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The Massachusetts Review, Inc.

What Was Modernism? Author(s): Harry Levin Reviewed work(s): Source: The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Summer, 1960), pp. 609-630 Published by: The Massachusetts Review, Inc. Stable URL: . Accessed: 11/03/2012 17:01
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was Modernism?


City, according has been named The Picasso. announcement, I have not had the pleasure of seeing sug it, I would Though a as to that we that it be hailed gest landmark, ought indicating corner. some sort of cultural Americans rounded have smoothly our apart to christen it has been more Heretofore customary to a recent ments of England, after the landed estates or the rural counties as if by verbal tran to compensate for the rootless association name A sience of metropolitan few years of ago the living. as household a have notions of would up Picasso, god, conjured a structure and Bohemian ambience. jerrybuilt Prospective



in New


in their perennial and security, would quest for comfort tenants, rooms have been put off by a vision of collapsible stairways, or without with dou kitchenettes, floors, trapezoidal neighbors in But the ble faces and blue-green meanwhile complexions. has brought wealth and unquestioned untold signature now a warrant to its it and becomes of domestic prestige signer, no an can ever be If this is not arrival, respectability. painter the said to have arrived. But where? where At the latest arrivals and have strangest always of departure. admit that our eponymous hero has met with more the of recognitions, notably appropriate gathering retrospective on in Picasso's cities the several of exhibited occasion his works, previous phase been points We must of a restless career,


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not only That was indeed a retrospect: birthday. seventy-fifth a single man could fill a museum, wherewith of the productivity such varied him to master that enabled but of the versatility styles room from follow his progression media. To to period?from and and period drawing paint or from romanticism and ceramics, and impres ing to sculpture to cubism and primitivism?was to recapitulate the his sionism and to room numerous

the labels of the catalogue the dynamic loomed tory of art. Above a not the of in but a school himself artist, personality merely own to of schools, succession work whole his outrival seeking at every subsequent as the work of so many stage as well artists. If there was any text he was born to illustrate, Ovid's Metamorphoses. The eye that could conceiving broken toy the shaping hand that could an archaic of love, goddess mechanical into a monstrous transform such are earlier it was turn a

ape or a sacrificial goat, a terra-cotta into pitcher the faculties that Marcel a as

Proust must have had inmind when he described the impact of

great painters favorite writer "a metamorphosis Pablo Picasso, as "une metamorphose des of Proust's, had described choses.yy Emerson, the poetic process

of things." who will be eighty next year, is unique in his not art in his In but artistic eminence. the sister of music, field, we think at once of the protean achievement of Igor Stravinsky, his junior by one year. There, for technical with due allowance we seem a some be to note similar which differences, tendency,


cataloguers might have labelled Ultraism. This

is the

in other words, that that metamorphic impetus, con that must which systematic deformation, reshaping spirit its material and outdistance itself in a dazz transpose tinually newer manners. newest of and Picasso was asked ling sequence

to change,

his classical person who admired by a conventional illustrations, "Since you can draw so beautifully, why do you spend your time those queer answered "That's things?" He making succinctly, have with countered another why." He might question: why

retrace familiar lines? Similarly Stravinsky might have replied,

to hearers past mastery aware of his that his departures craft: why go were on firmly repeating upon grounded the recognized


chords? sound There discordant is he who are other the

was Modernism?
possible first time modalities, you hear they may though them. The original in the interests of further been tried, more the problems The and of



try them, combinations been

discovery. Since more more

and more have have



experimentation public, to harmonies of course, the accustomed is shocked; it prefers unrec the neoteric and it finds cubist experiments, projections the development of the arts is registered However, ognizable. a series of shocks to the public?which, after all, in or cars obso the of accepts clothes, buying planned principle "the for a lescence. At its own pace, it too is animated need by through as has been out by James John refreshment," pointed son Sweeney, the Director Museum who of the Guggenheim has done so much to supply that need. The shift of taste fits in with a dialectical of revolution and alternating pattern reaction, constant as the breaking to the making of outmoded images gives way the successful of fresh ones. Hence iconoclast ends frequently as an image-maker. career has been T. S. Eliot, Witness whose a literary or Picasso's. to Stravinsky's Since his con parallel version as a Brit to the Anglican Church and his naturalization ish subject, we have come to view him as a living embodiment as an experimentalist, of tradition. Yet he emerged whose prob lematic endeavors his early readers. startled and puzzled This realignment


and exhausted, and harder. harder

the usual with transition from corresponds to the elder states the enfant is naturally terrible, who radical, is normally conservative. But it does not explain why man, who as Bernard such grand old men Shaw and Andre several Gide, seem so so their still after alive and years deaths, respective much younger than their launched by survivors. against It does Modernism not account for the patricidal Mr. Eliot Karl attacks, in particular, in general and men such as

angry middle-aged whose cry is In Defence Shapiro, of Ignorance. rallying It throws no light on the charlatanical to fame that has accrued Picasso's Salvador for back younger compatriot, Dali, turning his limp and dripping watches. Yet one of the spokesmen for a


