The Age of Modernity—Art History

The age of realism raised the idea of what it meant to be modern. Alcoholism, prostitution, and rampant poverty were results of the industrial revolution. Art and architecture of the modernist period reflected the competing ideas about modernity when speaking of progress and decline for Western Civilization.

CREATION OF BARRIERS

Philosopher Georg Simmel addresses “the transition to the individualization of mental and psychic traits which the city occasions in proportion to its size” (134), suggesting “The same factors which have thus coalesced into the exactness and minute precision of the form of life have coalesced into a structure of the highest impersonality; on the other hand, they have promoted a highly personal subjectivity” (132).

Simmel (image from here)

Therefore, in order for a person to preserve a sense of self and security, a person must create barriers. A person creates bubbles in order to be not over-simulated. As a consequence, meaningful relationships are not formed, dehumanizing us from one another. Progress during the modernist period included technology, social justices, and new ideas of expression and technique.

DEVELOPMENTS

The Year of Revolutions was 1848. France, Italy, and Germany had little small revolutions where the workers rebelled, who found the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels as giving shape or name to the concerns and ideas circulating about the time of social injustices. These revolutions enabled people to explore new ideas about human experiences and rights, impacting the modern world. There was, however, also a decline shown in themes of dehumanization and isolation/alienation. The modern period exhibits these displays of both progress and decline through subject matter, style, sources of inspiration, and mood.

World Fairs enabled people to explore new ideas of other countries and see developments of technology. The Eiffel Tower was built by Gustave Eiffel in Paris in 1889 to commemorate the World’s Fair there.

The Eiffel Tower (image from here)

France desired to build an icon to Modernity, using the latest materials and engineering. This building had no façade or veneer. When going up the tower, the viewer could see how it actually works. At first, Parisians hated it, thinking it ugly. People thought this looked unfinished, that it need to be covered, that it was merely a frame. It was painted different colors in different eras.

The tower was meant to be temporary. It was one of the tallest structures at the time, scaling new heights at 920 feet. There are important religious connotations; the verticality draws the eye upwards into the heavens.

IMPRESSIONISTS

In London, at the Courtauld Gallery, there are several paintings on display from the era of modernity. About Impressionistic art, the exhibit explained that Impressionistic works engaged with the changing nature of modern society because the Impressionists interest in contemporary subjects was expressed through innovative techniques, which aimed to convey a more direct and powerful experience. One named this style impressionistic, but it was originally meant to be a critique. Impressionistic art appeared loose and sketchy in comparison to conventional standards of art. The developments of pre-prepared canvasses and tubes of paint enabled the artists to work out of doors and paint quickly and efficiently.

For example, Monet’s Saint-Lazare Train Station (c. 1877) depicts a nave-like space, suggesting that the train is shutting into a new holy area. Monet does not give the viewer every element and detail but rather the impression of the time, supposing the atmosphere is productive. There is the aspect here of modernity of people coming and going and isolation. The forms of the people are mere shadows. They are not in detail. There is a sense of energy or excitement by the different perspectives though, based off of new knowledge of technology and communication. Monet was not very interested in painting people. There are tighter and looser brushstrokes, indicating the experimentation of the application of paint. Monet, ultimately, was more interested in the urban environment than in painting people very often.

Saint-Lazare Train Station (image from here)

Another example is Degas’s The Rehearsal on Stage (c. 1874). This shows the behind-the-scene look of training very young dancers and the depravations that go on there. Degas offers an oblique perspective. He liked dance in attempts to perfect the sense of moment and movement. His faces of the women were not all that sympathetic. They can be seen in a kind of demoralizing light. Too often women were treated like animals. This contemporary world of the modernity showed progress in Impressionistic art in depicting ideas such as movement and light yet depicted less of the individual, highlighting their isolation from one another.

