Expressionism in Literature

expressionism

expressionism, term used to describe works of art and literature in which the representation of reality is distorted to communicate an inner vision. The expressionist transforms nature rather than imitates it.

In Art

In painting and the graphic arts, certain movements such as the Brücke (1905), Blaue Reiter (1911), and new objectivity (1920s) are described as expressionist. In a broader sense the term also applies to certain artists who worked independent of recognized schools or movements, e.g., Rouault, Soutine, and Vlaminck in France and Kokoschka and Schiele in Austria—all of whom made aggressively executed, personal, and often visionary paintings. Gauguin, Ensor, Van Gogh, and Munch were the spiritual fathers of the 20th-century expressionist movements, and certain earlier artists, notably El Greco, Grünewald, and Goya exhibit striking parallels to modern expressionistic sensibility. See articles on individuals, e.g., Ensor.

Bibliography

See C. Zigrosser, The Expressionists (1957); F. Whitford, Expressionism (1970); J. Willett, Expressionism (1970); W. Pehnt, Expressionist Architecture (1973).



In Literature

In literature, expressionism is often considered a revolt against realism and naturalism, seeking to achieve a psychological or spiritual reality rather than record external events in logical sequence. In the novel, the term is closely allied to the writing of Franz Kafka and James Joyce (see stream of consciousness). In the drama, Strindberg is considered the forefather of the expressionists, though the term is specifically applied to a group of early 20th-century German dramatists, including Kaiser, Toller, and Wedekind. Their work was often characterized by a bizarre distortion of reality. Playwrights not closely associated with the expressionists occasionally wrote expressionist drama, e.g., Karel Čapek's R.U.R. (1921) and Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones (1921). The movement, though short-lived, gave impetus to a free form of writing and of production in modern theater.

Bibliography

See E. Krispyn, Style and Society in German Literary Expressionism (1964); P. Vogt et al., Expressionism: A German Intuition, 1905–1920 (1980); P. Rabbe, ed., The Era of German Expresionism (tr. 1986); J. Weinstein, The End of Expressionism (1989).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Accelerated Grimace: Expressionism in the American Drama of the 1920s
Mardi Valgemae.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1972
Modern German Literature, 1880-1950
Jethro Bithell.
Methuen, 1959 (3rd Rev. edition)
Librarian’s tip: Includes "The Novel of Expressionism" and "The Drama of Expressionism"
The Theatre of the Weimar Republic
John Willett.
Holmes & Meier, 1988
City Jungles and Expressionist Reifications from Brecht to Hammett
Lindh, John Walker.
Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 44, No. 1, Spring 1998
The Avant-Garde Tradition in Literature
Richard Kostelanetz.
Prometheus Books, 1982
Modern German Poetry, 1910-1960
Michael Hamburger; Christopher Middleton.
Grove Press, 1962
FREE! The Drama of Transition: Native and Exotic Playcraft
Isaac Goldberg.
Stewart Kidd Company, 1922
Librarian’s tip: Includes "Expressionist Theory"
Remapping the Present: The Master Narrative of Modern Literary History and the Lost Forms of Twentieth-Century Fiction
Richardson, Brian.
Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 43, No. 3, Fall 1997
World Drama from Aeschylus to Anouilh
Allardyce Nicoll.
Harcourt Brace, 1950
Librarian’s tip: Includes "The Expressionistic Movement"
Studies from Ten Literatures
Ernest Augustus Boyd.
C. Scribner's Sons, 1925
Librarian’s tip: Includes "Expressionism without Tears"
Terrorism and Modern Drama
John Orr; Dragan Klaić.
Edinburgh University Press, 1990
Librarian’s tip: Includes "Individualist and Collectivist Models of Terrorism in German Expressionist Drama"
The Culture of Western Europe: The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: An Introduction
George L. Mosse.
John Murray, 1963
Librarian’s tip: Includes information on expressionism in literature in "Change in the Public Spirit of Europe"
Theorizing the Avant-Garde: Modernism, Expressionism, and the Problem of Postmodernity
Richard Murphy.
Cambridge University Press, 1999
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