I have pondered before whether the French New Wave was perhaps when Modernism hit film, after it hit literature in the 1920s…there still might be some things to support that, but having now seen a few more Jean-Luc Godard films, it’s clear he’s very much postmodern in his reappropriation of earlier film, hugely self-conscious techniques, etc. I’m working on a paper comparing Modernism to Postmodernism in the literary sphere, and the more I read about, the more I think that in a way, Modern vs. Postmodern is a mindset, almost…there were writers doing Postmodern things in the 1920s, and there were Modernist writers in the 1960s–certainly I’m having trouble believing that Postmodernism is as much a rejection of Modernism as Postmodernists would like us to think; it seems to me much more an extension and enlarging than a rejection. Anyway, here’s my new pondering: Is it possible that François Truffaut, with his detached yet subjective philosophical realism which owes more to the high art Italian Neorealism than it does to American B cinema, is the Modernist side of the New Wave and Godard, with his self-reflexivity and dependence on intertextual tropes from low-art crime film, is the Postmodern side? I’m not sure that wholly holds up, either…I’m about to rewatch Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player, which is more heavily influenced by American genre film. This pondering is stemming from the differences between The 400 Blows (Truffaut’s first and arguably most important film) and Breathless (Godard’s equivalent masterpiece).
Modernism and the Nouvelle Vague…
The French New Wave is to cinema what the Modernist Novel is to fiction.
“In the novel, writers like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce tried to evoke ‘inner speech’ or ‘stream of consciousness,’ through associative and fragmented forms, omitting verbs, pronouns, connectives, and articles, and leaving sentences uncompleted. A number of filmmakers, interestingly, have shown interest in cinematically rendering inner speech. [Literary theorist and linguist Mikhail] Bakhtin’s contemporary [filmmaker and film theorist Sergei] Eisenstein repeatedly expressed a desire to render the stream-of-consciousness monologues of Joyce’s Ulysses, and [New Wave director and film critic Jean-Luc] Godard, in both Une femme mariée (1964) and Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967), approximates inner speech through discontinuous and fragmentary voice-over commentaries” (Robert Stam, “The Theory and Practice of Adaptation,” 2005).
Modernism and post-modernism hit film nearly the same time, in the 1960s-1970s. Golden-Age-Hollywood-era film (1930s-1950s) is equivalent to 19th-century fiction. Modernism in fiction hit in the 1920s, but was disrupted by WWII and post-war concerns, resurfacing as post-modernism in the 1960s. Postmodernism in literature is not a reaction against modernism, but a continuation and extension of it.
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.