Salvador Dalì, The Age of Anxiety
W. H. Auden published The Age of Anxietyin 1948, three years after the end of the Second World War. The title of the long poem soon passed into common usage (uso comune) as a label (definizione) for describing our century.
The French poet BaudeJaire (1821-1867) in his poem “Spleen” (1857) had already described a faithful (fedele) and memorable portrait (ritratto) of the “mysterious malady” through symbolic images, “Spleen” was not” only “a diagnosis of the mal du siecle (male del secolo), but also a surprising prognosis of its course in the future century: a link (legame) between Romantic spleen and the “age of anxiety”. In Baudelaire, man’s basic existential uneasiness (malessere) was combined with the new frustration of the intellectual in a materialistic society and with his disorientation in the face of the industrial revolution.
The passing from the mal du siecle to the anxiety of the new century was foretold (predetto) — between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th — by two other great artists, the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch and the Czech writer Franz Kafka (1883-1924). Like all great artists, Munch and Kafka sensed in anticipation something which belonged to the future. In his painting The Shriek (L’Urlo, 1893) Munch “photographed” the anguish (angoscia) of the 20th century, years before the great cultural and historical events which started it. Kafka symbolically “evoked” the nightmare (incubo) of Nazism without living through it (senza viverlo) as he died nearly ten years before the advent of the Nazi regime. With The Castle Kafka inaugurated the genre of the circular story that is of a story of never-ending (infinite) equivocation, which symbolises the tragic “circularity” of contemporary man’s actions of the frustration of all spiritual quest (ricerca) -of the surrender of the individual to an inscrutable, devastating universe.
Circularity is one of the fundamental narrative patterns (modelli narrative) of the art of the age of anxiety, adopted by writers as different as Joyce, Svevo, Eliot, Pound, Musil, Ionesco, Pinter, Robbe-Grillet, Handke, and others.