About the arts and ideas - on my novels and literature, music, and art

A new book about Beethoven gathers together (and completely rewrites and supplements) my blog posts on Beethoven into a short introduction to the composer, Ways of Hearing Beethoven, which I hope to see published. My novel The Fall of the Berlin Wall, completed a year ago, is about musicians and particularly the intense, irrepressible daughter of the legendary pianist featured in my previous novel Hungry Generations, now fifteen years after those events. Five years ago, my 2015 novel, The Ash Tree, was published by West of West Books in conjunction with the April 24, 2015 centenary of the Armenian genocide; it's about an Armenian-American family and the sweep of their history in the twentieth century - particularly from the points of view of two women in the family.
There are three other novels of mine, which I would love to see published. One is Pathological States, about a physician's family in L.A. in 1962. Another is Hungry Generations, about a young composer's friendship in L.A. with the family of a virtuoso pianist, published on demand by iUniverse, which I think would be of value to a conventional publisher. A Burnt Offering - a fable (a full rewriting and expansion of my earlier Acts of Terror and Contrition - a nuclear fable) is my political novella about Israel and its reactions to the possibility of a war with Iran (with the fear that it will be a nuclear war).
[My blog posts are, of course, copyrighted.]

Monday, January 31, 2011

Notes on the modern period - 5 - on Nietzsche

The sort of autonomous self-consciousness that we have been exploring among precursors to the modern can develop – perhaps “intervene” is the better word – in the life of the individual and society in a range of ways, and Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud propose three distinct means. Their three conceptions of how modern lives are shaped and changed emerge from their three different analyses of modern existence. In each, it is clear that immense pressures are placed even on the possibility for critical analysis itself. From the initial Romantic conception of self-awareness there was a fear of those pressures threatening to blunt or erase the creative imagination. Wordsworth addresses this potential blunting and disappearance of the autonomous “discriminating” imagination, in the 1798 Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, where he writes that “a multitude of causes, unknown to former times, are acting with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind, and, unfitting it for all voluntary exertion, to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor.” The causes, he suggests, are the shocks of “great national events” as well as “the increasing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident, which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies;” this “craving” yields a “degrading thirst after outrageous stimulation.” (Of course, these concerns do not sound unfamiliar given the spectacle of media in our society).

In the late nineteenth century, Nietzsche’s thought focuses on just that blunting of discriminating powers and imaginative potential, and his analysis involves indictments of European and often particularly German national cultures, of the history of Christianity, and of much else, but his critique delves also into the very nature of the language with which humans communicate. When language itself has been corrupted – intrinsically, and certainly in the present – by the obligatory gestures arising from the nature of society (and its modern pressures “imposed by society” in the forms of propaganda, sentimentality, and the manipulative spectacle of media, etc.), then even the possibility of truthful communication is cast in doubt. Nietzsche addresses the relation of language to truth in “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense” (1873); the “urge for truth” is swept up in the actual state of language, of a “mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms – in short, the sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.” For Nietzsche, there appear to be two modes of engagement of this dilemma. One is to go along “using the customary metaphors,” and the other is to dive into the fray, finally into the ocean of language in an act of deliberate, self-conscious, creative engagement; the former leads to “the obligation to lie according to a fixed convention, to lie heard-like in a style obligatory for all,” and the latter yields a sort of aestheticizing of truth and existence. (A quarter century later, Conrad employs some of the same images Nietzsche uses, in a famous statement on the novel: “It is only through complete, unswerving devotion to the perfect blending of form and substance…[that] the light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words, of the old, old words, worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage.”)

