Anglo-American modernism

Anglo-American modernism has often been approached diachronically with critics raising the question of its relation to earlier and later cultural periods; to put it differently, one tried to come to terms with modernism by defining its antonyms. Taking their cue from remarks by modernist poets such as T. S. Eliot's statement, "there may be a good deal to be said for Romanticism in life, there is no place for it in letters" (Eliot 1960 [1920], 32), many theories of modernism stipulate a break with romanticism and oftentimes see a return to classical models (see, for instance, Davie 1965, 27; Kenner 1972, 80-81, 554; Quinones 1985, 254). Drawing attention to common interests of Romantic and modernist writers as, for instance, a predilection for fragmentary structures and irony, Randall Jarrell was among the first to point out that modernism might be conceptualized differently, namely as a continuation of romanticism (Jarrell 1942, 222, 224). In its most extreme form this view is held by Harold Bloom, who in 1975 declared: "Modernism in literature has not passed; rather, it has been exposed as never having been there" (Bloom 1975, 28). No less divergent are the assessments of the relation between Anglo-American modernism and postmodernism that have come to the fore since the 1960s. Whereas Ricardo J. Quinones sees continuity, declaring in 1985 that "we are still under the Modernist sway" (Quinones 1985, 254), Ihab Hassan argues in favor of a distinction (Hassan 1985, 123-24). Andreas Huyssen steers a middle path and explains that postmodernism has not broken with modernism in general but with a specific variant, usually referred to as "high modernism" (Huyssen 1986, 189-90). This monolithic concept of modernism is the result of and may thus illustrate the mechanisms of canonization. "High modernism" developed on the basis of influential studies (among them Riding and Graves 1969 [1927],

Wilson 1996 [1931], and Leavis 1961 [1932]) and revolves around the tenets of a turning away from traditional poetic techniques, symbolism as an important precursor of modernism, and T. S. Eliot as the central figure of the modernist movement. Adherents of a synchronic approach usually try to identify typical characteristics of a modernist text, believing in "a distinctive kind of imagination—themes and forms, conditions and modes of creation, that are interrelated and comprise an imaginative whole" (Ellmann and Feidelson, Jr. 1965, v). They see a common inventory of topics and representational modes, often cutting across genres, languages, nations, and cultures.2

Scholars in the 1970s, despite an overall awareness of the plurality and mutability of critical concepts, hoped to be able to describe and explain modernism for good. Indicative of this optimism is Maurice Beebe's essay "What Modernism Was," which served as introduction to a 1974 special issue of the Journal of Modern Literature: "Although a few major Modernists are still alive and productive, the main thrust of the Modernist movement in literature and the arts has ended. . . . We can now define Modernism with confidence that we shall not have to keep adjusting our definition in order to accommodate new visions and values" (Beebe 1974, 1065). Beebe obviously attributes past changes in the concept solely to the ever-growing number of modernist writers and their divergent modes of representation. That the critics' standpoint might considerably alter the notion of modernism is not acknowledged here. But from structuralism onward, overall trends in literary and cultural theory have served as a strong impetus, shaping and modifying our notions of modernism. Whereas, for instance, Cleanth Brooks based his concept of modernism on structural complexity and irony (Brooks 1939, 36, 61, 167), thus heralding New Critical ideas, Joseph N. Riddel defined modernism from a deconstructivist point of view (Riddel 1974, xiii, xix-xx). These language-centered, text- based concepts of modernism were supplanted by approaches that emphasized the contextual frames of modernist writing, including not only the reader in their analyses but also the political situation and fundamental developments within society (see, for instance, Poirier 1992; Jameson 1979; Kermode 1967; Rado 1997). And whereas initially modernism was conceptualized as an artistic movement related to a specific epoch, usually in the first three or four decades of the twentieth century, critics in the 1970s started to stress that there exist modes of modernist writing outside that limited time frame. Thus Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman have been seen as modernists avant la lettre and authors of the second half of the twentieth century such as the Black Mountain poets and the Beat poets as still writing in the modernist vein (Durand 1986, 126-27; Poirier 1992, 105; Ross 1986, 95, 213).

In so far it is not astonishing that Beebe's belief in a definitive version of modernism was shattered little later: A lively canon-debate began in the 1970s (see Fiedler and Baker 1981), which, over the years, led to a complete reassessment of modernism. The common aim of the plethora of new studies was to give neglected representatives of modernism their due and to reintegrate them and their work into the received narratives of Anglo-American modernism. In the course of this, the former distinction between high and popular literature was dissolved so that modernism lost its negative tinge of being an elitist movement. Influential in this respect was Cary Nelson, who in 1989 investigated workers' songs and political poetry, elucidating the social function of literature (C. Nelson 1989, xi, 19, 58-61, 127-28, 245). African American writers of the 1920s and 1930s who up to that time had mostly been treated separately under the heading "The Harlem Renaissance," were increasingly discussed alongside canonized modernists, for instance in studies by Houston A. Baker or Michael North. Other revisions were triggered by critics who chose a Gender Studies approach. Thus Shari Benstock, in Women of the Left Bunk: Paris, 1900-1940 (1986), declares: "Sitwell—and other women Modernists, including Djuna Barnes, Nancy Cunard, Natalie Barney, Gertrude Stein, and Virginia Woolf— argued an aesthetics of the individual and irrational (and perhaps even the eccentric) against Eliot's claims for tradition and logic" (Benstock 1999 [1986], 34). Female versions of modernism with a fundamentally different aesthetics inform a huge number of studies, among them Gilbert and Gubar (1988-94), DeKoven (1991), Clark (1991), and Rado (1997). But not only as authors did women contribute to the formation of modernism. As Jayne E. Marek shows, many of them—including Harriet Monroe, Alice Corbin Henderson, Margaret Anderson, Jane Heap, H. D., Bryher (pen name of Winifred Ellerman), and Marianne Moore—served as important mediators, providing publishing outlets and steering the course of modernism no less influentially than the often- mentioned impresario Ezra Pound (Marek 1995, 167).

