Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
The annus mirabilis of literary Modernism was 1922, when Ulysses and The Waste Land were first published in two metropolitan centres, Paris and London. In Ireland, the year 1922 saw the founding of the Free State, a coincidence of chronology that ought to have stimulated more reflection than it has. For that moment when a national revolution achieved even a partial success represented an experiment in social and cultural expression just as the publication of those two works represented experiment in the artistic sphere. Each event, the founding of a post-imperial state, the publication of a novel which set in question the adequacy of realist fiction to the present moment and the issuing of the poem which sought to exploit a ‘mythical method’ the better to comprehend the ‘immense panorama of futility and anarchy’ of ‘contemporary history’ were symptomatic occasions, signs of the times, manifestions of, and reactions to, the general crisis of post-war Europe.
Ulysses and The Waste Land are of course customarily entered in the roll-call of Modernist masterpieces even by those who suspect that Modernism is so capacious a term, so ‘completely lacking in positive content’, that it is ‘the emptiest of all cultural categories’. The Irish revolution and the foundation of the Free State have not, by contrast, been considered in the context of the international Modernism of the period, however accommodatingly conceived.