Ástráður Eysteinsson: Modernism and Narrative Crises
Among the defining features of modernist literature is the complication, if not breakdown, of narratives; not necessarily of sequentiality as such, but of prevalent narrative referenciality, including the various codes and contracts involving both receivers and makers of literature. While it has often been assumed that such a rupture is a sign of the aesthetic sovereignty of modernist works, it also results in a crisis and in various attempts to locate the links between modernist expression and the historical context: the modernity residing in and reflected by such works. As “modernism” assumes greater significance as a concept about modern literature, the history of modernism moves along an increasing number of tracks, involving different cultures, countries and languages. Thus a new crisis emerges, different from, yet related to, the one already mentioned. How can we tell the story/history of modernism? What are its geographical and historical parameters and what is the point of view at each narrative juncture? This essay inquires into the features and historical demarcations of modernism, especially in relation to periodization and to social discourse and literary tradition, in particular realist narratives and modes of expression.
Keywords: modernism, realism, narrative crisis, literary tradition, periods in literary history, history of research