The Massachusetts


Peter Viereck, throws out a meaningful resurgent conservatism, the In when he "the of revolt hint, speaks against revolt." And the mid stitute of Modern has officially marked Art at Boston its name to the Institute of Con by changing we are that we all about temporary Now, contemporaries; no as we so we have choose may stay alive. But option, long or not we wish to be modern, whether drift and the present century transition Art. seems hazards "An to be toward the of controversial intellectual are But called negative involvement. choice and away demand Arnold from of had the those de

deliverance modern." that

ages which Literature." in 1857?the

is the peculiar So Matthew lecture was

clared in his inaugural lecture "On the Modern

year though that delivered inaugurated French

at Oxford




both Madame

B ovary and Les


du Mai

was not much more the lawcourts?it than another of through recourse to for his which Arnold's classicism. criteria, By pleas were could and Lucretius those of high civilization, Sophocles be ranked Muir the moderns. It remained for the late Edwin among to work out the implications of this relativistic conception, and to such nineteenth-cen it also to the Renaissance applying as Nietzsche. Muir's tury prophets sharply pointed paragraphs as We Moderns in The New Age, under a pseudonym collected two years in 1918, were in the United States later republished a polemical L. introduction H. Mencken. by Modernity, mean the very does not necessarily latest thing; they argued, rather it is a program "a principle of cultural of emancipation, can only be maintained life itself" which strug by "constantly of the moment and would such meet those was derivatives such reaction against as Galsworthy. The


gling." The struggle aries as Chesterton long-range the challenge conflict

we Today Arnold Toynbee??as the Moderns, toward looked trasting back earlier from

of modernism, damn has been live in what we feel

forces which, recognizing in every sphere. it as heresy whom but categorized?by Period. back Looking as Dryden did when he to the Elizabethans, con "Theirs was the

the Post-Modern may the Restoration with





What was Modernism?

... The was not race before Second Temple the Flood. giant ourselves console like the First." by reflecting, But, we may a time there are times of change and times that seek stability; for exploring similating and and innovating well may consolidating. can we so in that fortunate, enjoy effortlessly cured by the pangs of our forerunners. Lacking their convictions, much in our arts and letters on a large scale and at a popular and diffuses, of their experimentalism. F. Scott Fitzgerald, some to catch that finally of the glamour aged himself been and drama. sentimentalized his own Compare Gatsby, as a hero reckless with hero a typical of may We well lead into a time count those the for as se of ourselves gains courage

exploits simply the results level, because he man caught him, has

fiction, biography, the of the Twenties, of protagonist Arthur Winner the in

great and flamboyant Fifties?the decent, James ure how Gould far we Cozzens' have

judicious, By Love advanced novel

respectable Possessed?and into the middle

you can meas age of the Twen us novel say John of the

tieth Century. Compare Steinbeck's a militant of the Thirties?let Grapes of Wrath?with Middle Lionel Trilling's that came a penitent the Journeyy of nel mezzo del cammin.

Forties, locate the turn


and you can War

II was the Flood;


but the Temple

had been crumbling and the

race disappearing through what W. H. Auden, retrospec too rather and low called "a dishonest decade." tively severely, Some of the talents were sacrificed: Guillaume prematurely Lorca. Garcia Others honor survived without in Apollinaire, as Ezra Pound their own countries, and Boris Pasternak did for such different reasons. Many of their amiable juniors were led

astray by those "enemies of promise" which Cyril Conolly de murred at but did little to resist. The query "Who killed Dy
lan Thomas?" poignant has prompted some maudlin much accusations. of The fact about it published James Agee's writing, is his uneasiness about not living up to his gen so movingly The gifted who writes J. P. Salinger, from offer them. Our courses in

posthumously, uine promise. of adolescent are colleges

has yet to free himself confusions, full of writers in residence, who


The Massachusetts
"creative" cipal tween source their

novels whose prin be

and publish embittered writing, the non-coincidental interest is of


and their characters. colleagues our not be glorious, Miltons may they are both Though a where has become and pampered. vocal caucus-race, Poetry there are vir and where there are prizes for all the participants to make no that "died The little spectators. magazines tually on the verse free," as people used to say, have been resurrected forms. in the stricter Provencal campuses, where they specialize Joyce's time, his life and censored during books, which were burned a happy hunting candi for doctoral have become ground

dates; while
subject termittent

his dishevelled
in a current

disciple, Samuel Beckett,

issue of PMLA. One

is the

of an article

is based on two tons of Thomas nightmares now in a vault of the Houghton Library, reposing manuscripts scholars will that future and the thought by gain reputations cut out. It is significant Law that what the editors back putting one of the very few ambitious rence Durrell's novels tetralogy, to appear decadent nounced cism." in Britain city and illustrated In the same vein latterly, of Alexandria. in the self-consciously place an as Mann Thomas "Art," criti "is becoming in D ok tor Faustus, takes