Nietzsche’s vision of language is, like so much else in his thought, oriented around the tragedy of existence (and there are many explanations proffered for the tragic-minded and nearly anarchic darkness of his thinking). Of course, this tendency did not prevent him (and probably encouraged him) to offer prescriptive advice about the stages of the 'overman's development (as in the early "Human, All Too Human," in which he suggests his early idealism, his disillusionment and rebellion, his later acceptance of life as it is lived, and his ultimate realization of his freedom to choose or "rank" the strengths revealed by the perspectivism he developed). His influential conception of modern autonomy of mind and the imagination focuses above all, though, on the engagement of tragic truth. From The Birth of Tragedy (in 1872) to Twilight of the Idols (in 1888), he inquires about the source and nature of tragic understanding, and he asserts that the “Dionysian, with its primordial joy experienced even in pain, is the common source of music and of tragic [art];” the Dionysian is Nietzsche’s name for the particular joy of art’s autonomous creativity, from his earliest work to his last, and here in The Birth of Tragedy, he proposes that “the ugly and dissonant” – the qualities which arise in art from a truth-telling realism – “are part of an artistic game that the will in the eternal amplitude of its pleasure plays with itself.” In tragic art, “the joy aroused [by it] has the same origin as the joyous sensation of dissonance in music,” and in each case “we must recognize a Dionysian phenomenon: again and again it reveals to us the playful construction and destruction of the individual world as the overflow of a primordial delight.” An anarchic delight is celebrated here in the face of the decay and despair besetting late nineteenth century culture, let alone the authoritarian clamp-down of Bismarck’s regime and the horrendous deaths numbering 200,000 in the recent year-long and ever more mechanized Franco-Prussian War. And in one of his last works, Nietzsche understands that “tragic” joy as the result of demanding more of the structure of existence than it can bear, joy “even” in confronting and destroying the gods, the deepest order of existence, a joy arising out of an overfull spirit which desires “to embody the eternal joy of becoming.” The autonomous self-consciousness and the framing tragic aesthetic Nietzsche celebrates indicate the power to upturn our lives which is characteristic not only of his modern critique of existence.Basic Writings of Nietzsche (Modern Library Classics)

That sense of destabilization and threat is evident also in Marx’s famously Hegeleian sentence: “All that is solid melts into air, all this is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.” And of course, Marx’s ideas were as significant for twentieth century modernism as Nietzsche’s. They will be the subject I turn to next.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Notes on the modern period - 4 - the example of Keats; Verlaine

In previous iterations of my “Birth of the Modern” course, I would early on offer Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” as an example and guide to some seminal ideas about the imagination, ideas whose influence lasted beyond Romanticism to shape modern thought.

Part of what Keats does in the poem is to anatomize forms of death and partly prefigure some of the concerns I’ve tried to describe in my previous posting. Initially the poem speaks of a suicidal state – “as though of hemlock I had drunk” and “Lethe-wards had sunk” – spurred by the nightingale’s “happy” and “melodious” music, for art can make ordinary life seem a sort of dying, “a drowsy numbness.” The poem then portrays a drunken state and the yearning for “a draught of vintage” and “purple-stained mouth” – “That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, / And with thee fade away into the forest dim” – in order to escape “the weariness, the fever, and the fret” here, where death reigns over the old, the young, and also beauty and love. But beyond the implacability of those forms of death, Keats seeks a sanctuary in the “viewless” realm of art – of the nightingale’s music he hears and of poetry – where there is no light and “tender is the night.” This dark sanctuary is simultaneously at a remove, a sort of dying away from ordinary life and a revelation of potentially transformed life, for here in the “embalmed darkness, he “senses” the both sacramental and sensuous images of fertile nature, where even “the murmurous haunt of flies” is hallowed and redeemed. At this peak of “ecstasy,” presenting and absorbing the transcendent richness art can achieve, the poem contemplates death by suicide, for now “more than ever seems it rich to die,” yet that willed death is rejected: “Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain – / To thy high requiem become a sod.” In the face of each of those earthen forms of death – suicide, the blotted mind of drunkenness, the weary grinding down of lives that cannot “keep” – “No hungry generations tread thee down,” for art embodies the possibility of an autonomous state of being, one that transcends the cycling of time and space, of “ancient days,” entering into and transforming “the sad heart of Ruth” and, as we saw, even “the haunt of flies.” The end of the poem acknowledges how difficult it is to sustain that autonomous transformation achieved by art and the music of the nightingale, how words can “toll me back from thee to my sole self,” to his ambiguous and leftover existence. The “Romantic agony” is just this struggle to sustain let alone achieve vision. The existence one finds oneself in is constantly on the border between blindness and vision, between death and life: “Do I wake or sleep?” The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Keats

The difficult autonomy of art is on the mind not only of Keats and the Romantic poets, but also of writers and thinkers later in the nineteenth century and in the modern period. Verlaine, for example in “Art Poétique,” imagines an art departing from and “vaguer” than French classical art. In such an art, “Nuance alone links / The dream to the dream,” and there is “Music again and always! And let your verse be the thing in flight,” for ambiguity must always be sustained through suggestion, connotation, and implication. “Take eloquence and wring its neck.” It is not only in the foreboding romantic agony that aesthetic autonomy dwells but also in the ironic lightness of Verlaine’s symbolist manifesto, in his momentary and sensuous ambiguities: “all the rest is literature.” Baudelaire Rimbaud Verlaine: Selected Verse and Prose Poems

