The Modernist writers — Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Marcel Proust and all those others that we associate with the Jazz Age — were ostensibly concerned with the modern way of doing things. Ezra Pound’s cry of “make it new!” was taken up in their penchant for motor cars, the latest cocktail and prose that took on the rambling consciousness.
Look under the surface, though, and we find that these writings were a reaction to the deep social changes of the day. Particularly in the years between the First and Second World War, the times were uncertain and constantly shifting, especially in the wake of the industrial revolution and mechanization of the workplace. One could not rely upon the day-to-day and the “bright young things” of the era were thrown into turmoil. With little control of society or work, they turned to parties, champagne and gossip. Many of the modernist writers were also journalists, calling in their stories of salacious goings on at celebrations across town. Of course there was nothing to celebrate. Whilst we might aspire to the golden age of Gatsby today, the modernists hearkened back to even earlier eras. They sought opulence, liberation and a chance to no longer be the children of war.
Today, we see another group seeking a distant age. With their polaroid cameras, fixie bikes and lens-less glasses, hipsters look for a time when things were simpler, machines hadn’t taken over, and one could wear clashing prints with impunity. And is it any wonder? With a global economic crisis, multiple international conflicts and an impending sense of doom sweeping across us all, who among us can say they haven’t longed for the days of grainy photos and home-cooked apple pie after a day on the fields.
We might mock hipsters for their semi-antiquated, knitted ways but they might just be the modernists of today. Let’s just hope they’re all writing some great books.