Literary movements, like art movements, are categorized in a way that best suits those looking back at them. In studying literary movements, some have been defined by the original writers themselves, while others were named and defined by scholars later on. A literary movement is not a genre or style, but has more to do with philosophical and topical significance. Usually, literary movements are tied to historical and political events. Within the western canon, we study a few literary movements, like the Romantic poets, in school. Some literary movements have inspired genres, like Magical Realism. The beauty of literary movements is that many of them complement each other, even those spanning the globe and eras. In the 20th century alone, there were at least 30 literary movements.
Post-World War I, experimental, absurdist, and counter cultural literature began publishing across the globe. Art movements like Dada had their literary counterparts in Europe and North America. In Mexico, two literary movements occurred simultaneously, Stridentism in Puebla City and Los Contemporáneos in Mexico City. Stridentism is a multidisciplinary movement that shares characteristics with Cubism, Dada, and Futurism. Inspired by the effects and context of the Mexican Revolution, Stridentism focused on action and the present, rather than dissecting past.
In contrast, Los Contemporáneos’ work used metaphor and complex imagery to ponder the philosophical. The original group was comprised of longtime friends who had attended elite schools and University together before founding their first magazine, “México Moderno.” Their most successful magazine, “Contemporáneos” ran from 1928-1931 and featured well-known writers and printing on expensive paper. Los Contemporáneos sought to be at the center of innovative Mexican literature.
During The Great Depression, a literary club in Adelaide, Australia found inspiration in D.H. Laurence’s Kangaroo, and began writing poetry depicting the “real” Australia. This club, helmed by Rex Ingamells, became known as the Jindyworobak Movement. The term comes from Woiwurrung, meaning “to join” or “to extend.” As more white Australians moved away from cities after World War I and during the Depression, there was loss of sense of place. Jindyworobak literature is primarily poetry that seeks to portray Australian nature and Australian people as they are, without the European gaze. While this may have been the goal, Jindyworobak failed entirely.
The Jindyworobak Movement was led entirely by white Australians, who wrote stories and poems based on Aborigine myths and stories. Like the prim pastoral scenes from Colonial American art, Jindyworobak poetry feels like a haunted mockery. The only Indigenous Australian writer who was published during the Jindyworoback movement was David Unaipon.
After World War II, Surrealist and Postmodern literature developed with pocket movements across the globe. Politically charged work from Iraq, Nigeria, Uganda, Vietnam, and other former colonies of European countries can be loosely categorized together as Postcolonial Literature. Postcolonial Literature focuses on the impact of human control, exploitation of the colonized and their lands, and the effects of Eurocentric thought on non-European people and culture. Postcolonial Literature is an ongoing movement. India’s first Postcolonial movement was the Hungryists. The Hungryists or The Hungry Generation attempted to confront and upset preconceived literary notions, especially Colonial Bengali works. The Hungryists published more than 100 manifestos between 1961 and 1965.
Meanwhile, in the Americas, Spiralism was born in Haiti. Ready to Burst by Frankétienne is considered the most prominent work of this movement. The protagonist wanders through Port-au-Prince, desperately searching for a job, and for nothing, while his friend attempts to write a book with a brand new aesthetic, Spiralism. The novel is interrupted with anecdotes, unrelated poetry, and personal thoughts. The sharp sentences and emotional outbursts combined with the jumbled structure create a twisting narrative that could be read backwards or forwards. Think of the Caribbean hurricane: swirling and beautiful, with no end in sight. That’s Spiralism.
Likened to the absurdity of life, and the wound left by colonialism that won’t heal, Spiralism moves to confuse and cleanse. Without the conventional structure, there is freedom to be incomplete.
The minor movement, Martian Poetry became popular in the UK in the 1970s with Craig Raine’s “A Martian Sends a Postcard Home,” in which a Martian visiting planet earth attempts to describe unfamiliar human behaviors and everyday objects to fellow Martians. Perhaps inspired by First Contact Science Fiction, Martian Poetry observes the world as though it were completely unfamiliar using visual, robust language. In Martin Amis’s novel, Other People, the protagonist is a human woman suffering from extreme amnesia. Even the most basic human emotions and behaviors are new again to her. During the late 1970s, Martian Poetry was commonly used to teach poetry elements to children, alongside similar styles like surrealism and nonsense poetry (I.E. Lewis Carrol). Martian Poetry marked a shift in British writing, making room for possibility and imagination after decades of austere, rule-adhering writing. The playful nature of Martian Poetry plays with big philosophical questions — Are we alone? Is there something more? — while admiring the tangible.
Three decades into the 21st century, a new literary movement was started in Italy in 2020. While the world was going into various states of isolation, Empathic Movement was getting started. This movement is literary, artistic, and philosophical, placing empathy at its core for a higher vision of the Self. Menotti Lerro and Antonello Pelliccia published “New Manifesto of the Arts,” which focuses on the empathic relationship of the artist with their work and their community. There is an emphasis on sharing knowledge among disciplines. Italian artists across disciplines were invited to sign the Empathic Manifesto in 2021. Together, they created a new cultural landmark split in three villages, with their places marked on The Cultural Pyramid of Cilento, a 2021 piece by Lerro. This ongoing movement seeks to give voice to unheard rural voices, and continue to produce more empathic, collaborative artists and writers.
Literature is not static. There will always be innovators of language and people willing to try something old, new, and something in between. History shapes the way that people experience life and the resulting literature will always be a reflection. Literary movements are always happening, in journals and writing workshops and school newspapers. We just have to be patient.