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Literature movements of the twentieth century

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The twentieth century saw the rise and fall of Literary groups, as different perspectives on importance had become realised. After the first world war, many groups wanted to distance themselves from the mainstream. Artists and musicians also aligned themselves with literary movements. This essay seeks to summarise these movements or separatist groups and explain why each was unique.

A change in literature really took place during the First World War, with poets either being realistic, showing the true horrors of war, or trying to gloss over the details, promoting the romanticism of fighting for ideals.

The Dadaist movement was a movement where sense and nonsense were both considered of equal value. Kafka told a story of a man becoming a bug in the Metamorphosis. It made no sense of course, however his brilliance was shown in his ability to write nonsensical content. The Dadaist movement used exercises which took words of a known piece of literature or even a newspaper article and rearrange the words to make a nonsense verse. In this way it defined its group and made it unique.

The surrealist movement was a natural progression from the Dada movement. Rather than emphasise sense however, it was aligned with Freud to explore conscious and unconscious states and used exercises which promoted writing without thought, putting pen to paper and letting whatever came out to flow (BRETON et al.). The Surrealists also used collaboration in exercises. This collaboration involved members writing a sentence or phrase following another, without knowing the context of the sentence before. These were amusing for members, but it also helped Andre Breton to define the movement.

Breton was somewhat of a bully and dictator within the movement which he claimed to have founded. He wrote the Surrealist Manifesto, stating what was and was not acceptable to the group. He used this manifesto to exclude members who did not line up with his own ideals. Breton did not like the novel and longer works. It was perhaps socialism and communism which caused rifts within the group to see it dissipate.

The existentialist movement was primarily interested in self, and his own existence or the importance of it. The games, puzzles and exercises which the surrealists used were not active within this group. Paul Satre was far removed from some of the ideas of the surrealist movement. Satre praised the novel and longer works as utilitarian but poems as useless. He did not see the point of writing for writing sake (Elsby).

The Beat Generation arose from the existential movement and protested against the commercialisation of society. Commercialism and consumerism being the focus of the general public following World War Two.  This group came together to discuss ideas in cafes and bookshops and again didn’t really use games, puzzles or exercises to define their group. The beats did not censor themselves or their writings and much of their work was banned in some countries and heavily censored in others. This made it very attractive to younger people who were also rebelling against the society norms.

The beat generation was instrumental in the 60’s hippy movement as it promoted free love, in any form, and the use of mind-altering drugs. The hippy movement also believed in protesting, but their protest was aligned much against violence and war. While this movement was not necessarily considered a literary movement, some very poignant poetry was written in this era, much of which was used for the cross purpose of music and song. Bob Dylan for example was recently given a Nobel prize for literature for his work which encompassed not only his poetry but also his songs.

If one were to investigate the lives of those prominent in literature groups up till this time, one would see not only eccentricity of some members but also a rebellious nature. The use of mind and consciousness altering drugs was prevalent during these eras, and it was only in the early seventies that this attitude changed. Opiates and acid-based narcotics were preferred until this time, whereas from the 70’s drug culture changed to a more organic base, being hemp and marijuana as the drug of choice. In 1970, after John Lennon split from the Beatles, he wrote ‘The dream is over in his song God following the symbolic end of the hippy movement at Altamont and Woodstock.

It was during this time that the Oulipo movement was created. It continues to this day. What made the Oulipo movement different from others, is that they are disciplined far more than previous movements. The movement aligns mathematics with literature forming strict constraints which members of the movement are encouraged to adhere to in their writing (Queneau, and Stump). All members have input into the group monthly, with all members having equal value. Membership of the group is for life. No member can be expelled for differing views, and although members can choose to become non-active, their work is still considered valuable to the group (Roubaud). This group also differs from earlier movements in that they place no value on the use of drugs or mind-altering substances to enhance their writing. The membership of this group is very exclusive, however public readings are given for those who have an interest in their practices.

