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E. M. Forster, Ford Madox Ford, T. E. Hulme, and T. S. Eliot all engaged in their critical and creative works with Edwardian liberalism: with the reformist policies of the Liberal Party in England (which came to power in 1905), with the New Liberal ideas on which these policies were based, but also and more broadly with the much older philosophical and political outlook of liberalism. The works and theories of these early modernists were written in direct response to liberal ideas old and new, with even anti-liberal ‘classical’ modernists such as Hulme and Eliot embracing fundamental liberal values (while of course rejecting many others). A consideration of Forster’s short story ‘The Other Side of the Hedge’ (1904), Ford’s 1912 poem ‘Süssmund’s Address to an Unknown God’, Hulme’s essays in The Commentator (1911–12), and Eliot’s programmatic essay ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ (1919) shows how, much as with many other contradictory facets of literary modernism, the relationship of modernism to liberalism was close, uneasy, and foundational.
The Epilogue moves forward to consider briefly selected poems from the twentieth century by T. S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, and especially Louise Glück, who in her Nobel prize acceptance speech in December 2020 invoked an earlier tradition of poems that seem to invite the reader into secret conversations. These conversations are not, in fact, so secret, as Conversing in Verse has argued. The poems Glück cites (by Blake, Dickinson, and T. S. Eliot) include voices conversing under difficult conditions – as do her own poems, particularly in two collections, The Wild Iris and Meadowlands. There, as in the poetry that has been the subject of this study, misunderstandings and failed encounters are as frequent as successful ones. Handled with Glück’s ironic, witty self-awareness, they too are desperate conversations – with other people, with an impatient God, or with the nonhuman phenomena of the world. Poetry is after all sociable; it continues, against all odds, to converse.
The founding fathers of English literature, Chaucer and Shakespeare, bequeathed a range of possible attitudes to Jews and Judaism. These can be found in the ambivalent figure of “the Jew” – malign and benign, medieval and modern – in much 19th- and 20th-century English literature, from the romantic poets to imperial writers, and from realist novelists to modernist writers of all kinds. The essay contextualizes these changing attitudes and ends with Graham Greene, George Orwell, and Margaret Drabble.
A study of Elliott Carter’s song cycles and other text settings from the period 1998-2011, with close readings of both poetry and music. Included are individual analytical essays on Tempo e tempi (poetry by Eugenio Montale, Salvatore Quasimodo, and Giuseppe Ungaretti), Of Rewaking (poems by William Carlos Williams), In the Distances of Sleep (poems by Wallace Stevens), Mad Regales (poems by John Ashbery), “La Musique” (poem by Charles Baudelaire), On Conversing with Paradise (texts from Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos), Poems of Louis Zukofsky, What Are Years (poems by Marianne Moore), A Sunbeam’s Architecture (poems by e e cummings), Three Explorations (poems by T. S. Eliot), The American Sublime (poems by Wallace Stevens).
One traditional solution to the problem of how modernist poetry began is to tell the story of a transition between Yeats’s early masterpieces and Eliot’s The Waste Land. This is a story which usually centres upon the rise of free verse and a growing urgency to represent the modern world. More recently, critics have looked to tell stories about neglected poets, in which less obviously experimental works are found nevertheless to represent that same modern world. Both approaches involve tracing continuities and ruptures, often with reference to the unprecedented ruptures and rapid developments which characterised life in Britain in the first two decades of the century. This chapter shifts the emphasis from deciding how poetry somehow made a miraculous leap from the fin de siècle to high modernism, to exploring how the poetic forms of diverse poets working at this time refract the very conception and experience of transition, and especially the experience of transition when no certain beginning or end is in sight. The aim here is thus to resist the logic of literary history’s usual narratives, and to show that the poems of this period do so too at the level of poetic technique.
This chapter charts the transition, in British literature of the early twentieth century, from the Decadence associated with Wilde and his generation to the modernism associated with Eliot and his generation. If criticism has readily acknowledged that London, as the locus of an emergent modernist sensibility, was bound up in geographically extended networks of transatlantic and European literary practice, the story of historical transition from Decadence to modernism has been less often told. With particular reference to the poetries of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, the chapter shows how the aesthetics of Decadence were reconfigured and repurposed by modernist writers, before turning in a brief coda to the counter-example of W. B. Yeats, for whom questions of Decadence and modernism were bound up with the national politics of a changing Ireland.
James Joyce and T. S. Eliot advanced a ‘double consciousness’ in their approach to myth that pervades Tony Harrison’s Metamorpheus(2000) and Sandeep Parmar’s Eidolon(2015). This double consciousness is not unique to modernism, but it intensifies in early twentieth-century literature, inscribing modernists’ desire to explore what Michael Bell describes as ‘the problematics of history under the sign of myth’. The mythic counterpointing that underpins Harrison’s work indicates that his modernist influences have been neglected by critics and poets such as Simon Armitage, eager to position his poetry as eschewing unnecessary complexity. However, whereas Metamorpheus and Eidolon would both be symptomatic of metamodernist literature in Andre Furlani’s understanding of the term, it is only in Eidolon that the legacies of ‘fractured’ writing allow for an enigmatical account of Helen, one of the most elusive figures in Greek myth.
How Norman Mailer enters the discussion of Modernism may be as opaque as the discussion of Modernism itself. Several lines of approach, however, may be useful: First, which traditions did Mailer gravitate towards; second, how did Mailer define himself as an artist; third, what were the central elements of his worldview and poetics; and fourth, what questions of form and style did his work attempt to explore? This chapter situates Mailer’s work within the literary and historical context of the Modernist movement by focusing on his use of persona, his worldview, and the thematic content of his work.
