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Modernism  
 
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Despite the widespread in the Modernist movement, several of its practitioners were homosexual, some of them wrote openly about homosexuality, and the groundwork was laid for the gay liberation movement.

A major cultural and artistic movement dominating the Western world from approximately 1890 to 1940, depending on the country, modernism is now recognized as one of the most creative periods in human history, worthy of being discussed alongside Periclean Athens and the European Renaissance. No art was left untouched, and most were transformed by this international movement.

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The Characteristics of Modernism

It is generally agreed that the movement was cross-disciplinary, dominated by its own myth of discontinuity, fully urban and technological in nature, extremely self-conscious in its avant-garde and experimental facets, and characterized by both an elitist sensibility and an egotistical valuing of the self.

These last two features offended many at the time and others ever since, even more so than did its insistent questioning of received values and conventions, its revolutionary manifestos, and its outright rejection of the weight of conservative conventions and mores that had been gathering force in Europe since the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

Moreover, as with Classical Athens and Renaissance Europe, much of the dynamism of modernism came from a deep pessimism and a fascination with irrational forces. As early as 1891, Thomas Hardy had labeled the new cultural restiveness "the ache of modernism," a label that became more and more appropriate as modernism reached its heights during the 1920s.

Modernism in the Arts

In music, the pounding rhythms of Igor Stravinsky and the atonalities of Arnold Schoenberg displaced the swelling melodies of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

In painting, the cubism of Pablo Picasso and the abstractions of Wassily Kandinsky displaced the perspectivism, representationalism, and impressionism of Gustave Courbet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, and Edouard Manet.

In sculpture, the polished forms of Constantin Brancusi and the emaciated figures of Alberto Giacometti displaced the public monumentalism and realism of works such as George Grey Barnard's Struggle of the Two Natures in Man (1888-1894) and Sir Edwin Landseer's Trafalgar Square lions (1858-1863).

In literature, the experimentalism of James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Ernest Hemingway, the temporal fragmentations of Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, and T. S. Eliot, the interiority of the characters of Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust, and Thomas Mann emphatically displaced the chronologically organized, plot-driven, social novels of the nineteenth century.

Repudiating the Past

Whatever the actualities, modernism perceived itself as warring against continuity, tradition, and a sense of the past. In many ways, modernism styled itself as an arrogant repudiation of the past: Filippio Marinetti, the leading Italian futurist, for instance, proposed that museums be utterly destroyed so that the new century could escape the burden of the past.

These displacements, however, did not occur without battles of one kind or another. The premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in Paris in 1912 quite literally led to a riot in the theater.

Homophobia among the Modernists

At first, modernism as a historical period does not appear friendly to either homosexuals or lesbians. After all, modernism is bounded by the 1895 London trial of Oscar Wilde, with one London newspaper reporting that Wilde had been "charged with one of the most heinous crimes that can be alleged against a man--a crime too horrible and too revolting to be spoken of even by man" and ended with homosexuals wearing pink triangles joining millions of others who had been marked for extermination in the Nazi death camps.

And although lesbian behavior was not proscribed in numerous countries at this time, the obscenity trial of Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness in London in 1928 came as a public condemnation of lesbianism.

These actions, moreover, were not merely retrograde battles mounted by the old culture; modernism itself had an ugly subtext of sexism, homophobia, antisemitism, and at times, fascism. A number of modernist voices condemned homosexuals and lesbians.

Ezra Pound placed a coarse homophobic statement in the twelfth of his Cantos, and Wyndham Lewis savagely caricatured the homosexuality of the Bloomsbury Group in his novel The Apes of God (1930). Numerous painters and writers, among them Marinetti, Pablo Picasso, and Marcel Duchamp, were hostile to homosexuality.

Among the English, conflicts between the heterosexual and the homosexual worlds may best be seen in D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love (1922), especially in the nude wrestling scene between Rupert Birkin and Gerald Crich, mirroring Lawrence's own troubled sexuality.

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