chapter  5
51 Pages

Modernism and ‘Sprachkrise’

WithRaymond Furness

‘Modernism’ is a vexed and controversial term; almost every new generation of writers has claimed that its own way of experiencing and describing the world is more up-to-date or ‘relevant’ than that of its predecessors. The German romantics felt themselves to be more modern than the Stürmer und Dränger, and the adherents to the Jung Deutschland school doubtlessly felt the same vis-à-vis such writers as Novalis, Tieck and Brentano; the uneasy compromise between poetry and reality which may be discovered in much of the writing of the Poetic Realists was felt to be hopelessly antiquated by the new generation of writers who were the heirs of French symbolism and naturalism. To be ‘modern’ at the end of the nineteenth century meant to write poetry like Mallarmé, or prose like Zola, or to write drama like Ibsen; it meant that, formally, the poet could experiment with syntax and create inner worlds of esoteric resonances, and that, with regard to content, the novelist and playwright could deal with the outcast, the depressed proletariat and with the effects of congenital syphilis.