The Rehearsal on Stage (image from here)

Whistler was loosely associated with the Impressionists. His Nocturne in Black and Gold (The Falling Rocket) (c. 1875) shows a painting of fireworks while on the Thames, which was what Whistler was trying to capture the effects of fireworks.

Nocturne in Black and Gold (The Falling Rocket) (image from here)

Whistler was inspired by Japanese prints, the vertical through of Japanese firework displays, which emerged possibly from World Fairs and other communications and expansions between various countries. The figure down below seemed absolutely indiscriminate and abstract to him, thus dehumanizing, and “More interested in conveying the atmospheric effects than in providing details of the scene, Whistler emphasized creating a harmonious arrangement of shapes and colors on the rectangle of his canvas” (Gardner 831). When the painting was brought to court, Whistler was brought to the stand. The barrister asked how long it took Whistler to knock this thing off. Whistler answered that it took a day but a lifetime to conceptualize. Whistler was essentially saying that art is about conception and about ways of looking at the natural world and finding a wholly new means of expression. The artist must decide the most effective way, which could take a lifetime to learn to see the world in a new way and deconstruct it.

POINTILLISM

The Courtauld Gallery also had an exhibit on pointillism or divisionist technique. It explained that pointillism relies on the scientific theory that colours are stronger if juxtaposed in small dots instead of being mixed together.

For example, post-Impressionist Seurat’s The Bridge at Courbevoie (c. 1886–7) was an oil on canvas that showed disembodied human figures, giving it a sense of melancholy. The mood was silent and somber, but the scene was tragically beautiful, as well. The blues and different hues meshed together to give it this conflicting scene of beauty and isolation.

The Bridge at Courbevoie (image from here)

Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (c. 1884–86) also reveals these conflicting ideas of modernity. At first glance, it may not appear that anything political is happening here, being simply a beautiful Sunday. But this could reveal socialist practices, with every individual being part of the whole or collective identity and mentality here like in a Utopic space because “La Grande Jatte (the Big Bowl) is an island in the Seine River near Asnieres, one of Paris’s rapidly growing industrial suburbs. Seurat’s painting captures public life on a Sunday—a congregation of people from various classes . . . . Most of the people wear their Sunday best, making class distinctions less obvious” (Gardner 833). By looking at this painting, there is a suggestion that art is harmony or community or well-being. This is displayed not only in the subject matter but also the style of neoimpressionism or pointillism. Every dob of color, about the size of the top of a pencil eraser, is the same size and just as important as the next. The idea is that you are contributing to the whole. There is something meaningful embedded in that practice, raising the question of how much do we understand as viewers. Could this look bleak, frozen, or artificial? Instead of seeing engagement, there seems to be alienation, suggesting the topic for the period of modernity. There was great concern among artists concerning the alienating affects of modern, urban society.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (image from here)

POST-IMPRESSIONISM

Some artists were called post-impressionists “Because their art had its roots in Impressionist precepts and methods, but is not stylistically homogenous” (Gardner 831). Artists “By the 1880s, . . . were more systematically examining the properties and the expressive qualities of line, pattern, form, and color” (Gardner 831).

Although Van Gogh is also considered a post-impressionist painter, “in marked contrast to Seurat, Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) explored the capabilities of colors and distorted forms to express his emotions as he confronted nature” (Gardner 833). The mood is very solitary in his Le café de nuit (The Night Café(c. 1888).

Le café de nuit (The Night Café) (image from here)

The figures are slumped. They are together but alone in their own thoughts. The bar tender is a specter-like form. The colors are quite dissonant and jarring, arbitrary, or non-naturalistic in color. This is not, of course, the poor design of the interior decorator. The green goes against the red. Van Gogh is trying to capture the mood by trying to talk about the way one could lose one’s mind in the café, through drinking, whoring, gambling, etc. The use of color, or artificial color, creates dissonances. The billiard table is coming down right into the viewer, making this an oppressive work and making the viewer feel uncomfortable. The thick layering of impasto paint comes out so much, adding that physicality or materiality to the painting. The urgency, palpable experience of painting the radiating light is done by short, broken brush strokes. The artificiality of the light adds to the ominous tone. This painting becomes one of decline, of isolation, of loneliness so inherent in Modernist paintings.