In my next post, I’ll try to suggest the modern shifts or breakthroughs in thinking about art, about society, and about the psyche, achieved by Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Notes on the Modern period - 3 - Precursors: Hegel's influence; Whitman, Dickinson, Chopin, Tennyson, Mallarme

In a recent session of the “Birth of the Modern” course I teach, we examined a few texts by precursors – a brief story by Kate Chopin, two excerpts from Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” Emily Dickinson’s “After Great Pain,” a passage from Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit, and Baudelaire’s “To the Reader.” [On the photocopied pages were also a few mournful lines from Tennyson’s “Tears, Idle Tears” and some lines from Mallarmé’s “At Gautier’s Grave.”] The point of these excerpts was to forecast the qualities of the modern shift in the rendering of consciousness (a far-reaching breakthrough particularly in the arts and the social sciences, akin to Kuhn’s idea of the “paradigm shift”).

We began with Americans, for this course takes place in Cleveland, Ohio. In Chopin’s 1894 story, “The Story of an Hour,” a married young woman hears of the accidental death of her husband and finds that after she weeps “with sudden, wild abandonment,” she must withdraw to her room. There, her mind fills with a burgeoning consciousness of what is occurring outside her window, “the tops of trees…all aquiver with the new spring life…[the] delicious breath of rain,…a distant song,…countless sparrows twittering in the eaves,…patches of blue sky.” Finally the sense of being “free” becomes clear to her, free to “live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending her….And yet she had loved him – sometimes….[Yet:] What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in face of this possession of self-assertion, which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being.” She discovers an independent will and consciousness as a woman previously subject to the “will” which her loving husband “imposed” upon her with “blind persistence.”

Part of what is adumbrated here is the centuries-old history of progress for women’s rights; finally in 1920, of course, women in the United States gained the right to vote. As interesting as this prefiguring of the steps ahead is the accuracy of Chopin’s rendering of the woman’s consciousness, the sense in her of upwelling liberation and freedom. Certainly the abruptly bitter ending of the story suggests that her liberation cannot quite survive in the society of 1894 America, for the rumor of the husband’s death was false, and when he returns to their door, she dies at the threshold – of “heart disease.” But earlier, we had witnessed the emergence of her new-born consciousness and then her laying claim to an independent will and self-awareness transcending any negotiations with her husband and transfiguring the image of his “loving” will into her own “possession of self-assertion.”

A transfiguring self-awareness is given full voice in Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” In the fourth poem, for example, he speaks of the streaming images of existence which “come to me days and nights and go from me again, / But they are not the Me myself.” A sort of flanneur, “watching and wondering” on a city street, he stands “both in and out of the game.” “Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am.” The stream of listed images encompass his life and all he touches, including “some man or woman I love,” or the hallowed “leaf of grass no less than the journey-work of the stars,” or “the plutonic rocks,” or the “esculent roots” of some barbaric and prehistoric swamp. Yet for all the sensuous and gigantic capaciousness of his “incorporating” imagination, he maintains a distance, a core of self-awareness which is the site of freedom and liberated consciousness for him.

Both Whitman’s self-celebrating self-awareness and Chopin’s story of the wife’s discovery of her self-possessed prefigure modernity's exploration of the 'self,' of subjectivity, evident in the “stream of consciousness” novels of the period, in its self-conscious poetry, and in its developing philosophy of phenomenology. These developments are illuminated by at least a brief engagement of Hegel’s thought about the dialectical relations between master and servant in the “Phenomenology of the Spirit” (published in 1807), and of course Marx’s thinking is similarly illuminated. It is not that I see Chopin or Whitman or, more generally, modernity as Hegelian. [I remember once my questioning John Cage’s aleatory music of ‘chance’ sounds, to which my critical older brother replied in exasperation, “You’re so Hegelian.”] It’s rather that Hegel can help us understand some of the logic at work in modern explorations of consciousness.