in of my Wolfe's

who turned from Crowe Ransom, that litera announced years ago, poet thirty lately into an age of ture has been moving from an age of creation criticism. on his retirement from his influ Mr. interviewed Ransom, John to critic some ential chair the happier thoughtful renewed stressed and editor at Kenyon College, the for situation: the of necessity aspects prevailing the for self-cultivation and rereading, opportunities as teacher

instance classics. An of the existent understanding more now far dominant the revival of be James, Henry might are valid in his day. These and absorbing than he ever was an academic myself to deplore and I am too ingrained pursuits, Then be conceded, the amenities of the Academy. too, it must to living are positive in an epoch which tech advantages so that our ac esthetic has with enriched nology appliances, the fine arts is vastly augmented with music and with quaintance there


What was Modernism?

But and photographic records reproductions. by long-playing consumers we are mainly not production; this is reproduction, are readers and of reprints than producers rather of art. We connoisseurs tue of diffusion omy, and the of High expense of culture even as we are gourmets by vir Fidelity, our wide account and the credit card. For is geared to the standardizations to when of our econ trends. The inflationary are domesti not they more insidi

is peculiarly susceptible of our practitioners, independence cated by institutions of learning,

ously by the circumstances and the established, The Just and the Un The prosperous as opposed mirror Mr. find their in the novels of justy Cozzens, to that concern for the underprivileged which used to novelists more than misunderstood, understanding profess. Genius, success in the shrewd fiction of C. P. Snow, to worldly science and to enter "the scholarships corridors rises where

is compromised art a business. that make

for "the new men" the means provide we hear of of power." From England men are at who the various conformi young angry, presumably sum an in their ties which of Establishment. up they conception our so-called It is not quite so clear what is beating "beat gen seem to a be rebels without cause, born too late eration"; they in a world a document too old. which in On Jack Kerouac, fills some of us with have passed do not seem the Road} has produced the wistful that feeling us by. Yet his friends, in The so to be having nearly Sun Also Rises.

must somehow experience for all their violent whims, good a time as Hemingway's The school associated

playboys a per with San Francisco, for whatever or may sonal impression not be worth, looks very much may across like Greenwich the continent Village transported long after its heyday. It exemplifies the cultural lag rather than the


it happens,

I have





the pub

lishing firm known as New Directions, which was founded in the late Nineteen-Thirties by my college friend, James Laugh
lin. In spite of its vanguard title, it has been primarily engaged a in fighting on its action. The innovators rear-guard leading

list have been Ezra Pound andWilliam

Carlos Williams,



The Massachusetts
of whom day I noticed are advanced a reference septuagenarians to the annual

nowadays. The New other Direc

miscellany, as "the for off tions, which was characterized place accepted in terms, is an interesting contradiction beat publication." Here a deeper in our standards. Whether which contradiction reveals urge toward nonconformity, of It weighs the notion the other. it takes away with so charac is the which "off-beat," acceptance against compound, noun "beat" ac an expression The of the mid-century. as an the terminology of jazz; cords with par ungrammatical same sado-masochistic carries the word certain overtones, ticiple, teristic Rounded off by a Slavic e.g. "beat-up." or contemptuous, affectionate be either fashion diminutive, and which which must may have it expresses conformist's the nonconformist's yearning or the for conformity one with hand it gives


been reinforced by the Sputnik, it has become an epithet for the

of being flagrantly "beatnik." unfashionable, seems to derive from connotation its underlying However, has gone in uniform is off his beat, the man who the cop who it subserves into unfamiliar off duty and strayed territory. Thus a so the of denizens of the ambivalent curiosity well-grooved ciety about whatever sents an ineffectual its currency may effort its beaten paths. It repre lie beyond owes to vary the cliche, and probably own beat is Madison whose A Avenue. in specifying the precinct perchance

to those

cognate phrase, the relationship be of uniformity, encountered.

concrete is more "off-Broadway," between that main thoroughfare, and its bypaths, where drama, has had of Covent trend. Like novelty all but may

Broadway in devious

Legitimate comedy, by musical lofts and makeshift

on superseded to improvise its theaters basements. Shaw's Pygmalion, Garden, those Fair Lady, My bland composites it is an entre ideas, of the middle

version in its Broadwayized is the soaring index of this to which Hollywood accomplishment, preneurial man's pragmatic philosophy


imported another by-product as stated by Pope:

Be not the first by whom the new are tried, Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.


What was Modernism?

