Tag Archives: linguistics

Word (and words) (and modernism)

Word’s spell-checker doesn’t like “inclusivity.” When I ask it for suggestions (thinking, well, maybe “inclusiveness” or something is more acceptable), it gives me “exclusivity.” I ask you, why would “exclusivity” be a word, but “inclusivity” not be? Webster Online likes it just fine, so I’m using it. But seriously. Word is just stoopid sometimes. Don’t even get me started on Word’s grammar checker.

(Now that I’ve typed them both multiple times, either “exclusivity” nor “inclusivity” seem like real words…weird when that happens.)

In news related only because I’m speaking of “inclusivity” as an element of postmodernism in the paper I’m writing, I’m starting to be a little more clear on some issues that Pastor Jeff make me think about in his postmodernism talks several months ago. I’m not completely clear, though. My biggest question had to do with how this whole modern/postmodern thing fit in with literature, because there seemed to me to be a lot of more connection between modernism and postmodernism in literature than in the other disciplines he was covering (art, architecture, etc.), and I think I was right. The book I’m writing about, A Reader’s Guide to the Twentieth Century Novel in Britain, basically says what I was thinking back then–that postmodernism in literature basically takes narrative structures and techniques first pioneered under “modernist” writers like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, and simply takes them further. Rather than a rejection of modernism, it’s an extension of it, carried out forty years later. However, that means I’m now unclear on whether or not “modernism” in literature means the same thing as it does in other disciplines, and I’m not sure that it does.

If modernism as a philosophic system sees things as ordered and understandable by human minds, and believes that there’s one grand (humanist) narrative that everything fits into, then I don’t think Joyce and Woolf fit that category. They haven’t given up on language like the postmoderns have, but they do realize it has difficulties and limits, which they test; they’ve certainly lost the belief in universality that I used to associate with “modernism” (Woolf claims that the difference between 19th century authors and her contemporaries in 1920 lies in the fact that the 19th century authors believed in what they wrote, and believed that the values they wrote about were applicable to everyone, and that after WWI, it was no longer possible to ascribe universal values and that 1920s writers no longer believed in what they were writing).

So, is literary modernism just a definition made by scholars in literature to describe the writings of Woolf, Joyce, and Lawrence in the 1920s, having nothing at all to do with the definition of philosophic modernism? I don’t know. But I would like to.