Hegel’s paragraph 194 in the “On Masters and Servants” section of “Phenomenology” analyzes the way in which the subject who serves the master must introject a consciousness of the master’s ‘mentality’ and needs, in order to serve them successfully. And the servant also maintains his awareness as a subject “worker” (the term is used by Hegel and emphasized in Kojève’s commentary). In this way, the worker develops a critical self-consciousness about each role, becoming doubly aware as he comprehends or ‘psyches out’ both modes. But this double consciousness distances him from life; the resulting critical distance from immediate existence mirrors yet transcends the master’s ‘withering scrutiny’ and, more deeply, his centeredness on himself, his “being-for-itself.” The critical distance of double- or self-consciousness functions finally like the ‘ultimate master’ death in negating all that is not itself, subjecting all – including itself – to a deadly exposure. This simultaneously negating and empowering self-consciousness casts all into a state of doubt where “everything solid and stable has been shaken to its foundations. But this pure universal movement, the absolute melting-away of everything stable, is the simple, essential nature of self-consciousness, absolute negativity, pure being-for-itself, which consequently is implicit in this consciousness.” Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” will echo just this passage when he evokes the Bourgeoisie, which as it upturns the aristocratic order creates a world of constant expansion and continuous change; the working class is left broadly aware of the resulting exploitation, the dizzying chaos, and the death of order: “All that is solid melts into air, all this is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.” The Phenomenology of Spirit (The Phenomenology of Mind)

Hegel’s own insistence on the idea of destabilization, on the negation at work in “self-consciousness,” that “absolute melting-away of everything stable,” is striking. Paradoxically joined together here are of the awareness of death (death of the “ordinary” self and of “ordinary” society) with the opening-up of creative potential achieved by self-consciousness with its capacity to see multiple perspectives and to use its critical distance in order to liberate a rich sense of possibility. It is as if the death of former selves leads to liberated new selves, new potentiality.

The confrontation with death in modern thought is evident in works that prefigure the modern. In Baudelaire’s mid-nineteenth-century poem “To the Reader,” spiritual death yields an ennui, an apathy or boredom, that would “willingly annihilate the earth” as it “chain-smokes yawning for the guillotine.” Yet this form of death spurs a sort of self-lacerating “shriek,” the poem’s punishing intensity of address: “you – hypocrite Reader – my double – my brother!” Even Tennyson (and maybe especially he) is fixated on the destruction of a world, of ‘everything stable,’ and on the necessity to mourn for “the days that are no more” in language what is achingly vulnerable and continually polite. Two decades later, Mallarmé (“At Gautier’s Grave”) raises his “empty cup” in an “insane toast to nothingness, because the non-existent corridor gives hope,” for within that grave “nothingness questions the abolished man” and “shrieks” that the dead man’s evanescent poetry (“this toy”) “say what the earth was.” The point here is not merely that life is short, and art lasts; it is rather that death is a portal: a sort of gaping maw through which knowledge of what life might be yet speaks. This paradoxical melding of death and life is envisioned too by Emily Dickinson in her Civil War poems. For example, in 341, “After great pain,” she brings just such stark knowledge out of the experience of nothingness, of death and of mourning. Here she bares her knowledge in images of a snow-bound death (“First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go”) as well as of the chemical elements (“A Quartz contentment, like a stone – / This is the Hour of Lead”). [At some point, perhaps we’ll take a look at how Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” discerns various modes of death and models the insight that ‘death is a portal’ through which transfiguring knowledge might enter.] In any case, as World War I approached, needless to say, conceptions of how to confront and understand death were rather desperately needed.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Notes on the modern period - 2 -main features of the modern

In thinking about the previous post, I realize that those intriguing above-listed qualities of the modern can appear to be abstruse and difficult to a fault, particularly in the context of university study (as opposed to the context of the active and initiated practitioner, whether artist or scientist). So in order to work through that difficulty, I think it would be good to note a few illustrative examples for those “features of the modern.”

Perhaps autonomy and independence of vantage point (and structure of thought) are best exemplified by Einstein’s theory of relativity, which proposes a radically new alternative physics to that developed by Newton; Einstein’s leap of thought is strikingly independent of previous assumptions in physics. Autonomy can be manifested also in abstraction, for example in Picasso’s analytical cubism paintings – abstract in both content and structure – with their geometric forms achieving an expressiveness independent of any represented subject. Abstraction can obliterate the content of a representation, as it begins to do in the female figure on the right side of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’Avignon, whose shape is a set of lines and planes and whose face is a geometrical mask. That canvas also illustrates the primitivism central to modernity, for the female figure on the left side of the painting are sensuously immediate, rendered with a vivid undulating line; the middle images of women are increasingly geometrical.

