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JAMA Revisited
February 3, 2015

The Psychology of Modernism in Literature

JAMA. 2015;313(5):528. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.11562

The American visit of Miss Gertrude Stein has caused a new focusing of interest in the peculiar aberrations of the intellect exposed by the modern literati in some of their extraordinary performances. In an editorial entitled “Palilalia and Gertrude Stein,” The Journal1 pointed out that Miss Stein had probably been giving demonstrations of automatic writing carried on through a dissociation of personality. In a recent address, Prof. W. Langdon Brown2 of the University of Cambridge ventures some additional suggestions as to the responsibility for modernism or even “da-da-ism” in the recent output of many modern writers. He conceives, for example, that the writings of D. H. Lawrence begin with an angry reaction against the intellect and end up in literary movements which produce what is called baby talk. He asserts, moreover, that such writing communicates little to any one who does not possess the key. The inspiration wells up from the unconsciousness or at least the subconsciousness. These, however, are not intellectual processes, because the highest level of the brain selects the sensory impressions to which it will pay attention, and reason must arrange and select the messages from the emotional levels. An artist by judicial and intellectual arrangement of his material may be able to convey the thrill of his emotions. These modernists or futurists, however, endeavor to make us absorb the crude material that arises from their accomplishments without any such artistic treatment. As memories arise they create new memories and new associations, which are in most instances quite individual to the person who experiences them. Artists who include all these extraordinary manifestations of their memories do not supply us with the key, so that for many readers they speak a quite foreign language.

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