CONCLUSION

The modernist period, a time of progress and of decline, enabled artists to explore new concepts, new techniques, and new styles. This led to the explosion of –isms, even more so than ever before. The modernist ideas of there being no universal truth would lead to the idea that humans can select from millions of different truths to live life by or outright silliness suggested by the Dadaists.

Questions lead by the Modernists of what is good or right and no way of knowing would lead into the idea of there being no hierarchies of value, shown by pop artists of the 1960s. The modernist concern that we can never really know ourselves or others would lead in to the idea of post-modernists about experimenting with multiple selves, as displayed in the art of Surrealists.

The Age of Realism—Art History

Romanticism, 1750–1850, did not die out completely yet tinkered off, while artists continued to pursue romantics ways of viewing the world into the twentieth century. By 1830, there was a rise of a new movement of nineteenth century Realism, which called into question the over-emphasis of passions, irrationality, and subjectivity of the Romantics. Realists wanted a return to an objective framework that was more empirical and systematic, which followed philosopher Comte’s positivism of “promot[ing] science as the mind’s highest achievement and advocate[ing] a purely empirical approach to nature and society” (798).

Realism was characterized by the need to be current, dealing with contemporary issues and social realities of the day. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing, spreading throughout the continent, and social relations were different. The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels was published in 1848. This writing showed the history of class struggle and how those who controlled the means of production—the bourgeoisie—therefore controlled those who worked—the proletariat. Recognizing the reality for the average human became bleak: “man is compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind” (1331). Ultimately, realism raised the idea of modernity, changing how artists saw the world and their own art.

Landseer’s The Stone Breaker and His Daughter represents the view of academic realism or appealing to the pallet of the bourgeoisie.

The Stone Breaker and His Daughter (image from here)

The viewer has access to the faces. Here a father is relaxed and resting, while a daughter brings lunch to him of wine, fruit, and bread. Their dress is nice with differing colors. The lighting is brighter and beautiful, picturesque even. The setting shows more of the sky and natural world. This social environment of happy peasants is not the alienation that Marx would suggest. The vision of the working class life here is one that the middle class, wishing after the simpler life, would be comfortable seeing—thus romanticizing realism.

In contrast to academic realism, Courbet’s The Stonebreakers (c. 1849) suggests avant-garde realism, where the artist advances the cause of art, perhaps at the risk of sacrificing fame and fortune. The canvas here is less beautiful, murky, and monochromatic. The quality is dull, and the finish is matte. Because of the loose brushstrokes, the composition seems rough and has a sense of randomness. This painting was shown in the Salon 1848, one year after expelling King Louis Phillip and the agitation of the proletariat. The museum-goers, the bourgeoisie, were confronted with their material existence and forced to look at individuals and their harsh realities. These figures were from the Paris countryside, repairing the roads, and “By juxtaposing youth and age, Courbet suggested that those born to poverty remain poor their entire lives” (798). This work was extremely menial, but the artist seems to give needed dignity back to the individuals. Without any idealization, realism is seen here by the terse figures wearing torn clothing, revealing dirty skin, and having shoes in a wretched state. Work here is not beautifully idyllic. There is little blue sky, almost used purely to taunt the figures. Additionally, the figures faces are hidden—could they be plotting? By pushing the figures to the front of the picture plane, the viewers have to look and confront the figures with their sense of reality. Realist art, therefore, was used to attempt to change society.

The Stonebreakers (image from here)

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who “refused to be limited to the contemporary scenes strict Realists portrayed” (809), was a group of artists who were unhappy with the art being painted at this time and thought that art did not seem true, sincere, or real. They rebelled against the academy by looking at art made prior to Raphael. Yet Millias’s art seemed to still follow traces of Realism: “So painstakingly careful was Millias in his study of visual facts closely observed from nature that Charles Baudelaire . . . called him ‘the poet of meticulous detail’” (809).