Of course, the modernist effort to confront the nature of immediacy, of the “moment” in consciousness and perception, is at the root of much of its literature and philosophy, from Walter Pater through Husserl, say, or Joyce, Lawrence, and Woolf. Like the combination of abstraction and immediacy in their renderings of the stream of perception, Picasso’s Demoiselles painting – simultaneously sensuous and geometric – illustrates the paradoxical coexistence of the abstract and the momentary, of apparently opposed qualities in a single work or concept (suggesting the pervasive ambiguity central to much modernist production). Contradiction and paradox in the modern are related to modernist perspectivism or relativity/relativism (in the layperson’s sense of Einstein or Nietzsche’s thought, the latter reminding us of the accompanying risk of nihilism). “Very well, I contradict myself,” Whitman writes, a few decades before the full development of the modern.

The exploration of “the stream of consciousness” in the work of modern novelists and philosophers is also a part of the commitment to realism in this period. And the term realism signals equally a modern ethos of confrontation, and the need to critique society among modernists of all political persuasions culminates in the act (on the part, say, of Spengler or of T. S. Eliot) of judging the entire course of Western civilization up to the modern period. The fierce critique of society and culture can result in a destabilization of tradition, of received convention, and manifest itself as negation, rebellion, or subversive freedom (think of the intentional subversions of sense in the poetry of Rimbaud, Verlaine, and Mallarmé).

Charged by all of these forces, modern thought is characterized above all by an openness to experiment and change across the arts, the natural sciences, and the new social sciences – yielding new concepts, approaches, and achievements, and these changes can be seen as representing a paradigm shift, an incommensurable development of a new “disciplinary matrix” in each field (from physics to psychology, musical composition to literature). Given these radical changes and a resulting destabilization as well as the great disillusionment arising from – among other ‘factors’ – the unprecedentedly destructive wars, the modern is beset by a sense of cultural mourning and belatedness. Understandably, as a result, modern thought seeks even a fragmentary, transfiguring unity of vision, a sort of healing order or at least healing process in the face of change and collapse, and the newly liberated quest for a transfigured fullness of experience yields a dangerous sense of the death of the ordinary self – evident in Yeats’ and Rilke’s poetry (and prefigured even by Keats’s Odes).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Notes on the Modern period - 1 - chronology of the modern

In a course I teach, we have explored – over the past few weeks – some of the main “features” of the modern period. [Over the years, I’ve offered this course in various forms at both Cleveland State and now at Case Western Reserve University. The current version involves less reading and more writing for the students in one of CWRU’s “university seminars,” part of the school’s 'seminar approach to general education sequence' (“sages”).]

We first discussed a list of possible features of the modern, as follows: Autonomy, independence of vantage point and structure of thought. And the related feature of abstraction, both as subject and as abstract form and structure. Primistivism (again as both form and content) or openness to immediacy of the “moment” – also, stripped-down objectivity. As in the above contradiction between “abstraction” and the “moment,” there is a recurrent quality of paradox, contradiction, or ambiguity. A commitment to realism signals the ethos of confrontation, the critique of society from both right and left, and the interest in judging the entire course of Western civilization leading to the modern period. Destabilization of received convention; negation, and/or rebellion, and subversive freedom. The quality of paradox relates to a pervasive perspectivism, relativity/relativism, with an accompanying risk of nihilism. In general, there is an openness to change and experiment across the arts, the natural sciences, and the new social sciences – yielding new forms, concepts, approaches, and achievements. Paradigm shift. A transfiguring unity of being and vision is sought in the face of change and collapse (with the fullness of experience yielding a death of the ordinary self). The modern is beset by a sense of cultural mourning and belatedness.

We then went on to examine a chronology of the modern, which of course has a fascination in and of itself (partly for what it includes and excludes). It began with the early start of Rousseau’s Social Contract in 1762 and ended with 1945 and the end of World War II. The students repeatedly commented on the paradoxical combination of destruction and achievement apparent in many of its items (for an obvious example, the American Civil War’s abolition of slavery yet its massive toll in casualties partly resulting from the increased modernization of warfare – and generally the increasing human toll of war from the Civil War to World War II).

Many comments focused on the remarkably fast pace of technological achievement in the century before 1945 (a natural focus for some of the students at the former Case Institute of Technology). Examples of those achievements include: 1873 Remington’s typewriter; 1879 Edison’s phonograph and incandescent light bulb (and the electrification of cities in later decades); 1882 Koch’s discovery of the TB bacillus but, also, the development of the machine gun; 1885 Pasteur’s Rabies vaccine, the discovery of radio waves, and the development of the internal combustion engine; 1887 Daimler’s automobile; 1890 the Kodak camera and the completion of the Eiffel Tower; 1891 the first subway in London opens; 1892 Lorenz’s electron theory; 1893 the Ford auto assembly line; 1894 the gramophone disc; 1895 Roentgen discovers x-rays, Lumiere invents the movie camera, and Marconi develops the wireless radio; 1898 the Curies isolate radium; 1903 the Wright Brothers create the first airplane; 1905 Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity; 1909 the typhus vaccine developed; 1912 the isotope theory developed; 1915 Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity; 1923 television and insulin developed, and skyscrapers begin to shape the New York skyline; 1925 the Copenhagen hypothesis of quantum physics; 1927-8 Penicillin, missiles, sound movies; 1936-9 jet engine, radar, computer; 1945 the U.S. uses atomic weapons in war.

