The term Modernism covers a variety (variety) of trends that developed throughout Europe and America in the early 20th century and are characterized by the break with the old traditional ideas and the experimentation in all forms of artistic expression. It spread after the first War World that had led to a disillusioned and cynical mood, in which everything was uncertain and reality seemed to have lost its solidity. So it was addressed by Auden "the age of anxiety", because is a period of rapid industrial development and technological changes, that brought to an isolation and an alienation that underlined the human impossibility of mastering the chaotic universe.
In this period artists began to take sides in political fight between right- and left- wing views. The Nazi expansion, together with economic depression and poor conditions for workers, led the majority of Modernists to turn to the political left and some of these intellectuals, during the Spanish Civil War, went to Spain to fight for the republican forces against the monarchical and fascist forces of Francisco Franco.
Modernism was a cosmopolitan movement that led many artists to leave their own cities and gather in the great cultural centres like Paris or Berlin.
It was greatly influenced by the theories of Freud* about the unconscious and of Einstein about the relativity that discarded the concepts of space and time, which he conceived of as subjective dimensions.
*Freud provided a new method of investigation of the human mind through the analysis of dreams and maintained that neurotic obsession are the manifestation of suppressed instincts that the conscious mind rejects as disgusting or criminal. In fact he divided the human mind into three parts: ego that is what we appear; id that is our irrational part, often repressed by us; super-ego that contains the constraints and the conventions imposed by society.
Another important contribution is given by Bergson that, influenced by the theories of Einstein, maintained that time isn't a chronological order of events, but it flows: we mix together past and present experiences and ideas. So, there is a distinction between historical time, which is external, linear like a pearl necklace, and measured in terms of space and time, and a psychological time, which is internal, subjective and measured by the relative emotional intensity of a moment.
The idea of time was questioned also by William James that did the metaphor of iceberg, maintaining that the appearance is only a small part of us, but there a big part that doesn't appear to the others. This author is important also because he coined the phrase "stream of consciousness" to define the continuous flow of thoughts and sensations in human mind. To express this physic phenomenon, writers of 20th century used the interior monologue, that represent the unspoken activity of the mind before it is ordered in speech.
The most important common characteristics of Modernists are:
• the break with traditional ideas;
• the fragmentation of space and time;
• the lack of plot, external descriptions, punctuation, chronological order, distinctions between past and present;
• the use of cinematic technique with fade out, zoom, flashback, flash-forward;
• the interest in characters' inner world
In this period there were many artistic movements too, as Fauvism, Cubism and Expressionism, that presents an image of the modern world, in which everything was uncertain and reality seemed to have lost its solidity, so also in the art there is a breaking up of forms and a displacement in perception. Cubism took this concept to extremes, breaking the subject into pieces and then recomposing it geometrically as in the works of Pablo Picasso. In music too, traditional harmony was abandoned for the dodecaphony of Arnold Schonberg. The Futurist movement, instead, reflects the extraordinary industrial development, making technological innovation and machines the subjects of work of arts, and celebrates the triumph of the modern over the ancient, abolishing the past and considering speed and change the most important virtues. While Dadaism, founded by Tzara and named by a random combination of letters, denies progress and knowledge and also morality and family values, cultivating destructiveness, randomness and incoherence. Some of its members have already joined the Surrealists, the most famous of whom are Dali, that bring in art the unconscious and the world of dreams, abolishing each past artistic convention and express some of radically new.