In reading the prose of the expressionistic writer, we experience the attempt to move from the head to the heart, from the intellect to intuition. The expressionistic writer is not contented with the facts of the present moment as is the realist but with the emotional experience or “how does it feel.”
“Expressionism is, first and foremost, subjective. The expressionist’s personal consciousness takes on a greater importance than any objective setting or character or action which may come under his observation. Instead of trying to communicate ideas, to give a direct significance to the life about him, he admits only the importance of the responses his inner awareness makes to the stimulus from without. He is, in fact an expressionist simply because he gives expression to his inner vision, his feeling, his emotion, his inner spirit, his intuition; he is an expressionist by virtue of the fact that he expresses instead of imitating.” [emphasis added]
The key words in the above paragraph which we have highlighted indicate that the expressionist comes closer in the pursuit of profound truth than other artists who might have a different focus. Although the authors Hibbard and Frenz would not give these words the P-A meaning that we have give them, it is clear that an expressionist writer has some sense that anyone wanting to have an actual experience of life is going to have to find a way to enter the present moment. “Surface reality is, the modernist [expressionist] holds, a shallow thing. He is not so much concerned with presenting appearances as with expressing essential and hidden qualities.”
One of the key principles that facilitate grasping the reality of P-A is that of impermanence. “In their effort to portray the world of reality, the world of appearances, the expressionists are calling attention to a world of etherealities and impermanence which is, after all, the only permanence.”
Expressionists cannot escape the unsustainable nature of human behavior and human institutions. P-B hangs over their work like a dark cloud. “In general, expressionistic writers seem to despair of life; society, government, industry, religion, man himself [the false self], are presented as in a chaotic state.” As a group, expressionist writers are the most profound in portraying the human condition as it is.
What about shifting from P-B to P-A? What do these writers have to say about the future of humanity? “It is because of this disillusionment with the world about them, that the expressionists would create for us a new world. ‘The chief task of art,’ wrote Kasimir Edschmid, a leading spokesman for German expressionism, ‘is to penetrate the world before our eyes, to seek out its intrinsic essence, and create it anew.’” A worthy goal to be sure and they would need Simple Reality for that.
ALSO: See the essays on the expressionists James Joyce and Franz Kafka in this section.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion on this blog and in books by Roy Charles Henry.