Summative Entry

There was an expectation from Europeans that the New World of the USA would become an ideal future society (Ruland and Bradbury 1992). The literature of the USA initially took influence from Europe, in a mode of writing called the Genteel Tradition. Manners, social norms and tastes of high society were idealised in writing up to the early twentieth century by writers such as Edith Wharton, and Henry James.

The indigenous people of America, the people who had a longer relationship with America, were less influential. Their writers such as Zitkala-Sa and Sherman Alexie emerged with the aim of a recovery of an Indigenous tradition. Marginalised by colonialisation, and written in the ubiquitous American language of English, Indigenous American writing demonstrates a negotiation between world views and identities.

The African American population, initially brought to America as slaves, also found themselves as both insiders and outsiders in American society. W. E. B. Du Bois gave this experience nomenclature as the term: double consciousness.

Another contrast was between the advocates of the natural environment such as Henry David Thoreau, and the claimant of the position of the ideal American poet Walt Whitman, with the emergence of modernity in the urban environment. The city with its newly invented skyscrapers, automobiles, electric street lighting, and trains would arouse the creativity of American writers. Nowhere was this more noticeable than in New York City of the 1950’s. A creative melting pot of Jazz music, poetry and the art of abstract expressionism, saw New York emerge as a world capital of culture.

The poets of the 1950’s were turning against the mass conformism found in America’s suburbs. The beat movement began, with radical social politics, Eastern religious influence, and a stream-of-consciousness style, with writers such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

Preceding the beats, were the writers of modernism including as T.S. Elliot and Ezra Pound. Pursuing the trend of experimentation, with the influence of new technologies, and new fields of knowledge emerging, the Modernists sought new forms and new expressions of American life.

After the Beats, came post-modernism, which Lyotard wrote liquidised the grand narratives of progress that the modernists espoused. Instead, the post-modernists were interested in micro-narratives with works such as The Balloon by Donald Barthelme, and Entropy by Thomas Pynchon exploring the many different perspectives brought about by the fragmentation of society through individualism, cultural diversity and occupational specialisation.

American literature, with its European, English influence, as well as Indigenous writing, and the storytelling of the once enslaved African Americans is full of nuances and tributaries of experience, aspirations and identity that combine to make the Ortgeist of the USA. The beauty and inspiration of the natural environment for American writing, is challenged by writers for whom the city is muse. Modernist writing that came on the back of a revolution of new ideas and experiences, contrasts with a post-modern mode where human progress and goals of civil perfection, are replaced with an emphasis on the uniqueness of individual experience.

At the end of these propaedeutic studies in American Literature, I feel all the stories told about America are much like Abstract Expressionist paintings: a mix of contrasting gestures, that together form a field of thought and feelings, of a New World competing within and around for self-exposition.

Abstract Expressionist Joan Mitchell with her artworks.

Works Cited

Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images. FRANCE – SEPTEMBER 1956: Portrait of American-born painter Joan Mitchell in her studio.

Ruland, Richard, & Bradbury, Malcolm. Puritanism to Postmodernism: A History of American Literature. The University of North Carolina Press. 1992.

Peer Review #4

Dear Nancy,
William Carlos Williams’ poem has impacted you, representing an urban experience that still holds today. The automobile was a modernist invention, as was the larger fire truck. The sound and movement of the fire truck certainly adds to the chaos, frenzy and drama of the urban environment, as you describe it. Given that Charles Demuth was inspired to translate The Great Figure into a visual language of paint on canvas, it says to me that you have a taste similar to modernist artists of the time. I encourage you to see the modern art and poetry within Sydney’s urban world.

The presence of our modernist past

Modernism is difficult to comprehensively define due to the movement’s “chronological indeterminateness and inherent diversity”(Anselmo 2009). Rosenburg in Anselmo (2009) states that we can argue if modernism is timebound or timeless. He concludes that the best focus of literary modernism is on a group of writers “whose works are aesthetically radical, [and] contain striking technical innovation” (Anselmo 2009). Unlike the categories of Renaissance or Romantic, the label modernism includes much greater diversity, stretching from Dada to Abstract Expressionism for instance.

The French, German, and Italian cognates for the English word ‘modern’ initially referred to Catholics seeking to modernise their institutions. In the early eighteenth century modernism was first used to characterise modern times and “came to imply sympathy” with a modern world view (Anselmo 2009). By the turn of the twentieth century the upheaval of society from new technologies encouraged artists to transform their practices, just as technology was transforming their lives. By sea the ocean liner emerged, by sky the aeroplane, by land the automobile. The extra pace of these technologies provided a technological background for the experimentation of modernist art, music and poetry. Skyscrapers began being built and the urban environment was reflected in the arts. By the 1950s the modern business corporation emerged changing society with it.

I wonder if the future will bring a new modernism?

Work Cited:

Anselmo, Anna. Modernism. Kindle ed., Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. 2009

DLR Creativity in the Classroom. Mondrian.


Peer Review #1

Hi Emily,
May I commend you for relating Emerson’s Nature to a recent experience you have had. Thank you for including photos so that the reader can see online what you saw in person. I note that you describe nature as mesmerising, and then bewildering. I encourage you in a manner, perhaps similar to Thoreau, to spend time appreciating a natural environment and see what words come to mind, as you breathe in the ambience.
Keep writing!

Another chapter at ACU reaches a final word.

Firstly a denotation is required for visionary imagination. I define visionary imagination as an exercise in divine promotion coming from the depths of the psyche, of what is not materially present, yet can be artistically presented in word, paint or other representative mediums. Blake showed us there is a profound experience to be found in small details, like a flower or a grain of sand. Like Blake we must discern the dastardly demonic from the angelic lightness, the carnality of prophets like Job or Jesus, from theosophic love in the grand scheme of good, mediocrity and evil. Like Schleiermacher I believe this is all centered in the sensitivities of heartfelt feelings and spiritual intuitions.

Passion is a pivotal part of the Christian tradition, and we don’t suffer with Jesus, Mother Mary, and the saints, by words and intellect, but by the rousing of our own emotions of grief and remorse. Emanuel died, and we must go living our lives, cultivating our virtues and limiting our vices until we too enter the well of souls awaiting final judgement. All three creative gentlemen who alongside Michael were our teachers this semester lived their philosophy, which is different to simply having dominant cognitive ability. When the spiritual sentiments are so great, the schopferkraft produces something that can enlight, delight, and propound and leave the audience with perhaps more than mere entertainment and education.

The five aggregates of the buddhist model of the psyche includes the perceptual dimension. I may have an ongoing library of books to read over the course of the rest of my lifespan, yet I also have my perception to invest my energies in. Blake raises the possibility, Huxley concurred, and I posit the doors can be cleansed. I’ve already begun to clean the doors of the aggregate dimension of perception. My colleagues in Aboriginal spirituality have spoken with authority over my life and proclaimed, “Joey, keep learning!” Oxford University has a mindfulness department. Somehow I feel a connection to the place. What is God telling me? Am I going to study, teach and research at Oxford University? Or will I chill out in the library for a while?

I am a psychiatry patient, that is certain. But we all struggle along, until we meet our ancestors. To William Blake, thanks for seeing something productive for modernity in the Ancient Prophetic tradition. Beats the hell outta the gymnastics of the contemporary job market. To Patrick White, thank you for Christian meekness, elevating the marginalised to be truly heroic. To Brett Whiteley, your transmutations were like waves, breaking on aqua fields, foam bubbling from crest to crash.

bloody christ