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About this book

This Readers Guide offers a stimulating and accessible introduction to the key criticism which surrounds the diverse range of literatures of the modernist period. Sarah Davison explores a variety of critical works, from initial pronouncements to recent studies which have shaped the way that Anglo-American modernism is understood and theorized today.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
If there is one essential critical insight that comprehends the diverse literatures we consider to be modernist it is Ezra Pound’s exhortation ‘Make It New’.1 Simple and memorable, Pound’s maxim is the clearest, most widely applicable and readily quotable formulation of modernist aesthetics. ‘Make It New’ is a call to modernise, to remake or break with the past, in order to respond to, and indeed sculpt, the experience of living in a palpably modern world. And it is telling, therefore, that the slogan was not Pound’s own invention: he translated it from the inscription on an ancient Chinese emperor’s bathtub.
Sarah Davison, Nicolas Tredell

Critical Declarations and Contemporary Responses

Frontmatter

Chapter One. Modernist Beginnings

Abstract
‘Modernity is the transient, the fleeting, the contingent’ declared the French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821–67) in ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ (1863), an essay often cited as a foundational modernist document.1 The crowded city is the environment where the flux that characterises modernity is at its most intense. Baudelaire’s painter of modern life is ‘a singular man’ who is by nature ‘a great traveller and very cosmopolitan’.2 He is a flâneur who strolls the city streets at his leisure:
■ [He] moves into the crowd as though into an enormous reservoir of electricity. He […] may also be compared to a mirror as vast as this crowd; to a kaleidoscope endowed with consciousness, which with every one of its movements presents a pattern of life, in all its multiplicity, and the flowing grace of all the elements that go to compose life. It is an ego athirst for the non-ego, and reflecting it at every moment in energies more vivid than life itself, always inconstant and fleeting.3
Sarah Davison, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Two. High Modernism

Abstract
The year 1910 is often cited as a watershed in the advent of modernism by British critics. The primary reference point is Woolf’s famous assertion that ‘on or about December 1910, human character changed’:
■ The change was not sudden and definite like that. But a change there was, nevertheless; and since one must be arbitrary, let us date it about the year 1910. The first signs of it are recorded in the books of Samuel Butler, in The Way of All Flesh in particular; the plays of Bernard Shaw continue to record it. In life one can see the change […] in the character of one’s cook. The Victorian cook lived like a leviathan in the lower depths, formidable, silent, obscure, inscrutable; the Georgian cook is a creature of sunshine and fresh air; in and out of the drawing room, now to borrow the Daily Herald, and now to ask advice about a hat. […] All human relations have shifted — those between masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children. And when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics and literature.1
Sarah Davison, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Three. Modernism after 1922

Abstract
The modernist revolution in the arts continued in the years after the War, but its character changed. While modernists still appealed to form as an arena where aesthetic, epistemological and ideological battles could be fought, their critical writings became more explicitly concerned with social, regional and national issues, the global political and economic situation, and literature’s role in shaping the future of society. This chapter examines this overtly politicised sensibility, exploring innovative writers’ attempts to formulate national and international modernisms, harness the anarchic irruptions of the unconscious mind and use experimental modernist techniques to intervene in debates concerning race, gender and class.
Sarah Davison, Nicolas Tredell

Literary Criticism from 1930–Present

Frontmatter

Chapter Four. The Making of Modernist Canons

Abstract
The mechanisms that consolidated literary reputations were various and complex. Many of the writers who were once deemed to be producing lastingly valuable work are now virtually unstudied. For instance, the poets Carl Sandburg (1878–1967), Vachel Lindsay (1879–1931) and Edgar Lee Masters (1868–1950) were published in little magazines alongside Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot and were once considered heavyweights. At least a third of the poets whom W.B. Yeats selected for inclusion in the Oxford Book of Modern Verse: 1892–1935 (1936) are now all but forgotten. By contrast, many of the writers whom we think of today as major modernist innovators had already achieved celebrity status by the 1920s and 1930s thanks to frequent mentions in newspaper columns and popular magazines. It is a measure of how successfully modernism had become part of mainstream culture that so many figures associated with the movement graced the front cover of Time magazine, notably: Joseph Conrad (1923), Amy Lowell (1925), Gertrude Stein (1933), James Joyce (1934, 1939), Ernest Hemingway (1937), Virginia Woolf (1937), William Faulkner (1939) and T.S. Eliot (1950).
Sarah Davison, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Five. Gender and Sexuality in Modernist Literature

