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The Living Moment

Modernism in a Broken World

Jeffrey Hart

Publication Year: 2012

In the spirit of Lionel Trilling, Edmund Wilson, and Susan Sontag, the renowned literary critic Jeffrey Hart writes The Living Moment, a close reading of literature as it intersects with the political. Hart’s book is an even-handed guide for anyone toddling into the mists of the modernist moment, effortlessly moving between such modernist monuments as Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Mann’s Doctor Faustus, and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Hart’s most stunning achievement is his brilliant inclusion of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead as a modernist text, for the way the novel teaches us to see more, to hear more, to feel more. Hart’s dazzling study is an examination of important works of literature as they explore the experience of living in a broken world with thought and sometimes with examples of resolve that possess permanent validity. The Living Moment is for anyone who is wearied by so much of today’s trendy, narrow, and ideologically driven criticism.


Published by: Northwestern University Press

Series: NUP


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

During the first part of the nineteenth century, literature—both poetry and prose—was able to assume a coherent culture that the writer shared with the reader. For complex reasons this situation gradually ceased to exist, and the First World War put an emphatic end to the assumptions of the nineteenth century. ...

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Introduction: The Living Moment in a Broken World

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pp. 3-14

“An odd secret excitement, a strange need, / To be there with words when the heartbeat happened.” That was the poet Mark Van Doren on the experience of writing poetry, the words reflecting something not entirely rational, and perhaps even a physical experience. For the attentive reader poetry makes things happen in the mind; ...

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Chapter One. Robert Frost and T. S. Eliot: Modernisms

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pp. 15-38

At first the disproportion between Robert Frost and T. S. Eliot seems immense. In relation to Eliot, Frost’s reputation suffered from his popularity among readers of the middle range of discernment, a popularity he cultivated through his public persona. Eliot, first famous with The Waste Land, conceded nothing to readers ...

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Chapter Two. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Capacity for Wonder

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pp. 39-58

In the famous passage that concludes The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald recalls the long ago Dutch sailors and their first glimpse of the New World, imagining their “capacity for wonder” in the presence of immense possibility. It is Jay Gatsby’s own imagination of possibility and belief in his luminous destiny ...

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Chapter Three. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and The Sun Also Rises

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pp. 59-80

Ernest Hemingway emerged slowly in contrast to F. Scott Fitzgerald, deliberately developing a special style with help from Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. Hemingway knew that the nineteenth-century order was gone. The style he carefully evolved expressed a way to live in the world and if necessary to endure it, ...

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Chapter Four. Hemingway’s Best Novel

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pp. 81-98

Hemingway often said that among his novels, A Farewell to Arms (1929) was his favorite. It represented a surprising development in his style, more lyrical than anything he had attempted before, moving beyond and enriching what had begun with the vignettes in the 1924 (Paris) in our time. ...

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Chapter Five. Gilead: A Rumor of Angels

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pp. 99-116

“ ‘Everything is full of gods,’ exclaimed Thales of Miletus. Biblical monotheism swept away the gods in the glorification of the majesty of the One, but the fullness that overwhelmed Thales continued to live on for a long time in the figures of the angels, those beings of light, who are witnesses to the divine glory.”1 ...

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Chapter Six. Mann’s Doctor Faustus: The Moment in the Depths of Silence

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pp. 117-156

Though Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead appeared in 2004 and Mann’s Doctor Faustus in 1947, Doctor Faustus concludes this study because of its cultural weight and summarizing sweep. Indeed, it can serve as a summary of much that has gone before in this book. Adding to the cultural weight here, Mann accomplishes something unusual, ...

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pp. 157-160

Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus (1947) stands as a magisterial summation of modernism, its “high G of a cello, the last word, the last fainting sound, slowly dying in a pianissimo-fermata. Then nothing more, silence and night. But that tone, which vibrates in the silence, which is no longer there, to which only the spirit hearkens, ...


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pp. 161-166

Selected Works

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p. 167

E-ISBN-13: 9780810166066
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810128217

Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1
Series Title: NUP
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OCLC Number: 835765486
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Living Moment

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Subject Headings

  • Modernism (Literature) -- History and criticism.
  • Literature, Modern -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
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