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This chapter surveys how Decadent writers engaged with contemporary politics. It defines the Decadents as anti-modernists drawn to modernity in literary form but deeply resistant to modernity in social and political life. Like other anti-modernists they channelled their frustrations into dreams of idealized pasts or utopian futures and like them they fulminated loudly against the prevailing order. The chapter considers Decadent engagements with politics in terms of three key examples: the use by writers in the movement of tropes from the tradition of republican political theory; their enthusiasm for elite, underground and countercultural communities like the eighteenth-century libertines that provide historical alternatives to contemporary politics; and recurrent images of crowds, political protest and political forms of writing (like the manifesto) in their works, which comment more directly on the age. The chapter argues that Decadent writing arose from and responded to the politics of its historical moment, one rife with real and imagined political disorder and one that demanded the imagination of alternative possibilities for expression and association.
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.
This chapter studies camp modernism’s debt to the Decadent tradition and the political uses to which the camp modernist aesthetic was put in the early twentieth century. The camp modernism of the 1910s through the 1940s compounds the Decadent models from which it emerged. Turning decisively away from high modernist austerity, fragmentation and ambitious, grand content, camp modernist writers such as Sitwell, Firbank, Benson, and Compton-Burnett composed works preoccupied with small worlds and miniscule conflicts, with the disputes between elderly women in a seaside town or the tiny tyrannies of terrible fathers. They imported the incisive wit, cold derision and rococo sensibilities of fin-de-siècle Decadence into a far more compressed and peripheral universe, one that seemed to operate at a remove from the epic and apocalyptic realm of high modernism. Camp modernism’s frivolity was not, however, entirely apolitical, and it employed the camp aesthetic to queer political ends. Camp modernism’s arch dissections of patriarchal brutality and heteronormativity foregrounded the political utilities of camp as they expressed a Decadent disdain for oppressive and inhibiting forms of power.
This chapter argues that we should take seriously Orwell’s claim, in his 1946 essay ‘Why I Write’, that ‘what I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art’. By examining how this ambition of yoking art to politics plays out in Orwell’s final novel, it places Nineteen Eighty-Four within the context of the literary problems and practices of Orwell’s precursors and contemporaries. First, it considers his relationship with literary modernism and its legacies, with particular reference to his analysis of the work of James Joyce and Henry Miller, for instance in the 1940 essay ‘Inside the Whale’. Next, it examines Nineteen Eighty-Four in the light of earlier dystopian and speculative fiction by William Morris, Aldous Huxley, E. M. Forster, Jack London, Katharine Burdekin, Storm Jameson, and others; it also considers the influence on Orwell of Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. Finally, it assesses depictions of writing and the politics of language within the novel, and how their treatment might relate to Orwell’s sense of his place within twentieth-century literature.
In 1852, Wagner described his text for the Ring cycle as “the greatest poem that has ever been written.” This chapter asks to what extent the musical innovations – responding to historical linguistics – were formative for a generation of writers as well as composers. To what extent did innovation in one medium engender innovative techniques in another? After contextualizing Wagner’s operatic reforms within his early writings and related moments within the history of the genre, it explores a cornucopia of modernist writers working in the shadow of the Ring cycle: from Wilde, D. H. Lawrence, and Aubrey Beardsley, to Yeats, Mann, and Beckett; from Mallarmé and Dujardin to Zola and Proust, to name but a few. It traces the profound influence on literature of leifmotivic techniques, as “carriers of feeling,” amid the shift to words as a dereferentialized system of signs. The role of alliteration, direct parody, interior monologue, and involuntary memory all contribute to the overall view that appropriation and influence of “reformist” techniques in literature and linguistics remained in the hands of authors, regardless of Wagner’s predictions for his own literary greatness.
Modernity is often defined as the category that by definition excludes Indigenous people. We could say the same for the modernism, the cultural movement that came into being precisely as a modality of reimaging the future. This essay explores how reimagining Native Americans was not only central for writers during what Michael Denning refers to as the "third wave of modernism" from the late 1920s to the Cold War, but also how Native American modernists imagined themselves within the new emergent forms of modernity. Modernist Native American writers John Joseph Mathews’ and D'Arcy McNickle's touchstone novels, Sundown and The Surrounded, deployed many of the generic tropes of modernism: alienation, hybrid forms, ambiguity, and unreliable narration to express an ambivalence about an emergent modernity. Rather than read the Indigenous as "outside" of modernity, Mathews and McNickle serve to remind us of how Native American modernists complexly engaged with the emergent possibilities of modernist futuricity.
