Nicholls, Peter. Modernisms: A Literary Guide. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. Print.
Modern life is thus an experience of extremes…At once vulnerable because of hypersensitivity and dangerous because of his desire for ever greater sensitivity of sensation, the authentically modern subject thus seems to slip the social morroings of the rational bourgeois self and its ‘counting-house morality.’…This new form of subjectivity is accompanied by a rejection of art’s traditional role as an arbiter of moral truths. (8)
For the writer who, like Baudelaire, had only contempt for the culture of his day, it was thus crucial that art be in no sense ‘useful.’…”Utility” here denotes forms of ideological usefulness: bourgeois art is expected to conceal and in that way naturalize the damaging effects of ‘progress’, rationalising change by making it somehow continuous with a familiar, academic culture….So in Baudelaire’s poems, the everyday life of commercial society is forced to reveal its darker, nocturnal side, as the self is unravelled through tropes of intoxication, violence and perversity. (9)
Tie to Bad Modernisms, if the only way to create bourgeois art is to be anti-bourgeois (10), then modernism grows out of this sense of self-exile to a space where creativity can grow, outside of the mimetic grinding bourgeois culture.
Such images of a failed sociality are intended, like the claustrophobic tableaux of Baudelaire and the stone walls of Notes from the Underground, as ever-present reminders of the limits of modernity. This world is hollowed-out, devoid of any transfiguring human presence, yet even as it compels the writer to adopt violent postures of recoil and ‘revengeful indifference, it somehow retains the inscription of the social- a sign, but one one barely legible. (23)
The way forward was now to exploit to the full non-social registers of language and in that way to exceed the binary structure of an allegorical world. In short, all the rules of normal communication must now be broken if the relation between art and society was to be significantly transformed. This new possibility came to be known as symbolism…Intuition, mystery, suggestiveness: these were the watchwords of this new tendency. (25)
Allusions to the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the barbarian races took on a special resonance in the wake of France’s humilliation at Sedan in 1870; the Prussians, it seemed, had put an end to France’s vision of itself as the Great Nation…Modernity was now imagined as a kind of disease whose ravages, felt equally in aesthetic, moral and psychological realms, were attributable to a general malady often called “Americanisation’. (46)
The invention of ‘words in freedom’ was essentially a way of cancelling ‘psychology’ or ‘the inner life’…the Futurist ‘destruction of syntax’, with its rejection of ‘inevitable echo-play, internal and external’ , employs juxtaposition and analogy to create a fast-moving surface which denies the Symbolist imagination a foothold. Emotion now tends to be depersonalised: the linear trajectory of the text brutally suppresses any opportunity for introspection and in place of the structures of syntax Marinetti opts for ‘very brief or anonymous mathematical and musical symbols. Movement here is not that of Symbolist dream, the movements of ‘objects’ rather than that of contemplative sensibility…(93)
Marinetti’s deliberate reduction of literary figures to strings of nouns is intended to dissolve those private intensities of the reflective imagination and eroticised body whose ‘feminine’ inscriptions - as ‘depth and materiality- offer resistance to the mechanised currents of modernity. (97)
"Modernity and the ‘Men of 1914’"
When we turn to the Anglo-American modernists, we find once again that the problematic of time preoccupies a central place, but here temporality is explored not as a repressive genealogical structure, but rather as a discontinuous cultural memory conceived as the very matrix of the new modernism…while the Expressionists associated narrative forms with the stultifying reproduction of a domestic history, for many of the major figures of Anglo-American modernism, time was imaginatively experienced through the shock of ‘exile’ and cultural contrast. (165)
The complex desire and disorientation lies at the heart of one type of Anglo-American modernism…For this later generation, though, irony ran in both direction, and when Ezra Pound tell us that his imaginary poet Hugh Selwyn Mauberley was ‘born in a half-savage country, out of date’, he is also remindind us that English modernism is not much more than the sum of its cultural imports from America and Ireland. None of the so-called men of 1914…Pound, Wyndham Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and James Joyce- was born in England…(166)
…in contrast to some of the European models, the Anglo-American version developed in part as a critique of modernity. Here the new was a highly equivocal category, since cultural renovation was frequently projected as a return to the values of a previous age (the nineteenth century Pre-Raphaelites, Britain’s first real avant-garde, had already sketched a model of cultural decline and a compensatory ‘return’). The modernism presided over by Pound and Eliot…thus issued a call to order in the name of values which were explicitly anti-modern, though it did so by developing literary forms which were overtly modern. (167)
…this modernism sought to correct the apparently amnesiac tendencies of modernity by reconnecting it to a valued cultural tradition. Here the avant-garde conception of a rupture between past and present was supplanted by a concern with figures of anachrony and temporal disjunction which put questions of narrative back on the agenda. (167)
the image as the presentation of ‘an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. (169)
F.S. Flint’s ‘rules’:
1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing,’ whether subjective or objective.
