Modernism, which emerged out of an “immense panorama of futility and anarchy“, rightly represented in Klee’s painting, The Angel of History, found its radical expression in literature through the techniques of impressionism and subjectivity as exemplified in the stream-of-consciousness method against the conventional omniscient third person narrator.
Modernist literature did not employ continuous narratives, fixed points of view and clear cut moral positions. It employed the technical qualities like paradox, irony and ambiguity praised by the New Critics. Writers like Virginia Woolf and DH Lawrence wrote poetic prose and prosaic poetry.
These writers highlighted self-reflexivity and self-consciousness, employing fragmentation and collage as illustrated in The Waste Land. The constituent sections of The Waste Land: “The Burial of the Dead”, “A Game of Chess”, “The Fire Sermon”, “Death by Water” and “What the Thunder Said” are discontinuous in theme and reveal the fractured structure of the poem, testifying the fragmentation and disillusionment of the modern society, consequent of the devastating experiences of the World War I.
The mythical and multi-perspectival narrator, Tiresias, serves to connect the five disjoint sections in a unifying voice, echoing the modernist desire to find unity and coherence amidst apparent fragmentation.
The use of mythic method by TS Eliot, James Joyce, Eugene O’ Neill, WB Yeats and other emerges as a desperate attempt to give “shape and significance to the contemporary fragmented reality”. Such fragmentary technique is also employed by William Faulkner in The Sound and the Fury in the multiple ambiguous representation of the character Caddy.