This chapter traces the emergence of a prosthetic modernism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It suggests that the literature of the fin de siècle, from Bellamy and Wells to Gilman and Wilde, registers a shifted relation between the interior and the exterior of being and between the figurations of surface and depth in the artwork, produced by the development of a new period in the history of modernity. This shifted relation is discernible in the late-century realism, but it is in the first stirrings of the modernist form that it comes to a new kind of expression. The chapter reads this new modernist relation between inside and outside, between surface and depth, as it is given expression in the novels of Edith Wharton and Henry James, particularly in The House of Mirth, and in What Maisie Knew. These works depict a duplication of consciousness, a sense that the novel imagination encounters itself always at remove from itself, but they also produce a new formal means of giving this duplicated consciousness a unity, of bringing depths onto the modernist surface of the artwork.
This chapter follows on from the last to trace the development of the prosthetic modernism discernible at the turn of the twentieth century, as it works through the modernist novel from Proust, Joyce, Stein and Woolf up to the extended late modernist work of Samuel Beckett. The chapter reads Beckett’s reception of Proustian and Joycean modernism, from his novels of the thirties and forties up to his late work Company and suggests that this reception might best be understood as a poetics of twining. Beckett offers an extended reflection on the ways in which the modernist novel performs a mode of twining, a joining together of mind with prosthetic extension; but he also enacts a specific form of untwining, which demonstrates how the novel has always shown the unbound, the disaggregated, to be a constituent part of the terms in which it conducts its binding properties.
David J. Code explores the reception of Vaslav Nijinsky’s L’Apres-midi d’un faune, a 1912 choreographic reworking of Claude Debussy’s orchestral Prélude (1894). He peels off layers of historical reference, looking backwards to Debussy and Stéphane Mallarmé from Faune’s 1912 Nijinskian embodiment. In the process, he questions the ballet’s accepted relationship to cubism in favour of a Matisse-inspired framework for understanding the underlying modernity of the Faun. With attention to scene and character types, structure and style, diegesis, eroticism and Freudian psychological interiority, Code highlights ways in which music and dance might both embody and subvert typically modernist modes of dramatic expression.
Chapter 1 examines Lebanon’s post-independence tourism promotion and maps its relations to a wider discursive field that constituted the coastal capital Beirut as a Mediterranean site of modern leisure and tourism. It reveals how the geographic turn to the Lebanese coast is linked to a rising global economy of mass tourism on the Mediterranean and to Cold War US development funds and modernization imperatives. However, the lens of global modernity becomes complicated once Lebanon’s colonial history, its creation as a nation-state and ensuing national identity politics are brought to the fore. Thus the chapter interrogates the hegemony of a Mediterranean geography of belonging, especially in light of its antagonistic relation to contemporary politics of pan-Arab nationalism in the region. It sheds light on the visual communication strategy of the National Council for Tourism Development and the role of the graphic design department headed by artist Mouna Bassili Sehnaoui (b. 1945). The analysis reveals how Lebanon’s visual culture of tourism contributed to the formation of a Lebanese subjectivity premised on separatism from the Arab context, arguing that cosmopolitan Beirut, ‘the Paris of the East’, emerged in and through the material folds of 1960s tourism promotions, associated practices and aesthetics.
James MacMillan contends music should awaken the senses to the possibility of beauty. To do this, he crafted his own form of ‘modernist lament’ (David Metzer), thus creating a form of beauty capable of embracing the dark elements of human experience without descending into nihilistic despair. MacMillan’s lament compositions fit into three themes: (1) the death of Jesus, (2) the life and death of particular historical persons, and (3) memorial works that either lament particular persons or commemorate communal tragedy. This chapter will focuses on the third classification through MacMillan’s Violin Concerto (2009), written in memoriam of his mother, Ellen MacMillan. The first section will adumbrates the category of late modernist lament. The next section will examines a number of themes from MacMillan’s memorial works, which often pull from the traditions of Gaelic keening and heterophonic psalm singing. The final section will applies these ideas to the Violin Concerto. The concerto does not prioritize grief but, instead, moves between mourning and celebration. The dance between the violin’s virtuosity and the orchestra’s vibrant tapestry of color takes the listener on a journey through a whirl of emotions: the sweet, the nostalgic, the festive, and the anguish of memory and loss.
