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Modernism Defined

In A Glossary of Literary Terms, Meyer Abrams defines modernism as the term used to identify distinctive features in the concepts, sensibility, form, and style of literature and art since World War I (1914-1918). He notes that while the specific features signified by modernism varied with the user, most critics agreed the concept involved a deliberate and radical break with the traditional bases of Western culture and Western art (Abrams 108). In essence, the modernist artist revolted against traditional literary forms and subjects, and this revolt manifested itself strongly after the total destruction of World War I shook men's faith in the foundations and continuity of Western civilization and culture (Abrams 108).

Abrams offers T. S. Eliot as an example of a modernist poet. When reviewing James Joyce's Ulysses in 1923, Eliot argued that the traditional and inherited mode of arranging a literary work assumed a relatively coherent and stable social order that could not harmonize with "the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history" (Abrams 108). Abrams notes that Eliot experimented with new forms and styles that, like Joyce and Ezra Pound, often contrasted contemporary disorder to the lost order, which had been based on the religion and myths of the Western cultural past (Abrams 108).

Abrams includes among major works of modernist fiction Joyce's Ulysses (1922) and, what Abrams calls "his even more radical Finnegan's Wake" (1939). Abrams argues these works subvert the basic conventions of earlier prose fiction in several ways. They break up the narrative continuity, they depart from the standard ways of representing characters, and they violate the traditional syntax and coherence of narrative language through the use of stream of consciousness and other innovative modes of narration (Abrams 109). Abrams also notes that these new forms of lyric and narrative construction spilled over into other period...

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Modernism Defined. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 15:09, May 28, 2020, from