The Modernist Imagination
The word modernism has come to stand for a great range of activities and ideas. Early in the twentieth century it was often used to express an opposition to tradition and to conventions associated with realism and romanticism. Some influential modernists claimed that the new forms of art embodied a quasi-religious force with the capacity to redeem the chaos and nihilism of contemporary culture. Still others viewed modernism more narrowly, in exclusively aesthetic terms, praising its commitment to formalism, myth and irony as an expression of "values only to be found in art" (Clement Greenberg). However understood, modernism is now widely felt to be a relic of times past. Although modernists like Joyce, Kafka, Proust and Picasso continue to excite critical commentary, younger artists typically turn elsewhere for inspiration. What was modernism, and what precisely is the nature of its enduring value? In an effort to address these questions, the course will examine a variety of primary works (by writers like Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf and artists like Picasso, Duchamp and Jackson Pollock) and a smaller number of critical texts (by Octavio Paz, Clement Greenberg, Lionel Trilling and Susan Sontag). The course will also devote attention to three seminal modernist films: Ingmar Bergman's "Persona," Federico Fellini's "81/2" and Jean-luc Godard's "The Married Woman."