Here are some of the other details from the chronology:

Enlightenment conceptions of individual rights: 1762 Rousseau’s Social Contract; 1776 Jefferson et al’s Declaration of Independence; 1789 French Revolution’s “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” followed by the Terror and the Napoleonic Wars (until Waterloo in 1915); the Godwins (husband and wife) on political and women’s rights.

Romantic ideas of subjectivity and beauty: 1794 and following - Blakes’s poetry (the first gas lights in Britain, even as speech and assembly are suppressed repeatedly in the following decades); 1798 Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads; plus the following, which I’ll discuss more soon: 1807 Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit and 1819 Keats’ Odes.

Realist efforts and their complement in Aestheticism: 1833 Britain’s Reform Bills and, in 1836 on the eve of Victoria becoming queen, its abolition of slavery; 1848 abortive revolutions in Europe and Marx’s Communist Manifesto; 1851 the Great Exhibition of Science and Industry at the “Crystal Palace” in London (responded to with horror by Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man in 1857, the year of Baudelaire’s “Flowers of Evil”); 1859 Darwin’s Origin of the Species; 1861-65 the American Civil War, with its uncounted civilian toll and 620,000 soldiers dead in four years; 1865 Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend and Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde; 1866 Britain’s second Reform Bill; 1871 the unification of Germany and the Franco-Prussian War with its 200,000 solders dead in one year, and also George Eliot’s Middlemarch and the founding of Newnham College for Women in Cambridge, U.K.; 1872-3 Pater’s “Conclusion” to The Renaissance and Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy; also in the 1870s the first Impressionist exhibition, the poems of Rimbaud, Verlaine, and Mallarmé, and Ibsen’s Ghosts; 1881 Henry James’ Portrait of A Lady; 1884 Twain’s Huckleberry Finn; 1895 Hardy’s Jude the Obscure and Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, plus Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest as well as his imprisonment for the “issue” of his homosexuality; and finally 1900 Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams; 1902 Britain’s expanded Education Act and Gide’s The Immoralist; 1903 G. E. Moore’s Principia Ethica, Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folks, and Simmel’s The Metropolis.

The modern period from 1905 (with Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity) to 1945: 1907 Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon and Matisse’s Fauve period; 1909-11 London’s First Post-Impressionist Exhibition, Bartok’s First String Quarete, and Shoenberg’s Second String Quartet; 1913 Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Proust’s Swann’s Way, and Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers; 1914 D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation and Wyndham Lewis’ Blast; 1914-18 World War I with uncounted millions of civilian casualties and 10 million soldiers dead (and in 1918-19 a similar number of deaths from influenza); 1915 – the year of Einstein’s General Theory – Lawrence’s Women in Love suppressed; Joyce’s A Portrait, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and Jung’s Psychology of the Unconscious; 1917 Lenin’s Russian Revolution; 1919-20 Pound’s Mauberly, Weimar cabaret and Bauhaus, Duchamp’s Mona Lisa and Dadaism, Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, and in America Women’s suffrage; 1922 Joyce’s Ulysses, T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land; 1924 Kafka’s The Trial, Rilke’s Duino Elegies, Breton’ Surrealist Manifesto, and Forster’s A Passage to India; 1925 Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Heminway’s in our time, Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and in 1927 Heidegger’s Being and Time and in Britain, Women’s suffrage; 1929 the Great Depression begins, Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, and Brecht/Weill’s operas; 1930s Hitler comes to power, Stalin’s purges, the Spanish Civil War, and 1939-45 World War II with its scores of millions of civilian casualties, its 25 million soldiers dead, the Holocaust, and Atomic weapons first used in war. 1945 postmodernism begins.

Then the class turned to some precursors of the modern, including Kate Chopin “The Story of an Hour,” excerpts from Whitman, Emily Dickinson’s “After Great Pain,” Baudelaire’s “To the Reader,” Verlaine’s “The Art of Poetry,” and a paragraph on self-consciousness by Hegel. Those will be the subject of my next post.