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9 - Material Modernism and Yeats

Alex Davis
Affiliation:
University College Cork
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Summary

In his volume in the Oxford English Literary History, 1910–1940: The Modern Movement, Chris Baldick argues forcefully that we need to revise our conception of a period often unquestioningly identified in toto with, in his eyes, a relatively small group of writers, those whom, retrospectively, we have learned to label ‘modernist’. ‘In their own time’, he states, ‘the writers we call the modernists … regarded themselves as participants in a rather larger and looser enterprise which was then more commonly known as “the modern movement” … [We must not] forget that there are many ways of being modern’. For Baldick, recent scholarship has expanded the modernist canon ‘beyond credibility’, and is driven, he believes, by the ‘undeclared assumption that other writers are worthy of notice only insofar as they resemble that central avant-garde’. It is true that a monolithic conception of ‘international modernism’ has seceded to an understanding of the period as intricately variegated; that modernism, in short, has given way to modernisms. The reductive versions of the modernist movement and the modernist text constructed by a number of critics in the 1980s and early ’90s, especially certain theorists of a putative postmodernism, increasingly have the air of T. S. Eliot's hollow men, ‘filled with straw’. Few would now maintain that modernism is definable simply through the employment of certain structural, formal and stylistic devices, such as stream of consciousness, fragmentation, collage, etc. And neither would we isolate a specific series of themes and preoccupations as inherently modernist.

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Publisher: Pickering & Chatto
First published in: 2014

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