An analysis of MacMillan’s The World’s Ransoming presents an underlying conflict between modernity and tradition, observed on three levels, and focused to form the chapter’s main issue: how to configure MacMillan’s relationship with modernism, particularly given his characteristic stylistic mixture of modernist and traditional elements. Dominic Wells’s label for MacMillan (‘retrospective modernism’) highlights two questions: do the modernist and traditional co-exist as comfortably as this suggests? Can modernism be ‘retrospective’ so easily? I propose ‘conflicting modernities and a modernity of conflict’ as a better description. ‘Conflicting modernities’ highlights the centrifugal aspects of MacMillan’s style in three ways: the conflict between modernist and traditional elements, categorising them as examples of conflict first, before they are rapprochements with modernity; the inclusion of traditional elements stems from a modernist impulse, evidenced in MacMillan’s essay ‘Music and Modernity’; and the multiplicity of modernist influences in MacMillan’s style. ‘Modernity of conflict’ suggests a conclusion that conflict in MacMillan must be defined overall as modernist, explored through two strands of Adorno: meaning as contradiction; and Adorno’s aim to expose totalitarian tendencies, restrictions, and blindspots. In MacMillan this takes the form of a desire to turn modernity’s critique onto itself, exposing its atheistic elements and nihilistic worldview.
In his 2015 interview with John Palmer, James MacMillan makes a distinction between ‘conviction composers’, and ‘others, like me’ who ‘sometimes struggle with conviction’. It is understandable that giving convincing musical expression to strong religious beliefs might be harder in textless concert works than in liturgical settings, and MacMillan seems to have relished the possible contrasts between concert works that are associated with religious topics and those where any engagement with extra-musical themes is less explicit. Two of the three numbered string quartets have titles, and the second has religious connotations that deal with the ‘drama’ of the Jewish Seder Night rituals. The first quartet can also be interpreted as dramatic, and it could well have been an impatience with this aspect that led MacMillan, in a reference to his third quartet, to declare that he was conscious of ‘leaving the extra-musical starting points behind’, writing music that ‘was just the notes and nothing but the notes’. My analysis of all three quartets explores the possibilities of narrative and characterisation in the light of stylistic and expressive qualities that seem to resist any aspirations to pure abstraction, even when direct connections with MacMillan’s more ‘mainstream’ texted compositions are less obvious.
In the late 1960s and 1970s a confluence of anticolonial politics and publishing revitalized the Cairo–Beirut link, itself emblematic of the turn of the century Arab nahda. This connection saw a reverse flow, which advantaged Beirut by way of Cairo’s amassed expertise in the publishing industry. Emerging Arab nationalist Beirut-based publishers relied on expertise in the production of illustrated books and periodicals developed in Cairo. Chapter 4 examines the subsequent Cairo–Beirut circuit of graphic design modernism, while probing the political relations and cultures of the visual carried through the influx of this expertise. The analysis brings to light a visual culture that embodies a modernist double claim of aesthetic authenticity, articulating Arab socialist politics with processes of artistic decolonization in and through printed mass media. The analysis is focused on Helmi el-Touni’s move from Cairo to Beirut in 1974 and his settling there for a decade, tracing the aesthetic and political relations articulated in his graphic design practice, while analysing in particular two sustained consultancies he undertook with Beirut-based Arab nationalist institutions: Beirut’s Arabic Book Fair and the Arab Institute for Research and Publishing.
Chapter 3 is focused on the short-lived Silsilat al-Nafaʾis (Precious Books Series), published in Beirut by Dar an-Nahar between 1967 and 1971 under the direction of modernist poet Youssuf al-Khal. The series engaged prominent modern Arab artists such as Chafic Abboud, Paul Guiragossian, and Dia al-Azzawi and extended the vision of al-Khal’s journal Shiʿr to the ‘preciousness’ of art books. This publishing endeavour formed a node connecting transnational modernist art and literary circuits with book publishing and was thus paradigmatic of new forms of visuality of the Arabic book. The chapter demonstrates how this new materiality was enabled by a network of changes in the visual arts, printing technologies and the political economy of transnational publishing in late 1960s Beirut. Relations between these three fields are analysed through a multifaceted lens, focusing on the book as at once a product of intellectual and artistic practice, a translocal artefact of visual and print culture and a commodity in a capitalist economy of publishing. The analysis probes the political, intellectual and aesthetic modalities of key books from this series and maps the transnational networks of social relations and circuits of modernism that are interwoven in their undertaking.
