Understanding Modernism Essay

2048 words - 8 pages

Quite honestly, the collective works of Modernists across the globe are probably some of the most difficult pieces to understand. For example, let us take a look at the work of Gertrude Stein, the most frustrating author you will ever meet. Her pieces are filled with the ideas that made Modernists famous, but she is so motivated to be a Modernist that it seems as if she has taken those ideas to the extreme level. For example, her poem A SOUND. reads as thus:
Elephant beaten with candy and little pops and chews all
bolts and reckless reckless rats, this is this” (Stein 259).
While this poem might be confusing at first glance, if one takes the time to look at it carefully, then they can see how this poem is a prime example of the Modernist movement and everything Modernists stood for.
In order to understand how this poem represents Modernism, it is important to first understand just what Modernism was, and what exactly Modernists believe in. In order to understand this we must turn to Michael Borshuk’s essay Swinging The Vernacular: Jazz and African American Modernist Literature. According to Borshuk’s essay there are several major ideas that Modernists hold dear to them. The first of these ideas is there must be individuality in an artist’s work. Borshuk begins his article by describing the opening scene of Episode Three of Ken Burn’s documentary on the history of Jazz. He writes that “Burns takes us indoors, into a cabaret... We see African American patrons in a cabaret, smoking and drinking while a small jazz combo performs onstage. The drummer juggles his sticks while he keeps time, all maverick style and undaunted poise” (Borshuk 1). It is this drummer that Borshuk seems particularly interested in as the essay progresses as it is this drummer that exhibits the Modernist principal of individuality. Borshuk writes that “the flashy drummer of Burn’s film is not unlike the artists who gave birth to those accepted modernist landmarks in his break from expectation and his assertion of an individualistic expressive style” (Borshuk 3). He later continues on to say, “And the drummer’s uncompromised individualism unites him with received innovators of the so-called high arts in modernism, as well” (Borshuk 3). Indeed creating an individualistic style was high up on a lot of Modernist’s lists because they wished “to create linguistic distance from the orthodoxy of the King’s English” (Borshuk 5), and create their own “American” language (Borshuk 6).
The second major idea in Modernism is that Modernists were completely obsessed with breaking away from the normal conventions of English. Borshuk writes that Modernists
“have in common a fixation on language and on the challenge of language. They announce the inadequacy of the old language, and the myriad possible alternatives for a replacement. Their linguistic experiments reflect a conviction that language, in the modern age, had to stretch-had to say more than it had been able to...

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