Do the interests, concerns and experiences of writers in the 20th Century assist 21st Century human beings in their understanding of the purpose of existence?
Yes. Many authors and artists of the 20th Century have helped to assist 21st Century human beings in not only their understanding of the purpose of existence, but also their ways in both exploring and expressing it. They have also drawn attention to the ways past experiences shape not only themselves, but the view of these events later in life.
Two main authors who have stuck with me throughout everything I have learnt during this semester are Erich Maria Remarque and Wilfred Owen. Having previous knowledge of Wilfred Owen from my school years, I was able to build on this knowledge and further explore his work and the response it created on a much deeper level. These authors highlighted the horrors of the war as well as spoke about the opinions held on soldiers enlisting, both of which I focussed on strongly throughout my essay. While Remarque discussed these horrors along with the positive aspects such as creating bonds like no other and finding a sense of belonging while in the war, Owen focussed only on these negatives. It is due to these authors and poets of war – especially Remarque and Owen – that we understand the ways the war shaped the soldiers and the experiences they had. Not only did they teach us – a century later – of the experiences, but also helped to inform civilians that it was not a good experience to fight in the war and these men were not cowardly for not wanting to. It is due to this knowledge that people I know and have previously known did not want to leave their families behind in order to enlist in such things.
Another two authors that I believe helped people of the 21st Century to explore the purpose of existence and ways of expressing this are Gerard Manley Hopkins and Virginia Woolf. Through his poems, Hopkins not only explored the nature around him with incredibly vivid imagery, but also critically focussed and reflected on the inner self. Through this, he closely discovered and explored his emotions and despair and wrote them in a way that was both beautiful and inspiring. As I have discovered through personal observation, it is extremely common for poets – and authors – of the 21st century to explore their emotions openly through their works. This concept of sharing emotions and exploring the inner self is also clearly visible in Virginia Woolf’s style of writing. Through a ‘stream of consciousness’ truthful thoughts, ideas and interests often come about as it comes from the heart and what that person wishes to say, rather than carefully thought out and planned responses. I touch on this in further detail within my Week 8 blog post (https://nicolewalshblog.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/week-8-virginia-woolf-and-katherine-mansfield/).
I believe that through the development of this idea of the inner self and the ways it is explored throughout 20th Century literature – as well as the exploration of experiences such as war and the impacts they have – people in the 21st century can explore these concepts further and use them in order to develop both their sense of self and their understanding of their existence in today’s world and the world of the past. Through further studying these concepts like we are currently doing, we are also able to gain a deeper understanding of how these concepts came about.