That ment tele an advertise when is reversed sentiment paradoxically its clien salutes for Esquire, the haberdashery magazine, as "the aware moderns are to the first embrace a new who

to becoming fash the popular it upon its way speed we Post-Moderns ion." Well, like to eat our cake and keep it, to take a chance on a sure thing. We to call the tipsters want idea and

long shot while

originality late ourselves terley's pression. without


the inside track, to take credit for


we congratu Hence risking unpopularity. our Chat because broadmindedness upon Lady a is now after of sup best-seller thirty years

nature's round number for the span years constitute Thirty a kind from and of through maturity, infancy consequently basic rhythm for reckoning the progresses and regressions of mankind. is the about between years Thirty just age-difference a and an academician: the case history consider of Jean playboy as Cocteau. What is generally the Irish Renascence regarded in 1892 with Yeats's Countess and terminated Cathleen began one the Broader movements, Joyce's Ulysses. are in their periodicity. another, comparable start with Wordsworth's of 1800, we manifesto continental of Romanticism triumph the end of another cycle, toward dates in 1922 with Thus, observe from succeeding if we that 1830. to the

before Shortly countertendencies

when we move whereas, are Symbolism, latest watchwords and Decadence. Estheticism, It will be seen that a revolutionary tends to be suc generation ceeded by a reactionary and more one; to put it less politically seems a to there be oscillation between psychologically, cyclic

this gives way and Naturalism; Positivism, Realism, to the Nineties, from the Sixties the

tough and tender minds. That would help to explain the phe
nomenon were from of the hard-boiled the softness as it Nineteen-Twenties, recoiling of the fin du siecle. It might also set the

acknowledged weaknesses
spective. But nostalgia ness any in which purpose

of the Fifties

into clarifying per


for the vigorous is a weak youth of our century need not indulge ourselves; nor would it serve to draw invidious our between im comparisons


The Massachusetts


and our elders. The is life contemporaries average to two we at and in live the least span privileged generations, as they were of the Moderns. Insofar ahead of their afterglow to them. Furthermore, time, we can even claim to be nearer each generation has three decades, to gather in which either after a wavering start, or else to subside from a


powerful beginning. Accordingly, the manic Twenties declined into the depressive Thirties, which yielded in turn to the war
Forties. interrupted seems to have begun the Sixties expecting ward the next If the countermovement of the Fifties we may in take comfort unpromisingly, to proceed on a to looking rising plane, watershed in the Nineteen-Eighties. There

us pause, Orwell's and we shift George object-lesson gives a a with set of vari relief to backward and less complex glance can examine ables. We the material chart the framing factors, ac curves and the of artistic conditions, project hypothetical tivity. Yet we have no means of predicting how the human


in their most

individualized manifestations,
when But those that


respond. The best we have occurred be established with a handful


can do is to recognize a special resonance.


responses cannot

let me particularize by generalizations; instead, names of titles and and dates. Among the latter, of the publica 192*2 stands out as the year of Proust's death, tion of his central volume, et Gomorrhe, Sodome and the first of his work in had like letters appearance England. English

wise to absorb the twofold

Land. And if this was offered and Katherine not Lawrence Room, Late Last with them

shock of Ulysses
for the

and The Waste

D. H. Jacobys Readers

enough Aaronys Rod, The Mansfield Yeats's rather Later

reviewers, Virginia Woolf Party.


of poetry faced not merely

and Earlier, Lyrics Poems?it sounded

the Georgian anthology but Hardy's

Poems, but autumnal, and Housman's the harvest

grew was more Books and Characters reaping. Lytton Strachey's de Vepoque, while Max Beerbohm's Rossetti and his narrowly Circle was an antiquarian curio. Among the highlights of the were season in France Les Caves du Vatican Gide and by


What was Modernism?

of verse. collection Charmesy Valery's Brecht's first play, Baaly and Die Sonette were Maria Rilke. Americans reading and being scandalized by Eugene O'Neill's would us saw Bertolt Germany an Orpheus by Rainer Babbitt Sinclair Lewis' Anna Christie. not oth year,


I have been highly selective, the list is sufficient to

be, therefore if there were sample another

justify an annus mirabilis?or ers Let brilliant. comparably

jumping arbitrarily to 1924, when Franz Kafka died, scarcely known, since his novels would only be published during the
Mann's event for the critics was Thomas greatest Der The masterwork, noisiest, Zauberberg. perhaps, was the Surrealist to be something which of Manifesto, proved an but Valery it with counterbalanced his first col anticlimax; three years. The lection Moore's of critical prose, Variete. A America witnessed Sherwood Marianne Story-Tellers Story, of poetic Observations, and William Faulkner's first book, also in verse, The Marble In Brit Faun. more Moore waxed than ever with reminiscent ain, George Conversations in Ebury T. E. Hulme's Street; posthumous Speculations were to have continuing influence on criticism and autobiography, salient volume next


poetry; each of the three Sitwells contributed to the ebullition by bringing out a book; and Bernard Shaw was inspired to
his heights Forster's by the theme of Saint Joan. E. M. to an omen as India as a have been well may Passage milestone; for it was his most to date, and it is the last that novel important Mr. Forster has given us. can Everyone multiply while students of Russian for himself these modern instances; or Spanish can point to addi literature tional flowerings which were or either in transplanted nipped as Joyce foresaw, the bud. Futurism, had no future; Marinetti touch

fell in line behind Mussolini;

ernism as

andHitler was to proscribe Mod

We that hardly limited the

art or Kulturbolschewismus. degenerate to underline need or constraints the pressures so entre deux guerres, to Mr. epoch poignantly, we 1918-1939. Nor could blame week-end,"