Each month new constraints are proposed to be adopted by the members. These are mostly a marriage between arithmetic and literature with an example being the N+7 exercise (Roubaud). This asks the coherent to take a known work and replace each noun with the seventh noun following it in a dictionary. Of course, constraints of this kind can be altered or adapted for a particular work or use. The importance is not on the actual code, but the adherence to a mathematical alignment to literature text.

In modern times many literature groups have been birthed. Community groups are common adopting some exercises from earlier groups and creating their own. Fellowships of writers have emerged to offer critiques of unfinished works prior to them being sent to publishers and online groups which promote the use of constraints in style, content and time.

Each writing group has had agendas which have defined their parameters and engaged its members with exercises to enforce them. Each group has sought to separate itself from the mainstream literature circles of the time, thus creating a separatist group. With the coming of a new century, one hopes a new mindset is now in place for groups to be inclusive and welcoming, promoting literature in all forms.

Works cited

BRETON, André Robert et al. Manifestoes Of Surrealism. PDF given as class notes.

Elsby, Charlene. Clio. 46th ed., Purdue University, 2017, p. Introduction to the special issue, “Existentialism and Literature, https://www.academia.edu/39876070/Introduction_to_the_special_issue_Existentialism_and_Literature_. Accessed 9 June 2020.

Queneau, Raymond, and Jordan Stump. Letters, Numbers, Forms. University Of Illinois Press, 2007.

Roubaud, Jacques. The Oulipo And Combinatorial Art. 1991, Accessed 9 June 2020.

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A poem after Ginsberg.

I have chosen this as my best  creative post for the subject American Literature. I have written freely, from my mind and heart. There are some things in this poem that have been burdening me for some time. Writing a “Ginsberesque” poem has allowed me to use my creative skills to vent a bit about those issues.

 

I had a thought, an idea, it was a poem waiting to be told, but had funny rhymes, a funny rhythm. Ginsberg and other beatnik poets have given my licence to write in their style. I said and subconsciously wrote. I digitally put pen to paper. I used the Ginsberg breath method. My breathing is erratic though, being an asthmatic. Read a sentence completely in one breath, then breathe after the sentence. That is important.  Enjoy the poem below, called:

The Hierarchy of Power

I wrote a letter to the queen and said hi, how have you been. He said fine, how are you. How am I, you ask? I will tell you how I am. I am disillusioned by the politicians of today the statesmen and leaders of the past, they seem to make rules and never obey, then they call us the fools. They think we don’t know what’s going on in their tiny minds having selfish thoughts, caring not for others but raising super and pensions for sitting members. We are doing such a good job saving the taxpayer millions we deserve to give the money saved to ourselves, and those who have come before, who nobody remembers.

Politicians make the hard decisions to send someone to their certain death, fighting wars that are none of our business, meddling in the affairs of states, who were doing just fine without us, or at least keeping the cruelty within a set of borders. Put up a fence! a wall! keep them out and keep us from seeing them at all. Ignorance is bliss. We don’t have to put up with this. They make the decision to raise the pensions of the elite while the hungry are still hungry, the poor poorer still and the sick die of disease. If the sick die there is less strain on the health system. If we move the homeless we can deny there is a problem. Statistics are manipulated, leaders are too. Donations to the party are used to campaign, not to benefit me or you.

Green is the colour of the grass anchored in one spot, restricted movements by fences and walls, plants and walls used to hide atrocities. Blue is the sky that rules over all, it is free to travel where it will. No restrictions placed on it; on the cruelty it can rain down upon the grass beneath. If grass is restricted all its life, it will forget how to grow. A mower is taken to it, those with aspirations and dreams are cut down. Don’t think like that, you can’t do it. Look at where you are. Once a grass behind the fence, grass you will always be. Never a daisy. Blue sky suppresses the green but is in turn governed by the suits of grey, with the red or blue ties, which are above us all, beyond being free, governing what is free. If you get too close to freedom the rules and boundaries will change. Unattainable, unreachable, dreams will remain dreams, there is nothing to gain.

