Crisis of Confidence in the Poetry of the Twentieth Century

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In 1914, Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo sparking World War One. All of the ideologies and technologies that had seemed so beneficial and speculative were brought into force: the result was massive destruction and death. The promise that had begun the 20th century was by 1918 beyond exhausted. The war had revealed, in the words of the poet Ezra Pound, a botched civilization. The war had been without meaning, without a cause, spurred on by byzantine alliances and obscure cultures: so many young men had died, in the words of Pound, For two gross of broken statues, / For a few thousand battered books. The War would be the great touchstone and impetus of modernism, bringing to fruition many ideas and strands that had been bandied about in the previous decades, seeking an event or crisis in which to gel.Indeed, prior to the War there had been the beginnings of a movement away from the rigid and mainstream culture that dominated the period. There had been cultural adventurers who began to describe an alternate human existence, one separate from the basic and largely accepted classical one which was shackled to religion, dependent on a strict, undisputable morality, and moving as one forward towards a distant goal—the grand journey called the Progress of Civilization. There was at the turn of the century, for example, the scandalous Vienna secession, an art movement that prized sensuality and naturalness over classical forms and was represented by artists like Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. There had been the faint stirrings of Surrealism in the works of Giogio Di Chirico and Guillaume Apollinaire. And Picasso too had been on the scene. Many of these individuals had been influenced by the great Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freund who had begun to deconstruct what up until that point had been considered theunitary personality or identity of individuals.