Prof Andries Wessels delivered his inaugural address

Posted on March 25, 2009

Summary of the inaugural address

The historical period during which literary modernism flourished was a time of great historical and social upheaval. This First World War had broken down structures (of class and gender, for example) which had been regarded as immutable. People felt themselves at sea in a new and unfamiliar world. While the modernists were revolutionaries as regards literary form, bringing about sweeping changes in the way art was being enacted, reflecting the disintegration of social cohesion in their work, many of them were surprisingly conservative in their views of life and society. The instability in their art reflects the threatening changeability of the world they found themselves in, and the conservatism of their thought reflects a longing for stability, certainty, something to derive meaning from. The awareness of a moment of transcending consciousness is common to a number of modernist writers. T.S. Eliot describes the “moment in and out of time”, James Joyce calls his version “epiphany”, Virginia Woolf contemplates the “moment of being” and E.M. Forster ponders the “eternal moment”. In all these expressions, not only a hankering for the complete, the stable, the meaningful is expressed, but also a supreme and experiential confidence that there is more to life and art than the ephemeral and the transient.

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