Millias’s Christ in the House of His Parents (c. 1848) reveals realism as the truth the artist wants to get to. The models did not come from the academy but from the streets. Dickens’s scathing review criticized that the scene was too real, too naturalistic, veering toward sacrilegious. The hair color of Christ and Mary is auburn, which would appeal to the redheads of the British audience. This would create greater accessibility, making it more real for the audience to connect with the paintings.

Christ in the House of His Parents (image from here)

Advances in science and technology changed society as well as art. The reality of science, including Darwin’s evidence of natural selection, evolution, and the idea that “[m]an still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin” (1322), shook many people’s faith.

Charles Darwin (image from here)

Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace in London, England (c. 1850–51) looks like a modern cathedral yet an ode to science. It was built in only six months but used so much glass it literally glowed in the sunlight. The exterior had classical elements: “The plan borrowed much from ancient Roman and Christian basilicas, with a central flat-roofed ‘nave’ and a barrel-vaulted crossing ‘transept’” (813). The visitor was brought through the central nave or passage, and the actual movement of going down the center. It was a place where people go to see and to be seen. Here this new building suggested the new reality, showing what people worshiped now and what they prayed to, sought after, and found inspiration in all kinds of modern equipment. The Crystal Palace became the spectacle of modernity or modern experience.

Crystal Palace (image from here)

Rosa Bonheur’s Plowing in the Nivernais (c. 1849) depicts another example of realism according to how the bourgeoisie would have liked. Bonheur was the best-celebrated, nineteenth-century French artist, and “[a] Realist passion for accuracy in painting drove Bonheur, but she resisted depicting problematic social and political situations seen in the work of Courbet, Millet, Daumier, and other Realists” (803). Her art was seen as commemorating France. No flies, sweat, or manure are shown here, but rather it is a very sanitized representation of plowing. The earth is rich and realistically painted. The eyes of the animals gaze directly out to the viewer. The land and animals she painted celebrate all that is beautiful and good in life as well as French national identity.

Plowing in the Nivernais (image from here)

The lure of order, reason, and categorization in art continued into the 1870s. This time was a critical moment of formation of self, identity, economic sources, and nations. Later, realism would transfer into an emphasis on nationalism that would change the world after the “War to End all Wars” would occur.

E n g l i s h

When I’m not cooking curry or eating desserts, I’m usually traveling. I’ve been all over the United States, from California Adventures to Disney World, from Pike’s Peak to Times Square. Last Fall semester, I explored France, Italy, Scotland, and England, enjoying art, food, music, and cultures different from my own.

While I love doing yoga in ancient ruins and being enraptured by nature, I’ve learned that reading—as cliché as this is going to seem—is another way to go on adventures by exploring how a writer expresses what it means to be human.

 

I first decided to be an English major because I had lofty goals: I wanted to be a writer and to change the world and to make people happy. Although these are still my goals, I’ve realized that there are many ways to learn and to feel that I had never before realized were possible.

Learning how to think and learning new perspectives has enabled me to stretch myself—as a scholar, as a citizen, as a friend, as a daughter, as a child of God. Our universal status of all being children of a loving and an all-powerful God does not mean that our existence here on earth is completely and totally universal.

 

Modernist writers Virginia Woolf and James Joyce show me their world of determining who you are in a broken, changing world.

The experiences of Buchi Emecheta and Ama Ata Aidoo show me their world of being African and the trials they endured.

John D. Fitzgerald, just as much as F. Scott Fitzgerald, shows me a world of what it can mean to be American, of struggling in the American West or with the American dream.

And there’s a beauty in that adventure, that universal search of what it means to be human.