"long the generation we can

confronted with the task of continuing to write,

hard to forgive such knowledge. Yet at

if they found it

this distance


The Massachusetts
with perceive, ment comprises are still increasing clarity, one of the most that

the modernistic move of we pyro



genius in the history of theWest.

should among us, before ask ourselves why each of them they they

And while
all been burned have

some of its lights

extinguished, with such


technic distinction. What,

common, vergent medium, the elementary more eighth or less; decade formed

if anything,


such figures
a di


practising in a disparate Above all, background? to that they happen circumstance be coeval, have been, that they are all, or would in their But if we are not to beg what, was there What shared? they the ques in the air


to idiosyncracy,

tion, was their

today. the Zeitgeist or

they breathed that differed

successors All

from the intellectual

climate of

predecessors? of them grew up in the late Nineteenth and ma Century in their tured in the early Twentieth, the pe reaching prime or was not so well riod between the wars. The Nineteenth ganized as the Eighteenth, nor so richly as the speculative the Renaissance. magniloquent a of middle-class it permitted liberalism, deeply as nor so

Seventeenth, as the apogee But, maximum for the emergence of individuality; it ed of leeway art and fostered it collected individuals ucated thoroughly; tem it cultivated human it developed science; relationships; were the and Into its talent. world Modernists perament born, and yet they were not quite shaped by it. To it they often hark back, with their own earlier, that acute

which for sensibility they have reserved of Had adolescence. born been any they impressions have felt?with Adams?that they might Henry they

had missed a still earlier boat. Had

they might have poured their creative

they been Mid-Victorians,

energies inevitably not into causes been that

they now could take for granted. If they had reached maturity
in the Nineties, siecle their views would have it was colored the end which phe

by the outlook of the Decadents.

in youthful for them, stride; of one century as it was the beginning One

But they took the fin du

so much of another.

of the determining characteristics of modern man, the he role influences plays and relates him to pre-existing


What was Modernism?

is his nomena, of the Twentieth welcoming insensitive nium was awareness Century casual it. Our in sight. "Years We of chronology. never experienced habit first The of who the are children of excitement

to the West's now

us centuries makes of predating that its second millen realization that Wordsworth inhaled at


the dawning of the French Revolution

adumbration. form'd!" which "No Such the modern! had been Whitman's

had been a disillusioning


he anticipated all the more one knows what will happen

of the unper a performance to prologue as he chanted, because, keenly next." At all events, things


be happening;

and those whose

existence falls within

cross those who envy names to inscribe their


temporal on history's have it must blank pages. How terribly much an stu as meant to James university Joyce, eighteen-year-old on them to set and dated his have ambitions down paper dent, " was the brave new world that had been heralded 1900!" Here came that very whose death Ibsen, by Nietzsche by his mentor who had been and those other Proto-Moderns year, by Tolstoy

of a single century may well and have a chance boundaries

breaking the images that had stood in itsway. One of the assumptions aboutWorld War
settled history. Its sequel was to teach T.

I was that it had

that "History

S. Eliot

is now and in England."

the present was over;

But the interval thought of itself in

unhappily snobs lamented. aptly entitled

from history. The tense, separating modernity past the present was happily more comfortable?though as Miniver less colorful, and other time Cheevy Ernest In Our Hemingway's and Time, which first book of stories was was its grasp of immediacy concen of battle. His intensive to his imparts a film-like quality

heightened tration on

by the

its reminiscences instant,


fiction, is pinpointed in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," when a of a dying polyglot series of synonyms runs through the mind yy
. . Whatever heute. "Now, ahora, maintenant, is the meaning and that "nowness" imminence; language, search for the of for what Whitman newness, precondition termed "the unperform'd." revue frangaise! To "The the unperformed! perform Great Vortex!" English the is a had La The



The Massachusetts
sense seem


of novelty, of potentialities up, does not being opened to is the inherited it less because any eager juxtaposed sense of the past and the pleasures of retrospection. Everyman, in his more is his of conscious moods, overwhelming thoughtful patrimony the guise invisible Time Bergson, scientists as heir museum. was not only of the essence, for the innumerable poets, in the dimension who worked but Lewis As assail the for the metaphysician and novelists, painters, he formulated. Vainly of his con of an endless to them takes of all the ages; and his relation of their the masterpieces stroll among

did Wyndham


to the Ondt, in Joyce's the Gracehoper retorted temporaries. was Proust The of can't beat lifework time?" you fable, "Why an an to such the attempt of attempt, aging dilettante precisely make its lost time by recapturing the past, repudiating concerns moments and its highest crystallizing ephemeral an appeal to the timelessness the of art. Yeats pursued through same objective he pictured himself aban when symbolically, up for the earthbound sphere of nature His sail for the and setting had Michael Robartes, poet, The of belated beauty. feeling act of memory,

