- modernism Empty Paleo- modernism and Neo- modernism

Post by bilinda on Wed Nov 16, 2011 4:13 pm

The early of twentieth century was a period of great
change. The world was started to transform by a flood of new inventions, new
theories, social and political changes. Darwin’s theory of evolution, Frederick
Nietzsche’s challenging ideas, Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, Freud
and Karl max’s ideas, and the horrors of the First World War are considered to
be contributing factors to the rise of modernism. All these changes in thought
paved the way for a physical, psychological, and spiritual paralysis.

The Enlightenment’s up to now world view of a
rational, organized world fell apart. The old ways of understanding the world
served no more as a satisfactory answer to the constantly changing world’s
phenomena. All that was believed in seemed to be absurd: man is determined by
his unconscious, societal order, and by nature that replaced GOD. Thus, a
radical change at all level was a necessary step to move beyond these

Those changes and new understandings led the modernist
writers and poets to question the previous materials and processes used, and
pushed Ezra pound to “make it new” whether or not “the making it new”
constituted a new historical epoch is up for debate. The controversies here
align to a large extent with the division between those who have been
sympathetic to the claims of tradition and those who proclaimed themselves
against it. Most twentieth century artists have proclaimed themselves against
tradition. Their fervent desire to create something new pushed them to leave
the past behind and look for new techniques and new ways of writing. On the
other hand, there are those who learnt from the past and benefited from it. These
kinds of writers and poets saw in their predecessors a source of inspiration.

The existence of these two kinds of poets makes the
distinction made by the British critic frank Kermode more valid. The latter
distinguishes in his essay “the modern” between two different kinds of poets:
Paleo modernism and neo modernism. Paleo modernism is the modernism of t s
Eliot, Ezra pound, and James Joyce. On the other hand neo modernism is the
modernism of William carols William, Gertrude stein, Virginia Woolf, and Wallace
Stevens. The two different groups took divergent paths. The first group found
comfort in the art of the past. They saw themselves as looking back to the best
practices of poets in earlier and other cultures. Their models included ancient
Greek literature, Chinese and Japanese poetry, Dante and the medieval Italian
philosophical poets, and the metaphysical poets. They all stressed the value of
using tradition in literature because without it there is little to be
achieved. For pound tradition is a rich part of any kind of poetry; it is a
kind of strange thing to be totally foreign to it. Their works are imbued with
historical elements that assert the immorality of their predecessors. The paleo
modernists are the climax of complexity, of allusiveness, of historical
obsession, and the epitome of the defense of high culture and of classical
civilization. Contrary to paleo modernists, neo modernists rejected tradition
in favor of going “where no one has gone before” or better. They reacted
against it, against its ideology, and against any historical orientation. They
broke with the past and tried to create totally new methods and techniques for
no other purpose than novelty. Their exploration of possibilities and a
perpetual search for uniqueness and its cognate individuality pushed them to
abandon the past. For them, tradition
prevents the poet from discovering his individual talent because the influence
of former poets spoils his (the poet) creativity. Literature according to the neo-modernists
should be fresh, new, and abstract.

To make the distinction clearer in the mind of the
reader it is highly recommended to illustrate with the works of the
paleo-modernist: ezra pound, and the neo-modernist: William carlos Williams.

The long,
difficult, and brilliant epic poem the cantos by Ezra pound is the best epitome
of paleomodernism genre. For this reason I have chosen the following passage
that is taken from canto 4:

Palace in smoky light,
Troy but a heap of smouldering boundary stones,
Hear me. Cadmus of Golden Prows!
The silver mirrors catch the bright stones and flare.

In this passage the poet speaks about the city of the
troy that is destroyed by the Greeks, and its burning palace that it is only
seen through the “ smouldering” fires.
Then, he invokes “Anaxingforminges” the lords of lyre such us Apollo whose lyre
helped building the walls of troy. He mentions also Cadmus the Phoenician
prince who founded the Greek city: Thebes, and gave the Phoenician alphabet to
its people who adapted it to form their Greek alphabet. The passage closes with
an image of dawn.

Ezra Pound wants to say, through this passage, that
art, religion, and writing are the needed things to promote civilization. For
this reason he invokes “anaxingforminges” that symbolize art and religion since
they played with musical instruments, and were deities at the same time, and
Cadmus the Phoenician prince who thanks to him the Greek alphabet was formed.
So, pound could give, through this short passage that is suffused with
historical myths, diachronic solutions to synchronic problem.

Trying to oppose the paleomodernists thinking, William
Carlos Williams wrote a plain, lucid poem of sixteen words in which he could
lift an ordinary scene to an aesthetic level. The poem is as follows:

so much dependsupon a red wheelbarrow glazed with rain waterbeside the white


William carlos Williams did not say cleverly what does so much depend upon this
pastoral scene, one would understand through looking deeply in this poem that
it is the poem itself. Poetry is about those banal things such as: a red
wheelbarrow, chicken, and rain, and does not depend on elements from historical
culture. Cunningly William Carlos Williams could bring those trivial objects to
life and connect them to poetry in a very simple style to say that the
simplicity of any piece of writing does not prevent it from being poetry. The “red
wheel barrow” poem that shed the light on a simple object “a wheelbarrow in a barnyard that seem to have no history, and that its
image will remain always fresh” is what William Carlos Williams was aiming for
to answer the allusiveness of the paleomedrnists. For him, poetry should
portray reality. A reality that is seen by our eyes as cézanné said “a life
that is here and now is timeless. That is the universal I am seeking to embody
that in a work of art. A new world that is always real”.


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Post by sassy86 on Wed Nov 16, 2011 9:27 pm

wow !! This is such a nice article about modernism ! [You must be registered and logged in to see this image.]
I think you'll like it EmilySo since you were looking for more information on modernism ! How could I have forgotten Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams ?! I just concentrated on my favorite poet E.S Eliot and forgot those who influenced him along with this movement.

Thank you bilinda for this amazingly instructive post !

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Post by bilinda on Thu Nov 17, 2011 2:32 pm

You are welcome. Smile

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