2. To use absolutely no work that did not contribute to the presentation.
3. As, regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.
Imagism is an attempt to recover a stylistic purity, a ‘weilding of word and thing,’ which Pound traces back to the ‘plasticity’ of Gautier’s style and to the realism of Stendhal and Flaubert. (169-170)
Hence, perhaps, Pound’s way of talking about the image as an ‘equation’ for a particular mood. (170)
As we have seen, Pound’s Imagist writing was already concerned to explore the collision of time-schemes, exploiting the gap or space between two momentary perceptions in order to prevent the poem from atrophying into an impression. (172)
…Pound’s sense of his own origin in ‘a half-savage country, out of date’ drove him in search of connections with precisely that older, Latin culture which Marinetti sought to destroy. Futurism was certainly exhilarating, but Pound could not subscribe to Marinetti’s denigration of ‘art’ and his worship of the present. (172)
Yet far from having any desire to ‘break out of literature’, Pound regarded art as the means by which to give structure and value to an otherwise formless modernity; and the way to do this was always in some measure to restore a context to the chaotic ‘reality of the moment’, to disclose those cultural mediations which a mere impressionism would efface. (173)
For Lewis, the authentically modern would derive from the subordination of the technical to the aesthetic, and the resulting force of design would differentiate his art from both the facile ‘automobilism’ of Marinetti and the ‘safe’ domestic materials of Picasso’s recent still-lifes and assemblages. (174)
In Japan, Pound observed, ‘the merely mimetic stage has been despised, with the result that in pace of the ‘western convention of plot,’ we find ‘Unity in Image’: ‘the better plays it seems ‘all are built into the intensification of a single Image. Pound’s way of emphasizing the play-as-image was in line with his thoughts elsewhere on modern painting as a model for a non-mimetic writing, but the particular importance of Noh was that is suddenly seemed to offer a spatial embodiment of that anachronous sense of time which had become such a consistent feature of his own work. (175)
[Noh plays] testify to the interpenetration of the past and present. (176)
Where Futurism sought to embrace the real, the ‘Men of 1914’ turned to art in search of a productive mimesis, which may be defined in terms of intertextuality rather than by presupposing some relation between text and reality. (179)
Eliot’s use of allusion and pastiche works to create a curiously empty poetic voice for which irony is a constant reminder of the self’s instability, not to say intermittence. In ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’, for example, we learn much about what the speaker is not and what he should have been, but almost nothing about what he is. (181)
Sexuality construed as (original) desire rather than as simple appetitive need thus seems to threaten the self by opening the way to fantasies of identification whose unreality derives from a narcissistic suppression of otherness. That such fantasies are especially damaging to the artistic intelligence is a view expressed not only by Lewis, but also, in different ways, by Joyce, Pound and Eliot…(188)
…the ‘Men of 1914’ were concerned with inventing strong and authoritative versions of the self, a difference in emphasis which grounded their claims for the autonomy of the avant-garde in a model of psychic development which to some extent paralleled the Freudian trajectory from primary narcissism to objectival desire. There was, however, no acknowledged debt to the new science of psychoanalysis here; in fact Freud was generally condemned by the ‘Men of 1914’ as a prime instigator of the another ‘romantic twilight’ in Lewis’ phrase. (193)
The modernist will therefore go in search of objects sufficient to the task of stabilising the self, closing it to the turbulent movements of desire by discovering that desire as the property of some external object. (194)
What is of interest about this otherwise conventional misogyny is its function as a criterion of literary style. Charles Maurras’s rejection of Symbolism in the name of lucidity and articulation comes strongly into play here, bringing with it a familiar freight of conservative politics. (194)
That failure of articulation can then be traced intermittently from Milton’s rejection of ‘common speech’ in favour of ‘personal style’ through to Joyce’s Work in Progress, where the auditory imagination [is] abnormally sharpened at the expense of the visual. In these writers, language apparently loses touch with the visual world, thus leaving the self immersed in the ‘opaque’ processes of its own confused desires…(195)
For Eliot then…a decadent language is one which has become somehow ‘bodily’, a condition which prevents ‘objectivity’ and which is quickly marked as feminine. So, for example, Virginia Woolf’s ‘feminine type’ of language is one which ‘makes its art by feeling and by contemplating the feeling, rather than the object which has excited it or the object into which the feeling might be made; and Mina Loy similarly ‘needs the support of the image…[otherwise] she becomes abstract, and the word separates from the thing. Eliot’s suspicion of forms of writing which make the work somehow self-sufficient-‘feminine’ or narcissistic forms, because language has not there become a register of differentiation of self from other- are shared in various ways by Pound and Lewis. (195)
[This indicates] the powerful association here between a ‘false’ materiality and ‘the intuitional, mystical chaos’ which is the world of desire and the unconscious. The ‘true’ modernist aesthetic is thus supported by a mechanism of reference and metaphor, and exhibits a related concern with outlines and borders which protect against the ‘chaos’ of subjectivity. (196)
The literary values of this type of modernism are founded, then, on an attempt to dissociate desire from any form of identification, and on the appeal to the visual and objective which affirms distance and difference. This is without doubt the most familiar form of Anglo-American modernism, known to us largely through rehearsals of its formal qualities- precision, refusal of sentimentality and rhetoric, the visual image- rather than through the political entailments of these. (197)
Here [in the Waste Land] modernism begins to fulfill the possibilities explored in Pound’s early work (and particularly in his Noh plays) for writing becomes re-writing, the self saved frome the passive mimesis of modernity by imitation of a higher order. Where other avant-gardes had chafed against the constraints of a paternal tradition, this strand of modernism cast the self as the bearer of a troubled history and makes writing a medium in which different temporalities intersect. Writing now comes to occupy a space between historical memory and imaginative construction-a space which these writers begin to define as ‘myth’ and ‘epic’….(253)
At least two main lines of development now begin to appear in twenties modernism: one which makes this interplay of historical times the means by which to ensure a certain authorial ‘impersonality’: the other (perhaps best represented by Virginia Woolf) is characterised by an interest in the contents of consciousness and the self’s labile existence in time. Belatedness, we might say, defines the first, and stream of consciousness the second. (254)
Eliot’s developing preoccupations:
modernity is anarchic and lacking in any sense of direction; secondly, something which is not ‘history’ and which is alien to modernity may be invoked as an external principle of order; and thirdly, in his discovery of this ‘mythical method’ Joyce has killed off the novel once and for all. (255)