The age of anxiety or Modernism - Cultural background

The cultural climate of the early 20th century witnessed a deep change, similar to a revolution, both in thought and feeling. The positivistic faith in progress and science had led Victorian people to believe that all human problems would be solved, but the experience of the I World War caused disillusion and frustration. Moreover an entire system of thought was dismantled by scientific, political and psychological theories and was characterized by experimentation in all forms of artistic expression from literature (Joyce, Woolf), to painting (Picasso, Boccioni, Dalì) to architecture (Art Decò, Gaudì) the most important influences were:
· the ideas introduced by S. Freud in his “Interpretation of Dreams” in which he explained that the development of the human psyche was deeply influenced by the subconscious. He also stated that the super-ego, that is to say the influences imposed by society, education, moral laws, could distort man’s behaviour. His method of investigation of the human mind based on the analysis of dreams and the concept of free association influenced the narrative techniques of the writers of modern age;
· the theory of relativity introduced by A. Einstein, according to which time and space were subjective dimensions, shook the solidity of scientific certainties and resulted in verbal experimentation and exploration of memory in literature, rebellion against perspective in art, revolution of tone, rhythm and harmony in music;
· the new idea of time conceived by the French philosopher H. Bergson who made a distinction between historical time which is external and linear, and psychological time which is internal, subjective and emotional.

In this situation intellectuals felt deprived of all the certainties, reference points and that caused a deep feeling of anxiety, isolation and alienation. In this second part of the century (50s), after the II World War when everything was destruction and reconstruction, the welfare state had created an atmosphere of hope and expectation of social justice which was disappointed. Social criticism found spokesmen in a group of writers known as the “Angry Young Men” whose works voiced the frustration and disillusion of the post-war young generation (Osborne).

In the 50s and the 60s there was the so called cultural revolution which was affected by mass society and mass media. Revolution in music with rock and roll and groups such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Their quest for self-expression and liberation led to the use of drugs, sexual freedom, and free behaviour (mini-skirt, abortion, homosexual couples). The 70s, instead, were marked by the outburst of political violence, Terrorism mainly connected with the old question of Northern Ireland.

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Age of Anxiety