Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Teaching the American Twenties: Exploring the Decade through Literature and Art

New Forms, New Ideas


'What is that noise?'
The wind under the door.
'What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?'
Nothing again nothing.
'You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land (1922)

After the war, the influence of international literary movements on the various homegrown American poetic and literary movements resulted in the triumph of high literary Modernism.

Modernism in art and literature is typified by the search for new forms and new ideas, a deep concern with the value of art and its practitioners, an emphasis on the interconnection of all fields—literature, music, visual art, and theater—and an overwhelming sense of discontinuity, ambiguity, and the non-linear, often coupled with despair.

The new sounds of jazz permeated the era, shaking off the melancholy blues and becoming the first internationally recognized American music. Manifestos declared a wide variety of techniques in art, literature, and poetry, and in some sense it was technique itself that most interested the artists. The often manipulative genius of Ezra Pound was everywhere found at the beginning or bottom of things, best seen in his own Cantos, which were published several times in the Twenties, as was T. S. Eliot's highly influential The Waste Land.

In his New York galleries, Alfred Steiglitz embodied the zeitgeist in the visual art community, nurturing the careers of the founders of the American twentieth-century art movement even before the eye-popping 1913 "Armory Show" of then-contemporary European and American art captivated American visual consciousness.

<em>Blast</em> [cover]
Blast [cover]
Ezra Pound Wyndham Lewis

Cover of Blast, July 1915.

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