Abstract
The feminist project of rediscovery, re-evaluation and revision is coextensive with the task of investigating the representation of sexuality and gender. In No Man’s Land, Gilbert and Gubar ascribe the origins of modernism to the emancipation of women. They cite ‘the late nineteenth-century rise of feminism and the fall of Victorian concepts of “femininity”’, the emergence of the New Woman, the formation of visible homosexual communities and ‘the unprecedented confrontation (by both sexes) with the artifice of gender’ in the fin de siècle, as well as changes to women’s social and economic status, particularly during the First World War when they had access to male professions.1 Modernity is thus figured as no man’s land: both the territory between opposing armies and also a realm that is not male. Gilbert and Gubar argue that, from the late nineteenth century onwards, ‘both women and men engendered words and works which continually sought to come to terms with, and find terms for, the ongoing battle of the sexes’.2 They conclude that ‘“modernism” is itself […] for men as much as for women a product of the sexual battle […], as are the linguistic experiments usually attributed to the revolutionary poetics of the so-called avant-garde’.3
Sarah Davison, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Six. Modernist Geographies and Time Frames

Abstract
The beginnings of modernism coincided with the aligned projects of capitalist modernisation and Western imperialism. By the 1970s, modernism had been firmly established as an ‘art of cities’.1 Malcolm Bradbury explains that it emerged in the ‘cafés and cabarets, magazines, publishers and galleries’ of the great European and North American intellectual, cultural and commercial centres — ‘through Berlin, Vienna, Moscow and St Petersburg around the turn of the century and into the early years of the war; through London in the years immediately before the war; through Zürich, New York and Chicago during it; and through Paris at all times’.2 In the 1980s, scholars began to take account of the ways in which imperialism further concentrated wealth, power and prestige in the great European cities, making them even more attractive to immigrants from outlying regions and colonies. Writing in 1985, Raymond Williams agreed that ‘the key cultural factor of the modernist shift is the character of the metropolis’, but argued that the ‘most important general element of the innovations in form is the fact of immigration to the metropolis’.3 He emphasised ‘how many of the major innovators were […] immigrants’, noting ‘the elements of strangeness and distance, indeed of alienation, which so regularly form part of the repertory’.4
Sarah Davison, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Seven. Modernist Literatures and Mass Culture

Abstract
The relationship between mass culture and high art was influentially theorised by thinkers affiliated to the Institute of Social Research, which was founded in 1923 under the auspices of the University of Frankfurt to provide a space where Marxist theory could be developed independently from the activities of the organised working class or the communist party. The Institute relocated to New York in 1933, when Hitler rose to power. The members of the so-called Frankfurt School challenged what they saw as the crude economic basis of orthodox Marxism, and instead applied Marxist analysis to the agency of social and cultural formations to understand the workings of mass media. A cornerstone of Frankfurt School thinking — formulated by Theodor Adorno (1903–69) and Max Horkheimer (1895–1973) — was the notion that, far from arising spontaneously from the masses, mass culture is in fact imposed on them from above by the ‘culture industry’.1
Sarah Davison, Nicolas Tredell

Conclusion

Conclusion

Abstract
Modernism was made in the invigorating plays, prose, poetry and pronouncements of writers who were as critically sophisticated as they were daring and defiant. Modernist drama was nurtured by independent or ‘free’ theatre companies that resisted the mercantile priorities of crowd-pleasing commercial theatre to present aesthetically and/or socially challenging material. Fiction was released from the strictures of chronological sequence, completed plot and the singularity of stable character as it followed the phases of the mind and renewed the marvellous, the erotic, the ineffable, the contingent and the fleeting at the heart of the everyday. Poets turned away from the lyric ‘I’ and regular verse, and embraced multiple registers, including common speech. They pioneered innovative forms to articulate the problematically shaky relationship between words and things: from the musical suggestivity of Symbolism, to the allusive dislocation of high modernists such as T.S. Eliot and the non-referential strategies of avant-garde writers.
Sarah Davison, Nicolas Tredell
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