- Reviewed by
Back in the fall of 1990, this reviewer taught his first course in his first postdoctoral position, a course that just happened to bear the title of the collection here being reviewed. Given that this personal/professional event occurred a good quarter-century ago, we might agree with Natalya Lusty that the publication of a volume called Modernism and Masculinity is “long overdue” (9). What Lusty calls overdue, however, is not simply a collection with this by now unremarkable title, not yet another consideration of the baleful gender politics of the modernist period, but a “more expansive analysis of modernist masculinity” than “conventional accounts” (9) have heretofore managed to achieve.
But what are these conventional accounts? Well, after aptly characterizing masculinity as “an exceedingly elastic category that might be mobilized in ways that are reactionary or innovative, rigid or adaptable—and sometimes both at the same time” (9), Lusty writes that the collection she and Julian Murphet have put together
builds on existing work in the field of modernist studies but also subtly contests the prevailing gendered portrait that conventional accounts of modernism presume. While masculinity studies has produced a formidable body of historical work on masculinity and important theoretical tools that have shaped and continue to shape our understanding of the power relations and cultural formations that inform the protean forms of masculine [End Page 259] expression and representation, a more expansive analysis of modernist masculinity is long overdue.(9)
The analyses gathered in Modernism and Masculinity want to be “more expansive” than those “conventional accounts of modernism” that presume “the prevailing gendered portrait”—a portrait of the artist as a young (or old) misogynist: reductive accounts that perceive in the complex elasticity of innovatively adaptive modernist/masculine expression only the attempted restabilization of male dominance, only the anxiously reactionary rigidity of a sexually, politically, and aesthetically threatened heteronormative patriarchy. In other words, for some of the contributors to this volume, “conventional” and “reductive” are synonymous with “feminist.”
On the whole, however, we can say that—without disparaging strong feminist contributions to modernist studies, without downplaying the most toxically defensive elements of some expressions of modernist masculinity (misogyny, racism, homophobia, full-metal-fascist fear of engulfment in the abjected other, etc.), without denying what contributor Jessica Burstein calls “the diminishing and at times outright loopy dynamics of modernists who conceive of art as a male or masculine endeavor, and females or femininity as a factor in an artistic economy that necessitates sanitizing, naturalizing, excision, inseminating, educating, reification, ignoring or silencing” (227)—the essays collected in Modernism and Masculinity do ably contest reductive accounts, feminist or not, providing nuanced, comprehensive portraits and analyses that complicate and enrich our understanding of the male-produced art of the period.
The volume thus represents an invaluable contribution to literary modernist studies, though if it contributes just slightly less to theoretical gender studies, that’s because it draws less from the field. Lusty admits as much, beginning her introduction with a brief review of “masculinity studies” in which she addresses some key theoreticians of gender—Connell, Sedgwick, Butler, Halberstam, and Silverman—before allowing that the collected essays, while indebted to these figures, “do not always directly address” their work (4). And indeed only one of these names is ever mentioned in the volume again: In his essay, “D. H. Lawrence and the Politics of Masquerade,” Thomas Strychacz provocatively posits the lesbian-hating author of “The Fox”—a story that naturally or naturalizingly kills off its pesky lesbian character—as a sort of Butlerian avant la lettre.
As for the names of major masculinist/modernist practitioners that are mentioned and discussed, the collection runs the gamut from hieratic dickhead Ezra Pound—who compared the poet’s brain to a clot of semen and celebrated “the phallus or spermatozoide charging, head-on, the female chaos … driving any new idea into the great passive vulva of London” (cited on 226)—all the way to hieratic dickhead Ezra Pound: Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s lead essay, called “‘Virile Thought’: Modernist Maleness, Poetic...