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Schools of thought in literature



The difference for literature across the span of history is defined by the various movements or schools of thought in literature preceding the present period; a period which the author calls The Big Limbo, The Lull or as he does in his more sarcastic moments, The O Generation. He has got his reasons for giving this Post-Modern period in Literature, Art and other forms of futile endeavours the latter ‘sarcastic’ term or name and it lies within the bounds of one as an author’s discretion to mention or maintain silence when it comes to the true meaning of the latter term in the following presentation. The focus is on the schools of thought, their objectivity and subjectivity, their relationships and rivalries in the light of the big picture; Literature and Art. There may be opposing views to the question of Literature being the big picture but, the truth is that Literature is the middle road to every scholarly pursuit that is found in the midst of every scholarly dissertation. There are two prominent sides to every issue; the subjective and the objective sides to reality. The first school, Stream of Consciousness or SoC in its simplest terms refers to the flow of thoughts in the conscious mind, that is, the whole range of thoughts the thinker is aware of form what is termed the Stream-of-Consciousness. William James is given credit for the concept but was enormously skeptical about using introspection as a technique to understand the stream of consciousness. “The attempt at introspective analysis in these cases is in fact like seizing a spinning top to catch its motion, or trying to turn up the gas quickly enough to see how the darkness looks…” says James. In literature, stream of consciousness writing is a literary device which seeks to portray an individual’s point of view by giving the written equivalent of the character’s thought processes, either in a loose interior monologue, or in connection to his or her sensory reactions to external occurrences. In the second (literary) sense, stream of consciousness is a special style of interior monologue: while an interior monologue always presents a character’s thoughts ‘directly’, without the apparent intervention of a summarising and selecting narrator, it does not necessarily mingle them with impressions and perceptions, nor does it necessarily violate the norms of grammar, syntax, and logic; but the stream of consciousness technique also does one or both of these things in its quest to capture the character’s experience/s of reality in the moment. In literature, SoC can be described as narrative technique in non-dramatic fiction intended to render the flow of myriad impressions — visual, auditory, tactile, associative, and subliminal — that impinge on an individual consciousness. To represent the mind at work, a writer may incorporate snatches of thought and grammatical constructions that do not seem coherent because they are based on the free association of ideas and images. A further definition of SoC in literature is given as, “a technique that records the multifarious thoughts and feelings of a character without regard to logical argument or narrative sequence. The writer attempts by the stream of consciousness to reflect all the forces, external and internal, influencing the psychology of a character at a single moment.” Symbolism, born in the late nineteenth-century, was an art movement of French and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts. Symbolism was largely a reaction against Naturalism and Realism, anti-idealistic movements which attempted to capture reality in its gritty particularity, and to elevate the humble and the ordinary over the ideal. These movements invited a reaction in favour of spirituality, the imagination, and dreams; the path to Symbolism begins with that reaction. Some writers, such as Joris-Karl Huysmans, began as naturalists before moving in the direction of Symbolism; for Huysmans, this change reflected his awakening interest in religion and spirituality. The Symbolist poets wished to liberate techniques of versification in order to allow greater room for fluidity, and as such were aligned with the movement towards free verse, a direction very much in evidence in the poems of Gustave Kahn and Ezra Pound. Symbolist poems sought to evoke, rather than to describe; symbolic imagery was used to signify the state of the poet’s soul. Synesthesia was a prized experience; poets sought to identify and confound the separate senses of scent, sound, and colour. In Baudelaire’s poem Correspondences which also speaks tellingly of forêts de symboles or forests of symbols the different senses are expressed: There are perfumes that are fresh like children’s flesh, sweet like oboes, green like meadows And others, corrupt, rich, and triumphant, The third movement, surrealism, is a cultural movement that began in the early 1920s, and is best known for the visual artworks and writings of the group members. Surrealist works feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur; however, many Surrealist artists and writers regard their work as an expression of the philosophical movement first and foremost, with the works being an artifact. Leader André Breton was explicit in his assertion that Surrealism was above all a revolutionary movement. Surrealism developed out of the Dada activities of World War I and the most important centre of the movement was Paris. World War I scattered the writers and artists who had been based in Paris, and while away from Paris many involved themselves in the Dada movement, believing that excessive rational thought and bourgeois values had brought the terrifying conflict upon the world. The Dadaists protested with anti-rational anti-art gatherings, performances, writing and art works. After the war when they returned to Paris the Dada activities continued. During the war Surrealism’s soon-to-be leader André Breton, who had trained in medicine and psychiatry, served in a neurological hospital where he used the psychoanalytic methods of Sigmund Freud on soldiers who were shell-shocked. He also met the young writer Jacques Vaché and felt that he was the spiritual son of writer and ‘pataphysician Alfred Jarry, and he came to admire the young writer’s anti-social attitude and disdain for established artistic tradition. Back in Paris, Breton joined in the Dada activities and also started the literary journal Littérature along with Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault. They began experimenting with automatic writing, that is, spontaneously writing without censoring their thoughts—and published the “automatic” writings. They continued the automatic writing, gathering more artists and writers into the group, and coming to believe that automatism was a better tactic for societal change than the Dada attack on prevailing values. Breton proclaimed, the true aim of Surrealism is “long live the social revolution, and it alone!” To this goal, at various times; surrealists aligned with communism and anarchism. Surrealism is seen as pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought. Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation. As a philosophy, surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought. Many significant literary movements in the later half of the 20th century were directly or indirectly influenced by Surrealism. This period is known as the Post-modern era; though there’s no widely agreed upon central definition of Postmodernism, many themes and techniques commonly identified as Postmodern are nearly identical to Surrealism. Perhaps the writers within the Post-modern era who have the most in common with Surrealism are the playwrights of Theatre of the Absurd. Samuel Beckett was also fond of Surrealists, even translating much of the poetry into English; he may have had closer ties had the Surrealists not been critical of Beckett’s mentor and friend James Joyce. Many writers from and associated with the Beat Generation were influenced greatly by Surrealists (an example can be drawn from Philip Lamantia and Ted Joans, who are often categorised as both Beat and Surrealist writers.) Many other Beat writers claimed Surrealism as a significant influence. A few examples include Bob Kaufman, Gregory Corso, and Allen Ginsberg. In popular culture much of the stream of consciousness song writing of the young Bob Dylan (1960s) and including some of Dylan’s more recent writing as well, (mid – 1980s-2006) clearly have Surrealist connections and undertones. The prominence of Magic Realism in Latin American literature is often credited in some part to the direct influence of Surrealism on Latin American artists (Frida Kahlo, for example). Dadaism or Dada is a post-World War I cultural movement in visual art as well as literature (mainly poetry), theatre and graphic design. The movement was, among other things, a protest against the barbarism of the War and what Dadaists believed was an oppressive intellectual rigidity in both art and everyday society; its works were characterized by a deliberate irrationality and the rejection of the prevailing standards of art. It influenced later movements including Surrealism. According to its proponents, Dada was not art; it was anti-art. For everything that art stood for, Dada was to represent the opposite. Where art was concerned with aesthetics, Dada ignored them. If art is to have at least an implicit or latent message, Dada strives to have no meaning–interpretation of Dada is dependent entirely on the viewer. If art is to appeal to sensibilities, Dada offends. Perhaps it is then ironic that Dada is an influential movement in Modern art. Dada became a commentary on art and the world, thus becoming art itself. The artists of the Dada movement had become disillusioned by art, art history and history in general. Many of them were veterans of World War I and had grown cynical of humanity after seeing what men were capable of doing to each other on the battlefields of Europe. Thus they became attracted to a nihilistic view of the world (they thought that nothing mankind had achieved was worthwhile, not even art), and created art in which chance and randomness formed the basis of creation. The basis of Dada is nonsense. With the order of the world destroyed by World War I, Dada was a way to express the confusion that was felt by many people as their world was turned upside down. In short, existence had no meaning for many of the shell-shocked individuals of the post-war era. Dadaism was followed by Existentialism which posits that individuals create the meaning and essence of their lives, as opposed to it being created for them by deities or authorities or defined for them by philosophical or theological doctrines. The movement took explicit form as a philosophical current in continental philosophy, first in the work of Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers in the 1930s in Germany, and then in the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir in the 1940s and 1950s in France. Their work focused on such themes as “dread, boredom, alienation, the absurd, freedom, commitment, and nothingness” as fundamental to human existence. Walter Kaufmann described existentialism as “The refusal to belong to any school of thought, the repudiation of the adequacy of any body of beliefs whatever, and especially of systems, and a marked dissatisfaction with traditional philosophy as superficial, academic, and remote from life.” A central proposition of existentialism is that existence precedes essence. This amounts to the assertion that the outer manifestation (existence) of an entity is more determinative than its inner being (essence). Asserting that “existence precedes essence” is a rebellion against Plato’s philosophy that posits Form of an entity as the true reality behind appearances of things in the world. Bad Faith is seen as any denial of free will by lying to oneself about one’s self and freedom. This can take many forms, from convincing oneself that some form of determinism is true, to a sort of mimicry where one acts as one should. How one should act is often determined by an image one has of how one such as oneself (say, a bank manager) acts. This image usually corresponds to some sort of social norm. Emphasising action, freedom, and decision as fundamental, existentialists oppose themselves to rationalism and positivism. That is, they argue against definitions of human beings as primarily rational. Rather, existentialists look at where people find meaning. Existentialism asserts that people actually make decisions based on what has meaning to them rather than what is rational. The notion of the Absurd contains the idea that there is no meaning to be found in the world beyond what meaning we give to it. This meaninglessness also encompasses the amorality or ‘unfairness’ of the world. This contrasts with ‘karmic’ ways of thinking in which “bad things don’t happen to good people”; to the world, metaphorically speaking, there is no such thing as a good person or a bad thing; what happens occurs in its time, and it may just as well happen to a good person as to a bad person. The changes in thought patterns across the ages reveal one aspect of literature the world in the present seeks to deny: literature serves as the definitive element to any culture in any age. All that is there finds its real description in the literature written at any given point in history, and this serves the world to have a better understanding of the changes in thought patterns and behaviours in human society as time progresses. Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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