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James Joyce and Virginia Woolf

The rise of modernity was often dramatic and confusing to those experiencing it. The breakneck speed of technology filled the roads with cars and the air with planes. The pace of culture was not missed by philosophers, artists, and writers, who each not only felt the influence of modernity on their work, but influenced it through their work. With his theory of relativity, Albert Einstein set the tone for the rest of the century, proving that the long-held facts of even science were subject to the changes that modern times brought.

The changes in knowledge influenced every aspect of society. In politics, futurism, fascism, and communism became prominent as modernity’s answer to the problems of society, though often only resulting in revolution and chaos. The Great War proved that technology had a terrible dark side that created the most efficient killing machines in history. The complete devastation from World War I made many artists and writers question the very nature of existence. In literature, stream-of-consciousness writing arose in James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.

T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland was recited in the streets of Paris by disillusioned members of the Lost Generation. Artists like Marcel Duchamps and his revolutionary ready-made art proved that not even art was free from the sweeping changes and relative chaos of modernity. Painters like Matisse took painting in a new direction, as violent color clashes and visual disproportions of the French expressionistic painters in Paris caused a sensation comparable to the earlier impressionistic painters.

Many critics were taken aback by the expressionistic tendency to use distorted outlines, seemingly deliberate disharmonious use of strong colors, and exaggerated forms to convey their deeply internal intentions. These dramatic qualities got the expressionists the label of “fauves,” or “wild beasts,” by critics that saw their work as wild and untamed (Fleming 594). This rejection of modernist styles and ideals could well have been a reaction to the idea that the world continuously teetered on the brink of chaos and rules were often only illusions.

To preserve order, many regimes like the Nazis and Stalinist Russia would target such subversive art and artists as threats and eliminate them where they could. However, because of their talent and the perseverance of the human spirit, the art of the modern era often outlived the tragic events and oppressive regimes that inspired them.

Works Cited:

Fleming, William. Arts & Ideas. Ninth Ed. Orlando: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995.

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