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What is it?
Modernism is basically modern thought, character, or practice.
The World in which Modernists Lived
• Surge in scientific developments
1. Belief they could master the universe
2. Faith in progress
3. Rational solutions
4. Universe more rational and predictable
• Technological advancements serve humanity- escalators, teabags,
better light bulbs, car, instant coffee, air conditioner, E=MC2, sonar,
tube amps, pop-up toaster, first robot, frozen food, penicillin, canned
beer, radar, nylon, html (1945)
The World in which Modernists Lived
• Photography recording/documenting (color photography)
• Rapid transportation- railroads, helicopter
• Evolution of species (Darwin)
• Prohibition in U.S.- Bootlegging, speakeasies, gang warfare
• Radio, jazz, movies moved imagination
• Great Depression in 1929
• WW2- 1939-1945 and the Atom Bomb (in Japan)
WWI: First World War
Total number of military and civilian casualties was over 37 million. That’s
about the entire population of Canada (35.2 million as of July 1, 2013) or
about three times the amount of people living in Pennsylvania (roughly 12.7
The impact of war had a dramatic effect on society at the time:
• When WWI happened in 1914, there was a growing tension and unease
with the social order.
• Optimism ended during WWI.
• People didn’t trust values of the world anymore and sought new ideas
applicable to modern life.
Other effects of WWI and II
• Shrinking global community
• Gap between west and “less developed” countries
Industry and Technological advances
• Inspiring enthusiasm and fear, questioning human values in a society
where much can be done and controlled by machines and mass media.
• Interrogation of reality: How do we know what we know?
Expressionism, Dadaism, Surrealism, and futurism are all different ways of
expressing reality of the world
• Knowledge isn’t fixed or stable- much of what we think we know reflects
questions we ask and methods we use to find answers.
• What does it mean to have a perspective?
Fun in the early 1900s
Street Scene in England-
Composer and musician Scott Joplin publishes The
Entertainer in 1902.
The first silent film, The Great Train Robbery, debuts in
Henry Ford begins production of the Model T in 1908.aka. “Tin Lizzy”
Audiences see the first motion picture with sound The Jazz
Singer in 1927.
KDKA in Pittsburgh, PA, becomes the first radio station to
offer regular broadcasts on November 2, 1920.
Isidore Auguste Marie Francois Xavier
French Philosopher (First of Science) and founder of Sociology and Positivism
Believed that everything can be explained- sociology (laws governing human
Social evolution in three stages:
1. Theological- Man’s place in society and the restrictions on man were
referenced to God. Blind faith in what ancestor’s taught.
2. Metaphysical- Justification of universal rights of all people (classless)- these
rights not referenced to the sacred beyond mere metaphor. Beginnings of
questioning authority and religion.
3. Positive- “Positivism”- People can find solutions to social problems without
human rights laws or will of religion. Faith in the power of science and
rationality to discover answers for all problems (“scientific rightness” of
certain ideas caused majorly obvious bias issues---and inflexible attitudes in
real life.) aka. Secular Humanism/religion of humanity- “vivre pour autrui”
(live for others)
Karl Heinrich Marx
One of the most influential figures in human history
German philosopher, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist
Basic material needs (food, shelter, social relationships for group survival- provided
economic foundation from which all other aspects of human culture derived)
There is an anti-human aspect of modern technological progress.
Two competing forces of capital and labor- two social classes- rich and poor
Marxism theory: “human societies progress through class struggle: a conflict between an
ownership class that controls production and a dispossessed laboring class that provides
the labor for production. He called capitalism the ‘dictatorship of the bourgeoisie,’
believing it to be run by the wealthy classes for their own benefit; and he predicted that,
like previous socioeconomic systems, capitalism produced internal tensions which would
lead to its self-destruction and replacement by a new system: socialism.”
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
German philosopher, cultural critic, poet, and composer
In his Thus Spoke Zarathustra- “Ubermensch”- superman/superhuman unbound
(refuses to be bound) to “social paradigms of nationalism, Christianity, faith in
science, loyalty to state, or bourgeois civilized comfort.”
In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the main character, Zarathustra, presents the superman as
a gift- (symbolism) a creator of new values as a solution to the death of God and
nihilism*. The superman rises above the notion of good and evil, above the herd.
Freedom from responsibility without religious law. Attacks mass society’s unimaginative
mediocrity in modern industrial world.
*Nihilism- Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that
life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.
Austrian neurologist, father of psychoanalysis (Oedipus complex).
Consciousness/subconciousness-You have to take into account people’s
irrational and rational levels of existence.
Everyone is the same basically- same sexual drive and civilizational
People create and modify their images of self through engaging in dialog
Austrian-British philosopher, logician, mathematics,
He says that language gives us only a series of
symbols- a c-h-a-i-r isn’t a chair but symbols that
stand for the thing. that you give meaning to those
symbols and everyone has common ground.
(connotations, denotations, etc.)
** Words and syntax/rules/structures are played
with like games in this time period to exhibit the
play of the relationships between things. Others
(Flaubert) had a tough time finding the “right word”.
Difficulty expressing the self.
** Language determines how we see the world,
then we recognize other shaping issues of languageads, political speeches, etc.
Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl
German Philosopher who established the field of Phenomenology.
What is it? A break from Positivist thoughts, instead believing that
experience is the source of all knowledge.
Truth-in-itself and being-in-itself
Appearance vs. Reality- how does something appear? what is real?
Everything should be implicated in a relationship between the perceiver and
the thing perceived.
Meaning and object
Sartre was influenced by Husserl, but later disagreed with his key
Women can finally vote! Took America long enough.
• Got the vote in 1920,
• Can get educated equally to men,
• Can have their own bank accounts,
• Can own and control property,
*As a result of WWI, women enter new professions.
ABCD (Self-portrait) A
photomontage from 1923-24
1916 in Zurich: born out of the horrors of WWI
Rejected reason and logic, prized nonsense,
irrationality and intiution.
According to Has Richter Dada was “anti-art”. Whatever
art was, dada was the opposite.
Intended to offend, subvert authorit, and break ALL the
rules to liberate creative imagination.
Mind and emotion attacks- intense, playful, and
openness to change. To reform society.
Conscious and unconscious states.
A “dizzying descent into ourselves”- Surrealist
Manifestoes of 1924 & 1930.
Surrealists experimented with ways to liberate
unconscious and reach “the marvelous” through dream
writing, automatic writing (whatever came to your
mind), riddles, collage, interruption, etc. Freeplay,
antirationality, unconscious mind- collages,
metamorphosis, and blurring dream and reality.