Sunday, April 26, 2015

Modernism

Modernism

19th Century AC - 20th Century AC
Modernism was a political and cultural movement that aimed to transform society: the modernists, from the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, strived to accomplish a modern and national culture. It was a very eclectic movement in which we can point out figures such as Jaume Brossa, Santiago Rusiñol, Víctor Català and Joan Maragall.
Modernism that was forged at the beginning of the last decade of the nineteenth century and would last until the first decade of the twentieth, would bring forth a transformation that, in the words of Joan Fuster would turn an until then regional and traditional culture, into a national and modern one. The transcendence of this change already warned us that this was not merely an aesthetic option, but a deep-rooted ideological option in the wide sense of the term that desired to break with the old notions held by the previous generation. The objective was, therefore, the complete modernisation of the culture through the imposition of new forms and ideas that, although they outweighed naturalist positivism and the Renaissance, at the same time, invalidated the accepted social and artistic values. In order to do this, Modernism had to look at itself in the mirror of the most advanced European cultures (mainly that of France) in order to create an art, literature, and a way of thinking, that verified accordance with this criteria of modernity, and would allow a general change of society’s structure.
The first steps towards this change can be found within the progressive Catalanism movement founded by the followers of Valentí Almirall, a section of which, captained by Ramon D. Perés, would make the first period of ‘L’Avens’ (1881-1884) possible. Critics such as Josep Yxart and Joan Sardà, who would be well established in the Restoration movement’s cultural flanks, but also attentive of the new proposals, would head this first literary circle. This would still be an ill-defined circle who would, however, formulate the embryo of some of the later constants of the movement.
It would be, though, during the second period of the magazine, now called ‘L’Avenç’ (1889-1893) that we can begin to sharply distinguish the reach of the modernist attitude, bluntly deliniated by such articles as the now classic ‘Viure del passat’ [Live off the past], by Jaume Brossa. Joaquim Casas-Carbó and Jaume Massó Torrents would remodel the magazine which Alexandre Cortada, Raimon Casellas and Brossa himself would join not long after, giving it its competitive tone that from that moment onwards would become characteristic. The adoption of the new linguistic model was also making a statement: their decision to abide by the campaign of linguistic reform which is seen by the change in the magazine’s name, proving they were in favour of a unitary Catalan, valid for all erudite uses, an option that not only defined their modernity, but also the national reach of their aspirations.
‘L’Avenç’ episode, which would last until 1893, marked a fundamental aim: the first step towards the forming of a modern intellectuality. However, the anarchic-like drifting of some of the magazine’s members, especially Brossa and Pere Coromines, and the subsequent repression which would culminate in the process of Montjuïc, halted its continuity and favoured the internal disagreements and would later precipitate the departure of these first intellectuals to pastures new.
The sector headed by Brossa and Cortada, whose ideals were essential and individual, and who would introduce us to Ibsen and Nietzsche, would have a great influence during this stage. However, after leaving the group gathered around ‘L’Avenç’, their influence would lessen, and alternative ways to understand Modernism would take centre stage, like those of Santiago Rusiñol, indebted to decadent symbolism, or those of Joan Maragall, which would fluctuate a lot more, and even though he defended a critical view of life, he was less competitive, and had the advantage of being highly rated in the conservative bourgeoisie’s public opinion (Maragall would spread his ideas through the ‘Diario de Barcelona’). Raimon Casellas would, at the same time, initiate an even wider broadcasting of the modernist ideas in the pages of ‘La Vanguardia’, where he worked as an art critic. The two most differentiated Modernist tendencies shared the same desire to conform to the European customs and ideals, as a way of social and cultural regeneration; however, they still reflected a deep incoherence: while some proposed social intervention, others chose to reject society. This diversification of the Modernist movement after 1893, would have a visible aesthetic correlative which would favour detachment, mainly in the forms used: whereas the sector that backed regeneration, dominated by Jaume Brossa, would continue in the essential line initiated in ‘L’Avenç’. Santiago Rusiñol and Raimon Casellas would claim, each using their own means, an aesthetically inspired option that would lead to the concept of Art for Art. Art would become, for these two intellectuals, a way of escaping the servitudes of the industrial society and a consolation for the bourgeoisie mentality, which was mercantile and lacking in refinement. One of the paradigmatic events of this sector can be found in the Modernist Festivals held in Sitges, where the sublimation of art was guaranteed due to the assistance of important international figures that they would introduce to the Peninsula for the first time. Of these visiting intellectuals, the most important is Maurice Maeterlinck, a Belgian playwright of French inspired expression who, mainly with ‘The intruder’ (which debuted in a Catalan version during the second Modernist Festival in 1893), would leave an indelible mark on the authors, who were fascinated by the evocative possibilities of symbolist dramatics.