This chapter reads The Golden Bowl and The Waste Land as semaphores for the felt weakening of twentieth-century British and European ascendancy. James’s exquisitely managed novel and Eliot’s encyclopedic poem are not just documents of disintegration, but new totalizations on new architectonic principles. In their respective treatments of shattering, salvage and re-composition, they point to new world orders still only partially emerging into view during the decades immediately after World War I. American wealth and the transfer of art from Europe to America is The Golden Bowl’s subject; The Waste Land is concerned with the collapse of European culture and coherence. However, as James became 'the master' of the English novel and Eliot 'the Pope of Russell Square' American attempts to manage what Europe could no longer do became as evident in cultural as in political fields. After World War II, the United States would proudly reclaim these émigré writers and establish new 'Great Books' and “World Literature' courses to reflect its ambitions as the Cold War era’s major superpower.
The aesthetics of the self as inextricably linked to an unruly affective economy are explored in Chapter 5 with respect to Mustafa Sa’eed, the protagonist of Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North. I also highlight the novel’s subtle intertextual arrangements and literary echoes which are part of a larger symphony of mirrorings that form a recurrent principle ramifying at different levels of the text. I track the various references to Othello, Heart of Darkness, A Thousand and One Nights, and texts of the Arab Nahda (renaissance) that are widely interspersed throughout the novel. Finally, I examine Mustafa Sa’eed’s motivation toward self-authorship and the ability to fashion his own identity autonomously and in complete control both of its contingent processes and of their final product. He does this through the deployment of exoticizing orientalist stereotypes, which are rendered completely redundant when he encounters his wife Jean Morris.
In Chapter 8, Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things dramatizes the tragedy of Ammu, Rahel, and Estha. The children experience profound guilt for their part in the deaths of their cousin Sophie Mol and of Velutha, the god of small things of the title. The deaths are focalized through their eyes and told across two time frames, which serves to give us progressive, if fragmentary, instalments of the collapse of the children’s own internal emotional landscapes. I argue that even though the distribution of the story across two time frames suggests the shape of a fractured bildungsroman, the traumatic events of their childhood so firmly seal them into the discourse of tragedy, that theirs becomes not the story of growing up but rather the teleology of an arrested development. I trace the various ways in which the crises in the social world are metonymically displaced onto that of volatile nature.
This chapter explores how the work of three of the ‘major’ modernist authors – T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and W. B. Yeats – might be considered to be invested in the ‘Decadent’ sensibility. The chapter begins by tracing the emergence of this Decadent sensibility in the late age of revolutionary romanticism, and in particular in Shelley’s claim that ‘Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World.’ If poets are, in 1821, legislators, it suggests they are no longer revolutionaries. Post-romantic poetry is then written in an age of failed, exhausted revolution and is often characterized by reactionary, backward-looking politics. In this narrative late modernism marks the culmination of this increasingly dispirited view of the world, so that Eliot, by the 1930s, invests in absolutist authority rather than in poetic possibility. As the chapter suggests, this view of the failure of poetic possibility was one which with the Decadent writers of the 1890s began to grapple. Try as they might, modernist authors found themselves caught in a Decadent paradox in which poetry could no longer transform the world, and so they turned to totalizing, even totalitarian politics.
Chapter 3 explores modernist uses of the pastoral that deny the escape into nature and emphasize instead the biological limitations of human life. This dark pastoral mode coincides with setbacks to nature preservation in the United Kingdom during and following WWI and heightening during the economically stressful 1930s. Beginning with the iconic presentations of decay and destruction found in T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, the chapter considers Eliot’s symbolic registers of waste and regeneration in relation to actual attempts at land restoration in the United Kingdom. As the first large land holding entrusted to the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves, the case of Woodwalton Fen presents the tensions between “reserving nature” and “putting lands in order.” The undoing of pastoral retreat at the hands of anthropogenic control develops further in the early poems of W. H. Auden and arrives most forcefully in the fiction of Djuna Barnes, whose dark pastoral aesthetic subverts Thoreauvian notions of self-sufficiency in nature. Robin Vote as the “black sheep” in Djuna Barnes’s 1936 novel Nightwood poses a queer resilience to those who seek to tame and exploit living beings.
“The Artist as Clerk” moves from the reinvention of national debt under John Maynard Keynes to examine the role of debt, literary and financial, in the high modernist work of T. S. Eliot. As a young bank clerk at Lloyds of London, Eliot’s assignment was to parse the German debts adjudicated by the Versailles Treaty’s terms. It briefly recalls the structural role of debt in the liberal crises of interwar Europe, then connects those crises to the unbearable material and poetic debts that burden Eliot’s poetic line. Debt work makes its way to the very heart of his major postwar poetry, in the arid indemnities of “Gerontion” and in the conjunction of clerk, desk, and typist at the heart of The Waste Land. In Eliot’s interwar essays we see a parallel confrontation with economic and political liberalism, an interest dramatized in the incomplete Coriolan sequence.
What was the modernist response to the global crisis of liberal world order after 1919? This book tells the story of the origins of liberal world governance in Cambridge modernist circles, the literary response to the Versailles Peace of 1919, and the contestation of that institutional moment across a range of world literary modernities. Challenging standard accounts of reactionary postwar politics, Interwar Modernism and the Liberal World Order articulates a modernism animated by the contradictions of liberal governance between the wars. The book develops a new materialist reading of modernist politics hinged on the official figures that traverse both modernist texts and liberal order. This official liberal world shapes interwar arts and letters from wartime Cambridge to revolutionary Shanghai.
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