Work your ass off in capitalist society, or even in the new rich communist socialist regimes. Everyone continues to have dreams. Own your own home, burden yourself with debt, be shackled to the desk for thirty years or more. When will you truly be free. THINGS ARE NOT WHERE ITS AT. Keep up with the Joneses? The Joneses are trying to keep up with you. You drive your flashy cars, live in your fancy houses. 2 cars in the driveway but nothing in the fridge. On the outside everything is new. The inside filled with preloved and now dumped stuff. Accumulation of junk, when is enough enough?

The good old days glitter with gold. Gold plate covers the rust underneath. Again, the outside sparkles but the inside is as rotten as your teeth. Dental care, health care, funeral costs. No-one can afford to live but you can’t afford to die either. How am I, you ask? I’m fine because…

 

Above all there is God. Beyond reach. Never changes. Looks down. Cries. I will make it right. Watch this space, coming soon.

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Allen Ginsberg:Transcendentalist?

I have chosen this work to be the best of my critical entries on this subject. I took a real interest in Ginsberg before he and his cohorts were discussed in class. I took an in-depth look at “Howl” and tried for myself to decipher some of the parts, and to give extra commentary on them. Alan Ginsberg is someone whom I would like to study further.

Warning: The videos, and some of the text may be considered obscene:

Image result for allen ginsbergAllen Ginsberg was a poet who bared his mind in the 1950’s. His poem Howl, made him famous, or infamous for it’s somewhat candid and sometimes obscene language and content.

Image result for howl definition

In Part II of Howl, Ginsberg equates capitalist society with the God Moloch, who was a God that the early Hebrews and others sacrificed their children.

“What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?” Ginsberg is saying here that cities, society has taken away any chance of those who inhabit them, of having imagination, of being able to think for themselves,

“Moloch, Moloch, Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasures! blind capitals! demonic industries!spectral nations! invincible madhouses!granite cocks! Monstorous bombs!” Everything is the same with houses, there is no imagination in design. These spaces are there not to be beautiful, but to have a purpose; to fit as many bodies in as little as space as possible. The treasures we build for ourselves and for our companies in this world of corporate greed, do not come without a cost, Many lives are lost, wasted with empty heads, empty brains unable to think for themselves. Invincible madhouses, are invincible because once someone is labelled as mad, that label follows them around, and nothing they say is taken serious from then on, People are defeated. Granite Cocks are the monolithic phallic symbols. Skyscrapers really are a phallic symbol, corporations saying, look how big and powerful am I. And Monstorous bombs refers to actual bombs, nuclear or otherwise that have the capability of destroying millions of lives in one push of a red button.

Why did Ginsberg call his poem Howl? A howl is defined as a mournful cry of perhaps a dog or other animal. Ginsberg may have thought himself a dog, but the emphasis should be placed on the sound, not what makes it. Howl is a mournful cry. Sometimes the cry is made in anger, sometimes in pain, but mostly in a sadness that eats you right to the bones. Ginsberg was expressing the sadness he feels when he think of the world that has lost it’s way. Of a world that has forgotten nature.

Ginsberg reflects on friends left behind, in particular, Carl Solomon, whom he met in a mental asylum and whom remained there as Ginsberg was released. He mentions over and again Rockland, which is a mental asylum but not the one in which Ginsberg met Solomon.

in Footnote, Ginsberg reflects on people and places and things which have influenced his life and his writing. He calls these “Holy”. To him, the people that Ginsberg met and received understanding from, and had an influence in his life, were sacred. People to be revered or idolised.

This is one work that deals with the emotions in such a diverse way. It is a spiritual moment. Once heard, one can never unhear the words in the poem. Once heard, this poem will surely affect your view on socialism, capitalism and what is important to you, and the world.

I have called Ginsberg a modern day transcendentalist. I think that is accurate. Here is a man who walks his own path, one less traveled. Here is a man who has rejected society and become the utter non-conformist. Here is a man who is self reliant, poor he may be but self reliant in terms of not accepting another’s thoughts or ideas without first discovering and telling his own.

Genius or madman? Don’t let me or anyone else sway your judgement. Make up your own mind. Its what a true transcendentalist would do.

 

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