I have many things to write unto you
but I will not write with pen and ink
--JOHN the theologian
POETRY requires a mature audience ENTER only if you are 18+
JOHN HORVATH Jr
Century of Uncertainty
It is not to its proliferation of philosophical positions, critical theories, and poetic movements that the Twentieth Century is called a time of uncertainly.
Though they knew much about places (primarily from the televised reportage of war and disorder, especially the two global wars and the competition between East and West blocs), 20th Century civilization was undermined by transition more fundamental than that of positions, theories, and movements. The transition of which I write is threefold: causing estrangement, alienation, and a growing uncertainty; eventually these found their way into the literature of the time and into the fall of social institutions.
As the civilized world became increasingly urban, the Twentieth Century became estranged from nature. Few knew flower from weed; even fewer knew that the dandelion 'weed” cut from a lawn could be made wine. If, on the hoof, the 20th Century civilized rarely recognized their meat: except for the impoverished country folk, few knew that squirrel and dove, for example, were edible. And as farms became industrialized fewer and fewer country folk populated the civilized 20th Century. And those, like all of civilization, drank chemicals, even chemically enhanced water. Their foodstuffs became decorative, millet and purple potatoes, and cabbages, to name a few. Uncertainty in this realm is measured on the increasing complex ingredient labels government required on produce and products.
Poets of the early 20th Century wrote nostalgia about farm life and country living.
Frost and Sandburg in America led the way. But naturalism gave way to simply natural setting; the complexity of seeing nature scientifically created uncertainty.
Nature became simply another place and time. Robinson Jeffers, as did many by mid Twentieth Century, used animals as metaphors and psychological images.
As urban center grew into metropolis, Twentieth Century civilization became increasingly alienated from one and other because it was simply impossible to know them all. With cities counting in the millions and thousands and hundreds, Twentieth Century people became alien from their fellows. Thus too it was impossible to know the law as expanded for these millions, impossible even in social institutions to know all members.
The confessional poet (Sylvia Plath) and the highly personal (e.e. cummings) gave way to the idiosyncratic, the private, the ego. Of Late Twentieth Century poetry whose advocates were legend, sex and the basest language (Rap music) came to identify 20th Century civilization.
In alienation and estrangement was an ever increasing uncertainty, and, as the two progressed, 20th Century civilization became more and more uncertain about
Who we are (which psychologies and increasingly psychological literature attempted to answer);
What is proper (TS Eliot's decorum and the rise of cults seemed answers);
Where is truth (existentialism);
When to act (dramaturgy in literature and situational ethics in society);
How to act (nihilism and an increasingly basic social standard if standard it can be called -serial marriage gave way to simply living together – serially- and all manner of sexual practices accepted in public – dances that mimicked fornication, child molestation almost laughable in the courts. The list here is endless. Then, finally,
How to be ourselves (egotism) – 'because I write it , it is true';' what I dream is a poem'; how I feel makes me a poet. At the end of the Twentieth Century there is ample evidence of this in online 'poetry' groups of which the closer to mutual admiration society, the more popular.
Elsewhere I have discussed the primary movements: naturalism, modernism; humanism; and activism. And theories from Dreiser's Chemism to the Formalists and the Structuralists whose efforts failed to counter uncertainty with certainty. The second half of the Twentieth Century gave ever increasing ear to rhyme which was, though poorly used as surface structure alone, a certain element shared by a plethora of late Twentieth Century civilized poets and writers.
Estranged, alienated, uncertain 20th Century civilization slowly drifted into a lowest denominator social destruction wherein money became wealth, personality displaced faith and religion, education became primary even to the college level when many opened their doors to all admissions and offered almost a mini-institution of 'remediation'. Standards were political and momentary; success was elitism.
Facing so much uncertainty, individuals grew more and more private, unwilling to join large groups (though finding it nonetheless essential to do so, like anarchists joining in large organizations), and incommunicable to all but like-minded individuals.
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