New Modernist Manifesto – A Theory by Phillipe Chatelain


The New Modernist Manifesto

Paper beats rock. Computer keys beat paper.

When Michael Pitter and I decided to put together a literary magazine we knew that it would not stick without a distinct focus, something that could help not only identify our magazine but also keep it on the right track. Michael writes critically, with a splash of prose here and there. I write poetry, pretty exclusively, and every so often I’ll have a burst of critical theory that needs to be written down. That is what caused my essay “Tupac Shakur: A Rapper’s Epitome of Whitmanianism and the Answer to Langston Hughes.” I have always had an interest in Walt Whitman and his early Modernist influence, and what followed was a strong attraction to the works of Dickinson, O’Hara, and Ginsberg. Modernists and Beats. I lived vicariously through Ginsberg’s lines of plight and pleasure sprinkled all over his oeuvre and his work was truly a point of change in the trajectory of my own work.

As the literary magazine and website started to take shape I reached out to another friend of mine, Jessica Gawrych, to help contribute. She is a friend and colleague from Boston University, and we have had fluid correspondence regarding some of our own poetic endeavors. She agreed emphatically to contribute to our blog and what arose was the wonderful piece entitled “Unsaved Post.” Upon reading this poem, I was sent to think back at how it could relate to the entire “focus” that Michael and I wanted for our magazine.

In many ways Jessica gave us, on her very first try, a poem that gives one accurate interpretation of this focus. Michael and I decided that our generation, young writers starting to become active in the ‘00s and ‘10s, are at a loss for meaningful publication in a world where anything can become published independently and instantly (ie. Twitter, Blogger, WordPress, Facebook). One may argue about the “meaningfulness” of said media, but that is not the center of this manifesto. As easily as it was to say I became infatuated with the “Modernist” movement or the “Beat Generation,” Michael and I wanted to determine what demonym would be appropriate for our rising population. Given that our most recent periodization came in the form of “Post-Modernism,” we were left to think: what comes after post-modernism? Jessica Gawrych’s poem “Unsaved Post” gives a defining critique of our generation, delineating our break from the past traditions and realignment to Modernist conventions, ultimately exemplifying what we’d like to call New Modernism.

I had to do some research to help situate myself in the conversation of “New Modernism” and it took me throughout the world. Well, it was probably the other way around. I had the privilege of living in Madrid, Spain for five months and in that time I was able to analyze the state of art in Europe to find common denominators with the state of art in the United States. Conversations with musicians, artists, performers, alike made me draw the same conclusion: art isn’t changing, but it’s collapsing. Let me explain. Visit after visit to the Prado in Madrid (both mandatory for my art class, and of my own touristic free will), made me realize that no matter how the art changes, advances in technique and tools, we tend to do the same things.

This is not a simple conclusion that “history repeats itself” but rather a less passive ideology that we imitate history. It shows when writers like me find creative influences in our favorites. The breakthrough surpasses simply adding a “post-” and “new-” to every artistic movement in order to classify artists freely. Rather, the breakthrough regards the exponential advancement specifically in these aforementioned tools (see above: instant publication) which can make or break the entire organism that is ART as a whole. We stand in a moment in history where innovation is leading to diminishing wonder with regard to creation of sublime art. To put it another way, the “I could do that” factor of art, which feels close to zero while standing in a sala in the Prado, rises exponentially when sitting at a computer reading a poet’s blog post on WordPress, or scrolling through artist’s images made with Adobe Illustrator while on Tumblr.

In the New Modernism I propose, artists echo the plight and themes of the Modern and Post-Modern traditions but, through innovative lyrical styles derivative of mass media around them, they devise stark representations of the ephemeral world. These artists push the boundaries of the English language into a micro-world of sorts. A denouncement of what many call “txt-speak” and micro-media updates of the Twitter Generation renders one out-of-touch with changing times. Our generation is at the cusp of a reformation in stenography that, instead of solely trimming the English language for concision to a 140-character limit, can be the cornerstone of the written art for future generations. The social media and telecom world in which we currently live is branding a new breed of writers and artists that internalize these forms of mass production of creativity. It not only brings a new literary form to light, but it arguably changes the very substance of the art as well as its distribution. This, reader, is New Modernism.

(In the October 2012 issue of In Parentheses, I explore this hypothesis further, utilizing “Unsaved Post” as a direct example of my theory and A Poetics of Postmodernism by Linda Hutcheon, a Canadian literary critic who helped categorize the Post-Modern. Current issue of IP available here.)

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