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Modern Primitives Excerpt: Definitions

MODERN: 1. Being at this time; now existing. 2. Of or pertaining to the present and recent times, as distinguished from the remote past; pertaining to or originating in the current age or period. 3. Characteristic of the present and recent times; new-fashioned; not antiquated or obsolete. 4. Everyday, ordinary, commonplace.

PRIMITIVE: 1. Of or belonging to the first age, period, or stage: pertaining to early times; earliest, original, ancient. At the beginning; anciently; originally in time, at first. 2. With the purity, simplicity, or rudeness of early times. 3. Original, as opposed to derivative; primary, as opposed to secondary; radical. 4. Math., etc. Applied to a line or figure from which some construction or reckoning begins; or to a curve, surface, magnitude, equation, operation, etc., from which another is in some way derived. 6. Of colors: Primary. 7. Anything from which something is derived.

PRIMITIVIST: A primitivist is a person who prefers a way of life which, when judged by one or more of the standards prevailing in his own society, would be considered less “advanced” or less “civilized.” The primitivist finds the model for his preferred way of life in a culture that existed or is reputed to have existed at some time in the past; in the culture of the less sophisticated classes within his society, or of primitive peoples that exist elsewhere in the world;in the experiences of his childhood or youth; in a psychologically elemental (sub-rational or even subconscious) level of existence; or in some combination of these. Primitivistic themes appear in almost all literatures: they are found in classical and medieval literature; in the last Renaissance. Montaigne, in his essay Des Cannibales, praises the happy and virtuous life of savages living close to nature; Pope envies the untutored Indian; 18th century interest in p. receives its fullest expression in Rousseau’s pietistic doctrine of the children of nature; Wordsworth attributes superior wisdom to sheep-herders and children; Thoreau tells us that “we do not ride on the railroad: it rides upon us”; the poetry of Rimbaud is a record of defiance of Europe and dogmatic Christianity in favor of an Oriental “fatherland” . . . D.H. Lawrence makes a similar condemnation of Western civilization and advocates a return to an older mode of living based on a recognition of man’s “blood nature.” Primitivists have differed widely on the nature of the evils and weaknesses of civilized life, the causes of these evils, the positive values of the primitive life, and the degree to which a regression to the primitive is possible. –Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics

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