Analyzing Modernism Within Literature English Literature Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Modernism is a literary genre which originated within the mid nineteenth century between the 1860's and 1930's. Modernism was seen as a rejection of eighteenth and early nineteenth century enlightened values and beliefs and move towards a nonlinear, disjointed narrative within texts. Nonlinear narratives consist primarily of a constant shift within the text itself. This may be through a change in topic, circumstance or even time. Also, nonlinear narratives include juxtaposing these ideas to indicate this shift. Juxtaposition itself highlights a contrasting opinion running parallel against each other. During this time, it was also the era of revolution within the world, for example in France. Revolution also was seen within the literary scene. Ezra Pound himself is quoted to have said to, 'make it new'. This newness would eventually lead to changes in other areas of the arts such as sculpture and painting with the introduction of cubism and abstract expressionism and sciences with the emergence of psychology and psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud and his book, 'The Interpretation of Dreams' and Albert Einstein's theory of relativity (E = mc2). These new found discoveries were to change their specific subject areas for good and change the way we would look at the arts and science ever since. Modernism's roots of discovery also led to colonialism and adventures to new undiscovered waters which was documented by Joseph Conrad in 'The Heart of Darkness.' Modernist writers found that they were writing for a multi cultural audience as travel and languages had became more accessible to readers and in fact authors had a wider audience because of this versatility of language. Many modernist authors wrote in their second or third acquired language, like Conrad and Kafka and many of these texts were eventually translated into various languages. Modernism changed how we ultimately saw a knowledge based aesthetic or epistemological aesthetic principle change to become a being or ontological principle.

James Joyce wrote 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' in 1914 in the Egoist and was ultimately made into a collection in 1916. Joyce himself was born in Ireland in 1882 during British Rule and the days of Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt, who were influential within 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man'. Joyce also was Roman Catholic which heavily influenced his work. Pound himself, had described Joyce's work as '...damn well written...' [1] whilst Virginia Woolf was more critical. She said she was '...disillusioned by reading Joyce as by a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples.' [2] Woolf was dismissive of Joyce, referring to him as not mature enough to understand this new literary genre, he was not experienced enough. Joyce's works were sometimes seen as particularly obscene and were either burned or banned.

Randall Stevenson stated that modernist writers were 'chiefly concerned about its threat to the integrity of life and the individual' and this was prominent within 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.' Joyce uses family life and religion as a constraint of Stephen. Looking at religion firstly, Stephen felt that it was, '...very big to think about everything and everywhere. Only God could do that.' [3] Joyce is commenting upon God's omnipresence and omnipotence so that we, as a people are being constantly watched by someone of a greater being than us. Therefore, if this is the case, Stevenson would be correct that we are not entitled to be an individual as we have God watching over us constantly and we cannot be truly ourselves. Stephen is scared into not committing sins and that 'God had allowed him to see the hell reserved for his sins: stinking, bestial, malignant...' [4] after this, Stephen had prayed and did repent for the sins he had committed. The need to actually repent, does not allow one to live life to how they wanted as it would always be unreasonable if it was not following a religious vocation, like Stephen should have done. Also Stevenson states that modernist writers were concerned by this, so if Joyce was concerned by religion and how it effectively controls individual thoughts, it can be construed that religion was a negative thing. Ruby Walsh stated that, 'In a Portrait, religion and everything associated with it, including the mass, becomes Stephen's net past which he must fly.' [5] Also Walsh found that Stephen had to relinquish his religious ideals to eventually become the artist that he was to become. Stephen finds the release of religion difficult at first because of his upbringing and education, as he was educated by the Jesuits. His own father felt that his education by the Jesuits would entail a decent profession afterwards. When Stephen was at school he was asked who is favourite poet was and he replied that it was Byron not Tennyson, he was told that 'in any case Byron was a heretic and immoral too.' [6] By Stephen admitting that he preferred Byron, he too was classed as a heretic. If this is the case, one cannot be different or be an individual, even in poetry if it is deemed as inappropriate. Moreover, Stephen states in the last few pages of the book that he, '...neither believe[s] in it nor disbelieve[s] in it...' He, with no conscious of faith, can make unbiased decisions in regards to his life, without the need for religion.

However, religion did play a part in Stephen's journey to find his individual self. By undergoing his religious education, he found himself in the position that he had '...tried to love God..., [but he]... failed.' [7] Also, that he was not himself, he was adhering to particular societal ideals that were encapsulated within the Catholic religion and the Jesuit teachings. With Stephen's new found individual state, he wanted 'to discover the mode of life or of art whereby your spirit could express itself in unfettered freedom.' [8] Hedwig Schwall also comments on Stephen, stating that 'the father represents the law, and a hysteric does not like a general law; he only accepts self-imposed rules. This is reflected in Stephen's attitude to his father.' [9] This can mean his paternal father, or it can mean God in particular. This quote from Schwall, is ambiguous because of this. Stephen no longer accepts religious or family rules therefore it can be interpreted differently in certain contexts. 'In the first half of the novel, we can see Stephen's fear for or indulgence of his body, in the second half his striving to develop a soul.' [10] By developing his soul, Stephen is becoming unique as no one else can shape his soul for him. His development from child to young adult allows this moulding to occur through experience and he becomes the Artist that Joyce had intended him to be. However, Franz Kafka highlighted within 'The Trial' that not everything we do not necessarily have individuality nor can we develop our individuality like Joyce indicated in 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.'

Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883 into a German speaking Jewish middle class family. Kafka began to write 'The Trial' in 1914; however he had abandoned it by 1915. His close friend Max Brod had taken the documents from Kafka in fear that he would destroy his work, like previous works. Brod had assembled pieces of the text together to make what is known today as 'The Trial'. 'The Trial' was published in 1925, a year after Kafka's eventual death. 'The Trial' was written in German and translated. 4The novel's title 'The Trial' ' more accurately translated as 'The Process.'' [11] This Process describes Josef K's. treatment within the novel and his actual trial. 'The Trial deals with an organization man who attempts to live greedily, in a dehumanized fashion, without true love of mother, mistress, friend or self, in his competitive and impersonal career..., [the Court] ... finds him guilty of alienation from true being and thus he dies, unfulfilled, unredeemed...' [12] By not being true to one's self, Josef K. is not being an individual, he is living his life according to rules and regulations set out in law. Josef does not understand what is going on with his life and why he has been sent to the courts. K. is perplexed, not knowing why he has been taken, or perhaps he does and as a reader, we are unwittingly falling into the same insecurities as Josef K. He does not know if the Commission of Enquiry actually exists as he states, '...[That]... the Commission of Enquiry may have realised that I am innocent or at least not as guilty as they presume..., it wasn't a Commission of Enquiry at all, I only call it that because I've no other name for it.' [13] Josef feels that the law is behind him and shall protect him as that is the reason why it is in force. However, the Court only draws in members of society who are actually guilty. K. as an individual is being sentenced by his peers. Therefore, as Randall Stevenson says that modernist writers like Kafka, are concerned by this modern experience and how it is not the correct way to be. However, law is not necessarily a modern experience. Thomas Kavanagh states that 'the third-person narrative voice can penetrate no further than Joseph K.'s own confused understanding of the situation. Its mode is interrogative, incomplete, and unanswered in the same way that K.'s consciousness is never totally adequate to the events he is experiencing.' [14] 

Josef's individuality is not particularly mentioned within the text. Kafka has arranged the text in such a way that if something is not needed, then it is not added. For example, we do not know when there is a shift in time or indeed space until Kafka tells us so. We are being led along with Josef K. and we too lose our individuality as a reader because of our own mental experiences when reading 'The Trial.' For example in the chapter 'In the empty courtroom, The student, The offices', Kafka changes the setting in an immediate fashion. 'Only then did K. observe that the room, which had recently contained only a washtub, was not a fully furnished living room.' [15] Kafka's change of scenery also highlights Josef K's. Nonexistent individual state. By doing this, Kafka does not necessarily give K. a choice as to how and when his life changes, he is not in control. The only people who are in fact in control are the Court as his life is in their hands and Kafka. We also do not learn of how long the trial has commenced until the end of the text where we are told that it is in fact Josef K.s thirty first birthday. Josef does try to become an individual by attempting to gain access to law books to help his case, but he is hindered as '...the books belong to the Examining Magistrate..., it's characteristic of this judicial system that a man is condemned not only when he is innocent but also in ignorance of the facts.' [16] Josef and the readers' ignorance of the facts about the case leaves us in a state of unknowing. We do not have the facts or the legal knowledge at hand to be able to understand this complex web that Kafka has formed around the life of Josef K. Kafka makes the web even more intricate by having very long sentences running without full stops to make the trial feel longer and give a different perspective to time between scenes and chapters. Kavanagh comments on the absurdity that is 'The Trial.' 'From its opening sentences Kafka's The Trial declares itself a departure from the normal. As a text, it elaborates itself within a universe fissured by doubt and uncertainty.' [17] Kafka also does not contribute a cause and effect relationship within 'The Trial' as you are constantly taken off topic, but this is a particular individualistic experience. No other text shall take you on such an approach. Therefore, Josef's actual experience is unique and individual. We are not told why he is has been presented to the Court, but we make our own presumptions in regards to Josef. K. is he a law-abiding citizen, or is he a convincing liar, we as a reader do not know, therefore we cannot judge. By being prosecuted without the understanding of why, this is a unique case, but not necessarily unique in wider society. 'The Trial' and its Court is a microcosm of society. It has rules and values. K. went against the rules of the Court by trying to have access to Magistrates and law books.

Both 'The Trial' and 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' do discuss the threat to the integrity of life and the individual. Modernist writers believed that you must come into the new age and old rules and regulation would not allow this transition. Writers like Kafka and Joyce use morals and parables to educate their readers. Joyce tells his readers that they should investigate every area of their being to find themselves and they are not complete until they do this and become an individual. But, Kafka's interpretation of individuality and the integrity of life is completely separate to Joyce's. Kafka wants you to be an individual from the beginning so that you do not end up in the same predicament as Josef K. and be on trial by society and your peers whom ultimately lead Josef to his death; ergo there is not necessarily integrity within an individual life; whilst Joyce embraces life and individuality. I do feel that authors did celebrate the modern experience and did establish it within their own writings, but felt that their readers did not fully experience the modernist age and did not experience the same ideals as them such as multiculturalism in languages, cultures and travel and that life is to celebrate; like Stephen and to become an individual, unlike Josef K. who did not feel it appropriate to do something different with his life.

To conclude, I believe that Randall Stevenson is correct in saying that modernist authors were in fact concerned, however, they did highlight to a certain extent that you should embrace your individuality and the integrity of life, but you must learn who you are before you can undertake this important observation. Theodor Adorno stated that 'modernity is a qualitative, not a chronological category. Just as it cannot be reduced to abstract form, with equal necessity, it must turn back on conventional surface coherence...' [18] We must like Adorno says, understand that modernity is relative and what you make of it is your choice, like both Kafka and Joyce did. Painters explored newer techniques and we as people should in fact explore our own lives and live them to our own accord as a journey and to live within a personalised stream of consciousness.