Code Name Verity

The Beginning

My dear friend found a book called Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. When I asked her to describe it, she explained that doing so would be a bit difficult. A whole lot happens, including codes, spies, intrigue, friendship, strong female characters, and so on. The setting is World War II. I’m a little obsessed with 1940s and learning about what happened in history then. In my head, a little noise went DING! DING! DING! YOU HAVE A WINNER. I was sold.

What’s It About?

“When ‘Verity’ is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.  They’ll get the truth out of her.  But it won’t be what they expect. As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from a merciless and ruthless enemy?

Harrowing and beautifully written, Code Name Verity is a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that reveals just how far true friends will go to save each other. The bondage of war will never be as strong as the bonds forged by the unforgettable friendship in this extraordinary tale of fortitude in the face of the ultimate evil” (http://www.elizabethwein.com/code-name-verity).

Awards

  • UK Literary Association Award Winner
  • Edgar Award Winner
  • Printz Honor Book
  • Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book
  • Shortlisted for the 2013 CILIP Carnegie Award
  • Golden Kite Award Honor Book
  • Shortlisted for the Scottish Children’s Book Award
  • Catalyst Book Award Winner (East Lanarkshire County Council, Scotland)

Favorite Quotes

There are some pretty amazing quotes in the book. I couldn’t pick just one. These gems listed below include what I found when I googled for quotes from Code Name Verity:

My favoritestiest quote of all

This astonishing tale of friendship and truth will take wing and soar into your heart. ~quoted by Laurie Halse Anderson, New York Times best-selling author

Yay

I don’t even know where to start. There are so many great things about this book, and I don’t want to give away too much. The writing is great. As shown from the quotes above, she has some stellar lines. The author’s allusions and references from history and literature are fun, too (Shakespeare, Peter Pan, French literature, German literature, etc.). Characterization is top notch and would past the Bechdel Test (for more information, see http://www.feministfrequency.com/2009/12/the-bechdel-test-for-women-in-movies/). Let’s just say . . . So. Much. Sass.  🙂 The two main characters have a great relationship that will melt your heart. And I don’t want to give anything else away other than that. You’ll just have to read it to find out. Sometimes it’s hard to find interesting female characters in YA. TANGENT: This book really shouldn’t be labeled as YA because it’s great for adults and older teens, and there are also mature themes (e.g., concentration camps, torture, some language, etc.).

Nay

YOU WILL CRY. Or maybe not . . . if you are a soulless, pathetic, heartless little creature from the black lagoon. And the whole “crying” part doesn’t even have to be a “nay.” But you will have feelings (unless you are  . . . well, what I mentioned above.) But don’t NOT read it if you think that it’s like a super duper depressing book. There is so much humor and witty dialogue. So think of it more as a combination of laughter and tears. Bring some tissues, yet be prepared to stifle your laughter if you happen to be at work, and you need to be quiet, and you read something funny and have to bite your tongue off. Speaking of work, I am allowed to read or to work on projects when I have downtime. My book, which was borrowed from the library, has the cover of two female hands bond together with rope/twine/cords (?). Some of my coworkers asked if I were reading a BDSM novel, and I quickly responded that I was not. So I feel like the cover of this book does not represent the book very accurately. Of course, this cover art has absolutely nothing to do with the content and quality of the writing (and the author probably had no real say in the cover anyways). I guess there are other covers (as shown above in the first picture of all the different books covers).

A few of the topics/ideas covered in Code Name Verity. Originally from bibliophilemystery.blogspot.com

Gray

Also, several of the characters have “real names” and then “code names” or several different code names. It’s not impossible to remember, but it’s important to keep in mind who is who and who is doing what when. Maybe it’s just me; it’s probably just me. But I don’t know a whole lot about planes or types of planes or military jargon. Sometimes I would wonder what they were talking about. So . . . I made list of some of the planes listed and military references made throughout the book. 🙂 Enjoy. It’s pretty cool.