Chapter 2 examines Arabic literary journals published in 1960s Beirut and focuses on the controversy surrounding Hiwar (Dialogue 1962–67), which was connected to a global network of similar journals, intellectually and financially administered by the Congress of Cultural Freedom (CCF), in a covert CIA operation. In focusing on this short-lived Arabic periodical, the study is concerned with three interrelated issues that are important for our historical understanding of Beirut’s cultural production in the long 1960s and its location on the global map of that era. First, it attends to the journal itself, the modernist discourse it foregrounded and the important place accorded to the modern visual arts on its pages, shedding light on the role of its graphic designer, Waddah Faris (b. 1940). Second, using the example of Hiwar, this chapter argues that US cultural campaigns were part and parcel of a Cold War counterinsurgency apparatus in the Third World. Third, it suggests that our entry to reading Hiwar should not be the outlook of the CIA, but the aesthetic discourses and political debates of Arab intellectuals and artists at this historical conjuncture.
From at least the tenth century, key parts of the Christian liturgy were performed with particularly dramatic rituals, especially on high-ranking feast days in the Church calendar. One of the most ubiquitous texts of this type was the Quem quaeritis dialogue, so-named on account of its text, which sets the Angels’ question ‘Whom do you seek?’ and the Three Marys’s answer ‘Jesus of Nazareth’. This liturgical scenario embodies many aspects that modern audiences would associate with theatrical display. Visitatio Sepulchri, MacMillan’s chamber-scale opera (1992–1993) takes the Quem quaeritis narrative and places it within a larger structure that connects it to the Crucifixion and to the Resurrection. The composer uses several medieval chants (the fourteenth-century Parisian liturgy for Easter Day, the Easter sequence Victimae Paschali laudes, and the Te Deum) as well as drawing inspiration from broader aspects of medievalism. This chapter examines the placement, function, and effect of pre-existent chant and other material in Visitatio Sepulchri. It assesses the way in which both musical borrowing and the idea of medieval drama impact upon the creation of the work, on its performance, and on its expressive potential as sacred opera.
This chapter considers a range of methods for writing about literary soundscapes. R. Murray Schafer’s seminal coinage of soundscape residually informs current debates about the sonic dimensions of literary form, but the discursive alignment of print and voice and reading and listening is an enduring aspect of the history of modern literature. This history extends from the capacious descriptive ambition of the realist novel through to, and beyond, literary modernism’s experimental ambition to capture the sounds of modern life at a critical moment when an array of recording devices emerged to do what literature could not – record sound in real time. Spanning from Charles Dickens to Elizabeth Bowen, this chapter analyses the various ways writers from the nineteenth century to the present have responded to the sound worlds in which they lived by attending to the distinctive sonic textures of literary language and its unique capacity to channel the rhythms and voices of everyday socially embodied sound.
In 1912 Ezra Pound set himself in opposition to one particular sonic form: ‘the sequence of a metronome.’ With its symmetrical ticking or beating, the metronome became for Pound and some of his contemporaries an apt figure for a metrical tradition, often equated with an outmoded Victorian versification based on a regular succession of beats. In fact, the figure of metronome had been structuring debates about the appropriate sonic form of poetry for roughly a century before Pound issued his pronouncement about it. From the early decades of the nineteenth century, when Johann Maelzel’s musical chronometer began to offer a standard of temporal measurement for musical and vocal compositions, the metronome and practices attuned to its ticking featured regularly in elocutionary and prosodic literature. From the first tick of Maelzel’s machine to the modernism of Pound, a dispute about the practice of reading and reciting verse, as well as composing in it, found an apt correlate in the figure of the metronome. This chapter suggests that Pound’s anti-metronome modernism belongs to an evolving debate about a culture of sing-song and deliberately repetitive prosody.
In Western literature music functions ‘as the vehicle for everything that cannot be represented or denoted.’ Anglophone literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries works with a specific musical tradition that we broadly term ‘classical music’ which encompasses a set of intellectual, aesthetic, historical and cultural ideas. From Wagner’s Total Art-Work to Walter Pater’s claims about music as the ‘consummate’ art form, classical music as an aesthetic paradigm has not just offered literature a set of cultural reference points, but philosophical and intellectual traditions that shape its aesthetic experiments and styles. Nowhere is the idea of music more fully delineated by a composer than in the work of Wagner, and his music has had perhaps the greatest influence on literature. Wagner provides a focal point for discussions of classical music in literature in this chapter, especially around the role of the Gesamtkunstwerk in Virginia Woolf’s negotiations with aesthetics and the artwork. Laura Marcus has argued that literary modernism took on filmic devices. This chapter argues that it did the same with music. Newly conscious of forms, languages, systems and somatic effects, modernist writers turned to music and particularly Wagner as a paradigm of artistic expression.