Guilt And Contrition
Aside from innovation, propaganda, and linguistic debate, the twentieth century was an age of guilt and contrition. The guilt was based on a dawning awareness of the elitism of Western culture. Contrition took the form of an eagerness to make good the oversight by broadening the definition of literature and including in its field hitherto silent minorities whose voices initially took the form of protest, their cultures having been so long patronized that the "imaginative" content needed longer to emerge. In 1925 the educator and critic Alain Locke (1885–1954) issued a manifesto to young black American artists, challenging them to draw upon the power of African art as avant-garde artists in Europe had done. However, many of those to whom he appealed had not even been to Africa, and to them it was as much a place of fantasy as it was to the white men. Africa was grasped in terms of distance, vastness, and a savage sensuality—qualities that writers like D. H. Lawrence (1885–1930) had strained to capture. Negritude had its origin in the Caribbean and was defined by poets like Léopold Sédar Senghor, who conveyed a sense of anger and injustice in torn, surreal images.
Another minority impacting on current thought were women writers who mobilized to form a cultural force after World War II, key texts being Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex (1949) and Kate Millet's Sexual Politics (1970). The matter had earlier been raised in Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (1929), but the tone was now combative, attacking the patriarchal roots of the Western canon and drawing attention to female writers whose stature had been overlooked or denied. Such efforts stimulated a massive wave of gender-based critiques—gynocriticism—that analyzed and tried to reshape the culture that, as they saw it, was based on male bias and partiality.
With the interest in hitherto marginalized groups and communities came an increased recognition of the political and economic factors that permeate culture and leave their impress. Insights like these gave rise to the New Historicism, a mainly American school of criticism, Marxist in flavor, that used texts to pinpoint the political and social conditions, the ideologies and judgments that, inevitably, color and bias writing—in opposition to the Romantic view of the author being a wellspring of unpolluted inspiration. The critic analyzes oddments, small, previously ignored details and facts, typical yet eloquent, exposing literature as a tool of history.
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