RAF Special Duties Cap Badge

 

Citroen Rosalie

The Bristol Beaufort torpedo bomber used by RAF Coastal Command.

Two Spitfire FVB in flight

This is the Do-217 aircraft manufactured by Dornier for the German Luftwaffe in WWII.

RAF Lysander WWII

De Havilland DH-80A Puss Moth aircraft

Conclusion

Basically, read this book. It will change your life. I hope you have a beautiful day. xoxo, the bbb blogger

Creative Fiction: “Travel Machine”

Salvador Dali, “Anthropomorphic Chest of Drawers,” 1936

 Time travel—it is impossible, no?

Studying, studying, studying; researching, researching, researching. No use, you would think, after years of, well, working, searching, finding what I could in what was left of the university libraries, in my spare time, of course.

No one goes to college anymore. How could this be? How had this happened? The locks are not that hard to break. So that is why, why in fact, the reason why I broke the law, I broke into the libraries, whenever I could and whenever I was guaranteed not to get caught, although, really, it’s not too difficult to be caught, since, well, remember the laws that were made years—oh how many years has it been?—but that really doesn’t matter, the year I was turning fifteen.

That’s what it was. Yes, the year I changed was the year the war happened and when the peace treaty was made between the Germanic States of Europe, the Portuguese States of Europe, and the British States of Europe, that was when the universities were locked up. Education was exterminated because no one, God knows only why, needed to know how to read. Immediate, mindless work was much more effective for the masses. Was it not? But I broke the law—the cause is justifiable, no?

My name is. . . I don’t remember now. I found my name, written out, in the records, hidden deep within the labyrinth of the library. My parents. My sister. My brother. Their names, there they were, written on the white page like seals pressed into the edges of time. I wanted, you know, to check, of course, to see if I was real. Real, we were all real, in the pages of books.

Why, books, have you been cast aside? Burned by so many after the war? Broken apart by those who searched for ways to keep their broken, shriveling bodies warm.

The cause—the cause to go to the past. To return to the golden era. The turn of the twentieth century, the age when almost anything was possible, where rights were expanded, and people began to fight for what they really believed in.

Not like this current cesspool of flashing, broken images streaked across the burning, midnight skies and dawning evening dusks.

I would write. I would write the greatest of things. I would save my people through thoughts and ideas and words, and they would learn, yes they would, they would learn the importance of words and literature. They could be saved.

The masses, the groaning masses, could find salvation.

It was during these midnight break-ins that I’d make my greatest break-throughs. Languages, I know four (German, English, French, Russian). Sciences, from Einstein to Newton to Bohr. For fun, I’d study Plato, Aristotle, Kant . . . But the one section I always returned to for hours and hours was the area that had books about time travel.

My favorite author, an Englishman, was inspired. The Muses spoke to him. Science spoke to him. Angels spoke to him. Something or whatever spoke to him, or maybe it was just his own genius altogether, but his writings lifted my mind to higher realms of inspiration and glory. Oh, how I miss those silent nights with the books that were left and the haunted memories of past students roaming through the aisles.

It was on one of these nights, so long ago, that I made a decision. The pages of a particular book, bended and faded, torn and worn, felt so crisp and thin in my hand. I turned the pages so many times, reading each line with a furious hunger. Why not, I asked myself, do what this very character did? He went to the future; I can return to the past.

For ages, I longed to write my own book. My book would be spread underground and read by thousands. Eventually, my visions, my theories would change the world and infiltrate to the top. People would be forced to hear what I believed. People would be forced to see the world in a new light. People would be forced to read.

Works of great literature should be whole. Like scientist’s theories were complete and exact, so would my greatest contribution to the written word be. My ideas would flow like great rivers I had never seen or the fresh ocean water I had heard about only in these dusty books I stole, or barrowed, of course, barrowed, you know, for reading purposes. My writing would be an organic unity of wholeness. How could it not?

But I lacked any original ideas, or so I thought. Even my idea to create a time machine was based on an idea that had been going on forever. This time, rather than going to the future, I would return to the past.