Another trend that has come to dominate modernist studies since the 1980s is a broad interdisciplinary approach. Both Sanford Schwartz (1985) and Michael H. Levenson (1984), for instance, use contemporary philosophical currents as touchstones for their analyses. Even higher is the number of studies that discuss literary modernism in the context of the other arts, especially painting and music, among them those by Wendy Steiner (1982), Charles Altieri (1989), Mary Ann Caws (1989), Daniel Albright (2000), and Brad Bucknell (2001). Finally, Anglo-American modernism's relation to the continental avant-garde movements has received increased scholarly attention. Thus Dickran Tashjian argues that the Dadaists' excitement for machines raised a new awareness among American writers for their technologically shaped environment and thus helped to forge an urban primitivism that was to become a typically American form of expression (Tashjian 1975, x, 7, 228-30). Marjorie Perloff investigates the initial stages of Anglo-American, Russian, French, and Italian modernism when radical political views, popular culture, and avant-garde aesthetics interanimated each other, engendering

Futurist art products like the collage, the artist's book, the manifesto, the performance, and the sound poem (Perloff 1986, xvii-xviii, 38).

At the end of the 1980s, in line with a general trend toward communication- oriented and system-theoretical approaches, scholars started to discuss literary texts and their authors as part of a larger whole, as elements within a complex institutional configuration that influences the works' inception, distribution, and reception. Periodicals and book series, literary agents, editors, translators, publishing houses, readers, critics, prizes and awards, copyright regulations, censorship, marketing strategies, and other aspects were taken into account in order to give a fuller picture of Anglo-American modernism and lay bare the conflicting forces that shaped it. Groundbreaking research was undertaken by Lawrence Rainey, who urges "to view modernism as more than a series of texts or the ideas that found expression in them" (Rainey 1998, 4); he calls for "a more probing concept of modernism, one that acknowledges its institutional structures, their contradictoriness, and their ambiguous role in its vertiginous development" (ibid., 172). With Ezra Pound's launching of imag- ism and the publication of James Joyce's Ulysses and T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" among his examples, Rainey shows how a broader perspective may lead to new insights, for instance with respect to the relation between modernist art and commerce: "Patronage could nurture literary modernism only to the threshold of its confrontation with a wider public; beyond that point it would require commercial success to ratify its viability as a significant idiom" (ibid., 85). The little magazine and its role for the development of modernism became an important subject of investigation (see David Bennett 1989; Benstock and Benstock 1991; Morrisson 2001), proving Martin Green right, who declared: "The history of the little magazine in America in the first half of the twentieth century is, for the most part, the history of the major developments in Modernism" (Green 1979, 150). Moreover, critics began to stress that the exact position of a literary text within a specific publishing venue, a periodical, a limited deluxe edition, a collected works edition, or an anthology, both in a content-related and in a material sense, affected the way the text was received by the public, thus ultimately influencing the readers' view of modernism (see Bishop 1996; Bornstein 2001).

From here it was only a short step toward studies that focus on concepts of modernism and their dynamics in the overall development of literary and cultural history, on the formation and codification of narratives that tried to capture and explain a crucial phase of twentieth-century Anglo-American cultural production. As early as 1977, Matei Calinescu published Faces of Modernity: Avant-Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, a largely European-centered study that was revised and reissued under the title Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant- Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism in 1987. While pointing to the different concepts' common denominator, namely the adoption of an intellectual stance toward "the problem of time" (Calinescu 1988, 9), Calinescu proposes that "aesthetic modernity should be understood as a crisis concept involved in a threefold dialectical opposition to tradition, to the modernity of bourgeois civilization (with its ideals of rationality, utility, progress), and, finally, to itself, insofar as it perceives itself as a new tradition or form of authority" (ibid., 10). But as Astradur Eysteinsson argues in his pathbreaking The Concept of Modernism (1990), not all theories of modernism revolve around the nexus between civilization and art, be it affirmatively reflective or opposing (Eysteinsson 1990, 6, 19). At times, "modernism is viewed as a kind of aesthetic heroism, which in the face of the chaos of the modern world . . . sees art as the only dependable reality and as an ordering principle of a quasi-religious kind" (ibid., 9). These concepts of modernism usually proceed from the assumption of an ahis- torical, autonomous art work with a nonreferential discourse, with the discussion of the work's formal features gaining prominence (ibid., 9-12, 39). The broad spectrum of concepts and theories of Anglo-American modernism, as Eysteinsson reveals, includes contradictory variants that cannot easily be reconciled: "We need to ask ourselves how the concept of autonomy, so crucial to many theories of modernism, can possibly coexist with the equally prominent view of modernism as a historically explosive paradigm. This dichotomy, hardly recognized by most critics, is characteristic for the divergent approaches to modernism as, on the one hand, a cultural force, and on the other as an aesthetic project" (ibid., 16).3

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