“Modernist texts critique aspects of modernity.” Discuss how composers manipulate and appropriate textual forms and features in their responses to modern culture and values.
Modernity was a period that can be loosely defined as unconventional, progressive, unveiling the barrier of propaganda, cultural disenchantment and violent. Throughout the period, many aspects affected how composers viewed the world. With effects of war, effects of industrialisation and the corruption of political power, many composers of the time believed that they had to be the “conscience of society”. Through this idea, we have Metropolis, which is a 1927 German expressionism film directed by Fritz Lang; 1984, which was written in 1948 by George Orwell of a futuristic totalitarian society; and the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, which was written by T.S. Eliot in 1911, that examines the tortured psyche of the typical modern man. These texts all explore three major themes of modernist culture: dystopia, class division and rebellion.
While a utopia is viewed as the ultimate idealistic existence of humanity, a dystopia is the opposite, with a description of a bleak world with suffering, violence and oppression. Around the time 1984 was written, society had fears of the rise of totalitarianism and authoritarianism power in their countries, where leaders would promote an idealistic utopia to their people, but rather would oppress the freedom and liberty of their people. Orwell believed that it was his duty as a composer to be the “conscience of society”, and to raise awareness for the political oppression of the people under these systems. In the novel 1984, there is one dominant figure in the book, and is only known as “Big Brother”, the despotic leader of the Party, who can be compared to Stalin. This party has total control of their people in the way they think, the way they act and the language they speak. However through their total control and ideal utopia they are also depriving the core of humanity and there is essentially no freedom whatsoever in this dystopia. "The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed--would have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper--the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. (p. 22)" This quote basically gives us an insight into one aspect of control that the leaders possess in the dystopian society. Through this control, it is evident that this world would not be a very pleasant and ideal place to live in. Orwell’s appropriation of texts like the “communist manifesto” also exhibits the oppression and criticism of the world in the 1940s. Orwell through writing 1984 is critiquing the totalitarian rule of society through the dystopia in 1984, and the oppression it will cause. He believes that if leaders like Stalin are allowed too much power, then the dystopia in 1984 might become a realistic but dreaded future.
Fritz Lang’s movie Metropolis is also an example of a dystopian vision. Metropolis is a German expressionist movie that is based on two main classes of society. On one end is the rich and high class of people, who live in the ‘The Futuristic City’ and on the other end, is the working class, who live deep underground, away from society. The dystopia of Metropolis can be compared with the events in Germany at the time. They faced major issues with poverty and conflict post World War I. Everything the Germans have come to believe about themselves and their government was destroyed. Due to the chaotic and dark times in Germany, art moved to a phase where it was expressionistic, as a reaction against the bourgeois. Lang created Metropolis a vision of the future. Throughout the film, we see that this world is a dystopian society as the rich become richer and the poor become poorer. This can be seen through the need of the working class to sustain the upper class. The upper class live in a city with towering skyscrapers, vast wealth and...
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