By going to the past, I would ask the writer of this book, my favorite author, for inspiration. How did he create his ideas? How did the Muses speak to him? How did his mind work? We would have an actual conversation, face-to-face. He would like me. I would like him. We would become friends. I would no longer be alone in the labyrinth of books. Then I would write my book, return to my time in the future, and change the world.

I took a risk—I took my precious book from the library to my home. It wasn’t really stealing, no; it was not to be missed among the other rows of books that were left.

I read the book over and over again. Some pages tore just from their delicate states. Additional trips, during riskier times of day, mid-morning and late afternoon (midnight was the best time to go), were made. No one ever broke into the library—no one but me. But, of course, I wasn’t breaking in. I was just exploring the world of knowledge the world did not see.

During these extra hours, I read even more than I had before, trying to create a way, through the piles of theories I read, to fulfill my desire to return to my idealized precursor. Years passed by. One day, while sketching on some torn sheets of paper, I found my eureka. For months I built my time machine, using old desks and old electricity wires and metal from around the library. It took diligence. Once it was created, I knew, I knew it would work.

But it needed to be tested, you know, like scientists test hypothesizes with little mice or birds with grey feathers, so I set the dial back to one day, at university library. I saw blurred visions zoom past my eyes, and when it stopped, I was, as the clock indicated, exactly one day previous to the day I finished the time machine. In my excitement, my fixation, I choose to go back in time to meet my favorite author where he lived and wrote. I set the dial for 1895, pulled the lever three notches down, and zoomed faster and faster into the past.

The dial began to spin, turning, turning, turning backwards. Over what felt like a few seconds to me, I began to see the dial spin close to the 1900s. The blurry images surrounding my machine began to slow, and the dial eventually came to a stop. Right as the dial was about to click, I noticed an image, which seemed to be glaring at me from the end of a long corridor. The machine stopped, and soon I realized we were not in some hallway.

Rather, it was dark, and it was night. It must have been a forgotten alleyway. I checked the time and place to make sure and then unlocked my door. Stepping out of the time machine, I noticed that it was exceedingly dark. There were no flashing lights, no glaring screens, no block long advertisements. Vibrant darkness in all its glory screamed to my soul at what I had done.

As I stood by my time machine, I did not realize at first what was happening. I was quite dizzy and felt a bit sick. My ears were ringing like haunted bells churning in a dark nightmare. Resting my hand and left side upon the nearest wall, I swallowed gasps of cold air. My eyes clamped shut, I tried to adjust myself. Slowly, the dizziness went away, and I realized how cold it was out. I had no jacket, no money, nothing on my person.

Then I heard a few gasps, a moaning, a blood-curling sigh come from my machine. Great goodness, where was it coming from? It was actually from underneath my machine, I thought. I feared going close, but then, quickly, I came to a realization that there was some teenager somehow under my machine.

But no—he was not merely under the machine. He was crushed. I found, on the other side of the machine, the kid’s face, his eyes glassy, his tongue flopping out to one side. I stepped back in full horror at the realization of what I had done.

In going back in time, I had killed this poor boy. I had assumed that going back in time was fine, but I had not considered time and space. This person was exactly at the wrong place at the wrong time. I had not killed him on purpose. It was an accident, an accident, I swear. But he was surely dead.

His hand was outstretched to one side, and the finger seemed to point out towards the right of the machine. I walked around the machine more and found a bundle of documents tied up with string. This poor kid, his last attempts were to hold these papers one last time, but, alas, they were too far out of reach.

I picked up the bundle of papers. My hands shook, and as I tried to steady them, I noticed something on the top corner. A name so familiar, a name that had haunted me in my waking thoughts: H. G. Wells. The title read in curvy letters The Time Machine.