art-city, Byzantium. to remember desired forgotten ness has the habitual effect of the stylistic and playing reverberations, along with

doning timeless

echoes, evoking Pound ad pastiche. a maxim as to "make it new," he was repeating vised disciples aware of the irony; for his stud and was well old as Confucius, into the processes had won him insights ies in the Renaissance with When of cultural renewal, I have to have and and shown to him how renovation could be innovation. What seems lated mental are other historical. trait ventured resulted call the metamorphic impetus state of feeling this paradoxical be and of simultaneously, working experi from into traditional continuities. But there as well

the stimulating of sounding consequence

up-to-date transformations

as of Modernism, geographical preconditions and have another Eliot and Picasso, Stravinsky Joyce too common the uncommon in common?alas, among

artists of our time. How

few of them have lived out their


careers in the lands of

was Modernism?

is a origin! To be sure, migration abroad has been a classic step in force, and sojourn civilizing we have to had vitae. Unfortunately curriculum the artistic learn, tions, dint through the distinction of wars, between revolutions, expatriation and political and exile. persecu The hy

phenated German-Jewish-Czech, Kafka, though he did not live to share it, clairvoyantly sketched the plight of the Displaced
a Transatlantic to become who was destined Mann, had situated his in mountain neutral Switzerland. nomad, magic in his the International Sanitorium Teutonic There, Berghof, a an to Swiss hero undergoes successive exposure physician, and a Russian Italian poet, a Polish businessman, priest, a Dutch an mistress. education while his Then, having gained regaining Person.

health, he is lost in combat with the Allies.

The "The by continental architects, catchphrase employed be to International extended very Style," might appropriately were other works them of the Twenties. of in Many composed of the between-the-wars "The Paris, capital cosmopolitanism. School of Paris"?a painting?was for unacademic topographical designation over our by presided expatriate Spaniard, now has his monument in New York. Paris was the for those Russian created dancers, designers, ballets. It was temporarily lost,

Picasso, who inevitable headquarters and

who choreographers a famous generation where an apartment was carefully account account deavoring chronicles. set forth quence Joyce's near

Stravinsky's of Americans got

under the Sybilline tutelage of Gertrude Stein. Meanwhile,

the Etoile, the self-exiled Irishman Joyce most the minute and comprehensive elaborating that any city has ever received from literature?his of his native Dublin. is of its in en Ulysses time, to arrest the eighteen hours of


Nineteenth-century novelists, the complexities of the metropolis, a se but through of loosely connected or less conven novels where more unexampled design, contribution which was a yet rigorously gigantic the accumulating details

it exhaustively had especially Balzac, time

tional narrative was filled in with sharply detailed observation.

experimental controlled

as they fell into place.


The Massachusetts It is the metamorphic

device: the transmutation


impetus that provides this controlling

of Dublin citizens In the novel, dangerously the fault of into mythical as Naturalism had

out of the Odyssey. archetypes came left it, the environment the personages. That was not

close to swamping the Naturalists, but

of the situations with which they dealt. The dehumanization of art, if I may build upon a useful phrase from Ortega y Gasset,
mirrors the dehumanization even and metamorphosis trying his characters; humanize and he succeeded in giving them con not stature. if Dos novelists like Passos tour, Journalistic John a or and Jean-Paul Sartre, seeking panoramic kaleidoscopic approach methods. and of to the urban But of life. Joyce, by was to mock-apotheosis, resorting to to re

imitated structural scene, have Joyce's to which the French Unanimistes the problem, the German of the Gesamtkunstwerk have also proponents matter else within?the goes beyond?or themselves, an must If the object is unity, that bear organic to the multiplicity; its collective be pattern must

addressed structure. connection view

revealed and confirmed through individual lives;

of social interaction must be combined with an on psychological motivation. the old-fashioned Hence between

its outward
inner focus

fictional type of rounded character, seems to the and dissolve reader, standing in the stream of consciousness, which and directly transparently a flow of impression and sensation from the external conveys the novelist not utilize world. need the internal Though to he the voice and the monologue, increasingly approximates the narrator viewpoint of his intimacy ensuing of his own autobiography, the artist. The intensity the point where else. a novel, novel, Le he everything writing that protagonist. forces him The of the very completeness to fall back upon the raw materials them into self-portraiture of refining an introspection abyss between his novel including him to pushed the moi and a novelist his novelist's demonstrated mirror reflect

of Proust's


Gide, by writing Les Faux-monnayeurs, Journal narrative des may


journal, and then publishing the journal he kept while writing

that first-person Faux-monnayeurs, a double become


What was Modernism?