If ‘L’Avenç’ had been the first vehicle of modernist expression, the magazine ‘Catalònia’ would, in a certain sense, take over its reins from 1898 until 1900, guided by a desire to rebuild the movement. The generalised moderation of the ideological attitudes and the liaising with the bourgeoisie would enable them to overcome, at least in the theoretical sense, the discrepancies that had arisen between those in favour of regeneration and those in favour of aesthetics. Furthermore, ‘Catalònia’ would be that medium which best reflected the desire to form a common intellectual front with the pretension to participate in public life. The creation, soon afterwards of the weekly publication ‘Joventut’ (1900-1906), is indicative of the strengthening of the ties with left-wing political Catalanism, as well as being the testimony of a period artistically, and literarily characterised by eclecticism in the acceptance of aesthetic models, in accordance with the variety of models intrinsic to modernist reasoning.
One has spoken of the later dissolution of Modernism amidst Catalanism: the transformation of ‘Joventut’ into ‘El Poble Català’ proves, in a certain way, that this dissolution occurred. Gabriel Alomar or Joan Maragall (as well as Eugeni d’Ors who would shortly be chosen to join the ranks of ‘La Veu de Catalunya’) would collaborate with ‘El Poble Català’. Therefore, it is representative of the left-wing sector in the polarization of political Catalanism during the first years of the century, at a time when the incipient ‘Noucentisme’ had started to exert a certain pressure and prove its capacity to liaise with the nation’s conservative politics.
However, it would be during these years that Modernism would give its best quality literary fruits: with regards to novel, two of the foremost works of the movement are from 1901 (‘Els sots feréstecs’ [The wild pits], by Raimon Casellas) and from 1905 (‘Solitud’ [Solitude], by Víctor Català). These are novels that, even though they had abandoned the naturalist outlook, reflected the conflict between individual and surroundings, using symbolic resources which aimed to heighten the meaning, and an exploitation of subjectivity and of a very connotative, and suggestive nature of language. Josep Pous Pagès’ contribution, which is later in the form of ‘La vida i la mort d’en Jordi Fraginals’ [Jordi Fraginals life and death] (1912), would confirm (and conclude) the incidence of this sort of starter novel, as being very well suited to the time.
Short narrative would substantiate a notable array of styles and aesthetical tendencies: in ‘Drames rurals’ [Rural dramas], Víctor Català favoured tragically intense cosmic determination; however, in ‘Les multituds’ [The crowds], Raimon Casellas preferred the monographic treatment of the confrontation between the individual and society. Not forgetting the decadent proposals of Prudenci Bertrana (‘Josafat’) or Miquel de Palol (‘Camí de llum’ [Path of light]), or those proposals of a satiric nature or inspired on local traditions like ‘L’auca del senyor Esteve’ [Mr. Esteve’s tale], by Santiago Rusiñol. Modernism would have a wide enough reach to welcome later narrative writers such as Joaquim Ruyra (‘Marines i boscatges’ [Coasts and forests] from 1903), who would use many of the characteristic motives of the movement – such as the way he would treat nature –, often in clearly decadent forms and demonstrating an enormous capacity for detail and formal exigency which were previously unknown.
Theatre was, perhaps, the genre that best reflected the existence of the two differentiated tendencies to which we have alluded: the more essential, inspired by Ibsen, and mainly represented by Ignasi Iglésias and Joan Puig Ferreter, and the symbolist used, amongst others, by Santiago Rusiñol and by the soul of the group ‘Teatre Íntim’ [Intimate Theatre], Adrià Gual.
Last but not least, we must point out that Modernist poetry was determined, for the most part, by Joan Maragall: it was he who introduced most of German poetry (Goethe, Novalis, Nietzche) and he who renewed the theoretical and formal basis of the genre in Catalonia, which was still greatly conditioned by the ‘Renaixença’s ‘floralisme’ [flowerly] and ‘rhetoricism’. Maragall would defend spontaneity and the research for a simplicity that, incarnated in a programmatic way in his ‘teoria de la paraula viva’ [theory of the living word], would turn into a literary school. The rejection of the grand eloquence, and the adoption of a naturalness that came from personal experience are very visible elements of his language, which is closer to colloquial speech and detached from formal ties. Together with this, and in accordance with his messianic concept of poets, his works would be an exponent of vitality, even more so after symbolism had lessened the social dimension of poetry. The recuperation of a popular poetry and, furthermore, of the later Verdaguer by the Modernists, would fit-in with the process to revalue the emblematical, social, and national strength of the word. It would be necessary, therefore, to tend towards spontaneity, which guaranteed the authenticity and sincerity of the artist above the static conventions of the genre. Even though this tendency favoured the emergence of a great number of assistants, not always literarily convincing, there was also a counter reaction that rooted for the adoption of classic-like and cultural forms, because they believed in the weight of the erudite language and the ingenious forms. This sector, which would be heavily influenced by French Parnassians, would have such followers as Gabriel Alomar or Jeroni Zanné. The differences between the groups would become specified in the so called ‘batalla del sonet’ [battle of the sonnet] which would establish the basis of a conflict that later, the ‘Noucentisme’ would claim as its own, on the side of ingeniousness and under the auspices of Ors’ classicism. There were still some faithful followers of French symbolism (Miquel de Palol or Ramon Vinyes) and others, who were inspired by the pre-Raphaelite models (Alexandre de Riquer or Xavier Viura), as well as the perennial contribution of the ‘Escola Mallorquina’ [Majorcan School]. All in all, we possess an example of the vivid diversity that confirms the richness of Modernism.

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