No, I screamed in my mind. This cannot be. In going back in time, I had inadvertently killed the very author I had so desperately want to see. But I gave another glance at the blank face under the machine. Wells was supposed be twenty-nine years of age when he had written the book, the same age that I was. Yet this boy looked like he was not even in his twenties. He was younger. Had Wells actually written this story when he was still in his youth, only to publish it years later? My mind swirled in confusion.

A sudden thought came to my mind. What if I could go further back in time, just a few minutes more, and warn this poor boy not to go down this alley, to avoid any sounds, to never venture down this path. I ran immediately with the papers in hand to my machine. I closed the door and twisted the dial a bit and then twisted the nob down. But the machine did nothing. It did not move or spin or zoom or anything.

Panic thumped loud in my ears, and my hands shook even harder than before. My machine! Broken! But how? It must have been my horrific landing when I hit the boy, my author, my inspiration.

I was officially stuck in the past. I had no resources. I had no friends. I had no home. I had no life. I opened the door to my machine. My bag held some of my prized possessions from the old university library: some philosophy and all the writings of Wells and some paper. Although I had planned to talk about Wells’s books in full, vibrant detail, I had indeed killed my precursor. I took this manuscript, blood-splattered and torn, in my hands.I found some smelling old rags in the gutter. I had no clue how long it had been there. Because I was quite literate and could write, I was able to find some work quickly. There was only one thing I could do.

Though my name had been Harold Gross, I became Herbert George Wells, shortening it to H. G. Wells.

Shortly thereafter, because I was low on cash, I sold Wells’s story to a publisher. Every night I scrub, and I scrub, and I scrub. The blood—it won’t come off my hands, I tell you! It’s always there. My hands are died permanent red, and when the water rushes down the drain, it’s stained pink, of course, but the blood never leaves my hands. I had killed my precursor—I had become my precursor.


~ Some Explanation:

Bloom’s theory centers on the anxiety of influence from precursors. So that got me thinking—what if a person became so obsessed over creating an original work of art that that person would do something crazy? I love how Bloom argues about “a greater awareness of the artist’s fight against art, and of the relation of this struggle to the artist’s antithetical battle against nature” (1653). Bloom’s believed, “To search for where you already are is the most benighted of quests, and the most fated” (Leitch 1656); time travel—the first thing that popped into my head.

My character, a man from the unknown, inexact place in the future, obsesses over original creation. Art in this futuristic setting has become broken images that do not reflect the natural world or truth or anything real. Art becomes flashing images for commercial purposes only. Very few people read, because, really, what’s the point? Commercialization is much more effective in conveying to the viewer what is desirable and necessary to purchase.

The man obsesses over a return to the processes of the mind (Kant-esque) and organic works of unity (Coleridge-esque) that will uplift society (Shelley-esque), instead of blitz of false advertising and its sole purpose of people to purchase the latest gadget. This creative piece is written in the first person point of view to emphasize the focus on mind (Kant-esque . . . again).

My character is undoubtedly bright as well as creative, to a certain extent, but he fails in his journey to go back to his favorite author to gain inspiration. I hoped to bring about the feeling of the romantic but hazy genius through the narrative. He becomes stuck in the past (literally and, perhaps, figuratively by breaking with reality in a mental collapse), as if his sole identity revolves around a man who never really existed yet at the same time exists because of himself.

However, this character is ultimately unable to help the future or society, in all actuality. He never returns, stuck in the past, stuck in his mind, stuck by past influences. The cruel twists of fate, the realities of broken pride are, indeed, bitter when he falls so far as to take the identity of his favorite author instead of his own. It really does not matter whether or not he went insane or really ever went into the past.

Personally, I believe that the man was actually caught in the future by security guards protecting the university, which is why he always is on the defense. Did he go back in time? Was he just tortured? Did he kill a man? Or could he really not kill or overcome his precursor?

Despite all these questions that cannot be answered exactly, he ultimately experiences the pangs of fallen idealism. I would argue that the man could not overcome his precursor in the fight that Bloom suggests.