was spurred to such ing infinity. Fiction ness by the revelations of psychoanalysis: for unconscious terns. It may feats of self-conscious the Freudian probing for universal search the pat motives, Jungian to argue nature that human be an exaggeration

changed in 1910, but Virginia Woolf

though That probably unaware that

was bold enough to do so,

Psychoanalyti put forward such Edward it would sunsets have have

the International

cal Association had been founded in that year.

was a measured overstatement, argument new in defending the novelists against Georgian ians as Arnold Mrs. Woolf knew that Bennett. just about as much as the assertion that since Monet changed It was them. true,

validity to paint and the Impressionists undertook sense had in the characterization that too were being visualized the eyes that people through changed, was of other people, and that another metamorphosis thereby author of Orlando that permu understood being effected. The a circumscribing so subtle tations and subjective have might effect either and with Here others on the novel. Most of took flexible the self it to both upon the Twenties the recesses it readily of genres, or the expanses of focuses society;

at once, sometimes extremes, constructs. their mental and their monumental analyses is where Ultraism its ne plus ultra. have attained may

Joyce himself could go no farther than Finnegans Wake;

could that and later novelists have understand


get far; no attempt to press beyond Ulysses. has stirred This ably made some critics to announce an or dying is that the novel obsolete form. One cannot deny that it seems to be regressing toward the plane at best of documentary realism, where or from reportage tinguishable good journalism. it may be indis

But fiction is doomed

What it possesses that the

to failure in its competition with fact.

non-fiction of lacks the

is fantasy?that is to which confers say, power projective imagination, on the stuff of our value and significance everyday apprehension it. Thus and transmuting the apparent sordid by rearranging ness and purposelessness of our day with Leopold in Bloom are transmuted reenactment into a symbolic Dublin of Homer's seem of those cross-references Some and epic. far-fetched,


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others which makes T. scientific Waste that grimly would the


for us data they interpret ironic; yet, as a whole, use otherwise be meaningless. of myth Joyce's a than that, wrote past key to the present. More in his review Future of Ulysses, writers "It has the would importance take advantage and of a of

S. Eliot

discovery." which

it, as he predicted;
Land, least heroic

and even then he had just finished his

abounded in flashbacks of In parallels. he exorcized

epics, fragmentary the blight of contemporaneous London it the by tracing through a a outline of Grail. A timeless quest for the Holy ritual, timely the I. A. that it Richards commented critique, completed severance proved It is not should and belief. between poetry to be a station on Mr. Eliot's surprising But, in the pilgrimage that Modernism, the product of cities, to recreate the image of cities. One of the

and most

long run, it toward faith.

be so impelled

in this respect, is Charlie Chaplin, who greatest Modernists, has so brilliantly rendered the metropolis in all its frustrations
and For T. London is "unreal"; S. Eliot, but incongruities. or its apparition is that of Vienna, Alex Athens, Jerusalem, vision when he and his elegiac becomes andria; prophetic was Towers." The prophecy apocalyptically imagines "falling

fulfilled by the bombings of the next war, which Mr. Eliot?

combining reminiscence musical his own observation as air-raid warden with invoked but a in im from Dante's Inferno?has his powerfully

the last of his Four Quartets. That

analogy, finding

he should proceed by

of another string quartets posing Poets' and novelists' trait of his generation. poets novelists, and musicians' pro musicians, they were painters painters' in their own particular versed crafts, and so whole foundly heartedly transfer devoted it from one to that craftsmanship art to another. Writers himself to they attempted thematic borrowed at a synes had aimed

in the austere inspiration the later Beethoven, is still

from Wagner, who techniques to be induced by music thesia, Poetry

encompassed painting ter Picasso?his presented?af that a man of letters The thought

in conjunction other arts. with and music, when Wallace Stevens Man with a Blue Guitar. should consider himself a


practitioner fessionally

was Modernism?

of the fine arts, or that he should be designated pro as an artist, is a legacy from Flaubert's generation


is not likely to outlast Joyce's by long. The

cult of in

as if it as devoutly both men practised artistry, which transigent were is embodied in and elucidated their religious by vocation, as a Young Man, the Artist the latter's Portrait the where of and is Daedalus, the fabulous Greek artificer, archetypal figure the epigraph is a line about him from Ovid's Metamorphoses: "Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes.yy Joyce discerned was clearly invit

ing the application to himself: "And so he turned his mind

unknown the arts." Paul artist-engineer in two essays upon homage He made his own apologia Valery of the a historical Italian


in prototype his and Renaissance, paid the method of Leonardo da Vinci. the personage nyest pas mon of M. Teste

through "La betise

(M. Tete, Mr. Head),

the unabashed have let firm, left admission:


cerebral soliloquies begin with

fort.yy Stu

pidity has decidedly not been the forte of theModernists;

that virtue in defence to their Post-Modern of now write If M. ignorance. of that last infirmity. fools, attackers, seems Teste He who


them make in refusing

the most to suffer

as they are weak

arrogant, was just as to in appealing

recent literature itself upon its outspokenness, prides Though it is almost there remains one organ of the body which taboo to a seem is the brain. What and that may sin, on the mention, were is that of the with the Moderns, part they preoccupied minds is worse?that and?what they make the minds cannot of their readers. This an era are whose be lightly culture-heroes per by forgiven the mindless?whether be goons of they sistently good-hearted or the the slobs of Tennessee John Steinbeck, epicene Williams, characters, upon serious demands of their

analphabetic gladiators of the laterHemingway. But popularity was excluded, by definition, from the aims of the writers I have been discussing; their names did not figure upon the best-seller
list of their day; these many others did, which are now

The aura of obscurity or unintelligibility

sionally tinge intellectuals,

forgotten. from

which may still occa


in some degree,


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their indeed which refusal to advertise themselves

or to talk down for to their


in the hope of enlarging it. That, have been a treason of the clerks. Their pervades their work to the very in China, they

them, would ultimate quality, is its uncom marrow, looked upon letters as

a way But

intellectuality. Like

the intelligentsia of old Russia

or the class of Mandarins of life.

their own dedica this may have presupposed, along with no The which be possible. conditions may tion, other longer has of lowered it, and learning extraordinary higher spread

introduced a large amount of dilution. The highbrows and the

lowbrows have intermarried, and their children are?exactly

what Virginia Woolf

of a tension between

dreaded most?all



the uncomprehending and the majority and citizens if between sensible you will, saving remnant?or, a a has been coteries?there detente, relaxation, long-haired for mutual in and a collaboration the formerly profit between artist and the no longer hostile Out it of tractable bourgeoisie. there seems ated

a middlebrow to be emerging the moder synthesis, our a subject But is that of expression mid-century. better of sociology and by professors notoriously appreciated on mass communication it is than old-fashioned experts by to imply that all of critics. Nor do I wish scholars or modernist our talents, to and economic pressure technological responding mere have become of entertainment. On purveyors attraction, an the contrary, of them profess of the many engagement sincerest Modernists kind did to the not commitments, Hence by such urgencies. they they were not threatened in single-minded detachment. strive for artistic perfection responsibilities to make have of such common welfare. The because could

Alfred North Whitehead

early Twentieth Century was


strongly convinced that the

of the greatest epochs in the

march of intellect. Though he was thinking basically of mathe matics and physics, he held a lively belief in the interplay be
tween the sciences and the humanities. He the concurred with the that Wordsworth, writing opinion in the opening point, had expressed tury: from year vantage opposite of the Nineteenth Cen


What was Modernism?

of science of Men or direct indirect, in our revolution, which we habitually receive, the Poet present; he will be ready to follow If the labours not only carrying any material in the condition, impressions will sleep then no more than at the steps of the Man of science, at he be but will his side, effects, should and of the science itself. ever create

in those general indirect sensation into the midst of the objects a material

such Certainly have struggled comprehension Wordsworth's

has taken place; the arts revolution to it; and we gain a fuller to adapt themselves him?in if we of the modern envision artist, the side of the scientist. The partner and sharpened en has been hypotheses as Valery as


his curiosity has intensified uneasy, ship, however his own his preoccupation with He technique. couraged Zola did in to experiment, in his roman not by blindly accepting but rather

did experimental, to he from the had learned lessons poetry transferring ars non stagnat. or in taking for his motto Successful geometry, as error and trial and incidental involves waste, experiment scientists know. This is a necessary function performed, But "the are upon two still than

the fringes of the arts, by that continued ferment of willed

eccentricity whose products we can usually as Snow has lately Sir Charles cultures," too far apart. What should draw them dismiss. reminded us, more together, that conjointly

is the shared else, anything recognition cover an area which man has set aside for the free play

they of pains rational

taking intelligence.
a modernist It has undergone seen and its its solid of subverted own, phase premises by such as and concepts relativity Where, then, can we indeterminacy. turn for illumination? con Can we come to no more helpful clusion Marabar value." that E. M. the message Forster in the discerned of India? has exists; "Everything nothing Critics of the Moderns have accused them of being de Caves than Science no longer underprops reassurances. istic or positivistic our world view with

ficient in a sense of values, of believing

negativistic or Kafka's

in nothing beyond that

"Fire Sermon," to his farewell

to reread Eliot's credo. However, or Mann's "Parable of the Law,"


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or Proust's commemoration of a great writer's soldier-hero, a sonless or Joyce's encounter between death, hallucinating to the is feel of ethical father and a fatherless son, glow insight. younger too much years ago conscience earlier dernity, to create been A and more plain-spoken writer whom we have lost the Nobel Prize received three soon, Albert Camus, for having "illuminated the problems of the human in our time." That citation recalls the warning of an mo at the French of dawn very Rabelais, moralist, that "science the "uncreated sans conscience conscience" would bring ruin Has to the

soul. Joyce's young artist, Stephen Dedalus,

the endeavor age? of his generation


it not

of his people. to have created

a conscience

for a scientific