This essay addresses the impact of synaesthetic aspirations on modernism, particularly as filtered through the nineteenth century legacy of music as the art to which other arts aspired. Music, accorded such an extravagant role, fostered melomania, serving largely as a license to fantasies of artistic emancipation from inherited means. While Wagnerism promoted a unification of all the arts on the model of the Gesamtkunstwerk, melomania prompted developmental initiatives unique to each art form. In either case, the perceived limits of a given art were felt as symptoms of pathos. But as Theodor Adorno recognized, this sense of loss offered a lesson about the role of art in the mass culture of modernity. In its retention of fugitive traces of an animal countenance, the artwork embodied what could not otherwise be simply declared.
This paper analyzes the political and cultural thought of Hugh MacDiarmid, a poet, and John Maclean, a radical labor leader, in the context of Scottish political and literary history between World War I and the mid-1930s. It offers an historical parallel for MacDiarmid's notorious ideological contrariety via the narrative of Maclean's political career, which moved from militant socialist internationalism during the war to an idiosyncratic form of "Scottish Workers' Republicanism" in the years before his death in 1923. The paper goes on to argue that the political paradox of MacDiarmid and Maclean's "nationalist internationalism" was only ever solved in the linguistic medium of MacDiarmid's "synthetic Scots" poetry. This situation reflects the redoubtable strength and internal paradoxes of the sovereign state in an era of international modernism and Communist internationalism.
This article discusses Mina Loy's unpublished prose within the context of theories of spiritual evolution and the "Cosmopolitan Jew" popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Counter to the views of many of her contemporaries, Loy advocated a eugenic practice grounded in the benefits of mixed race breeding. The article contends that to understand fully Loy's perspective on race and ethnicity, both her writings on Judaism and her lifelong commitment to Christian Science should be taken into account. America's "melting pot" of ethnic and racial diversity—a condition she saw as one that made America evolutionarily superior to other nations—led the British-born Loy to valorize American identity.
Given that Marianne Moore never married and apparently never fell in love, readers have long puzzled over the inspiration for "Marriage." Why would the least autobiographical member of her famously impersonal generation devote her longest poem to such a subject? By tracing the friendship between Moore and Scofield Thayer through archival sources, this essay reveals for the first time that Thayer proposed to Moore in 1921 and that she wrote "Marriage" as an angry rebuke to him. Reading the poem in this context shows it to be not simply "a little anthology of statements that took my fancy," as Moore later described it, but rather an instance of "by-play" being "more terrible in its effectiveness than the fiercest frontal attack." The poem presents an impassioned indictment of all loveless marriages but allows for those rare marriages that exemplify the paradox of "Liberty and union, now and forever."
A case is made for giving up the quest to identify Wallace Stevens' "supreme fiction." The poet hoped to usher in the creation of an idea that would serve as a fictive replacement for the idea of God, known to be fictive but willfully believed. His hope has remained unfulfilled. By the poet's own explicit standards, the supreme fiction does not appear in any of his poems, nor in his poetry as a whole, nor in poetry in general. The very idea of a supreme fiction may depend, at least in part, upon a problematic conception of belief drawn from a popular misreading of William James' "The Will to Believe."
Building on recent scholarly recoveries of The Good Soldier's engagement with emergent modernism, "'A Frank Expression of Personality'?" reads Ford's novel not simply as modernist in technique, but further, as itself an intervention in pre-War debates in modernist aesthetics. But whereas Jeffrey Mathes McCarthy has argued that Ford's text represents a vindication of Vorticism and its Hulmean underpinnings against the competing modernism of Bloomsbury, I contend that Ford's novel instead executes a critique of just that Imagist/Vorticist strain of modernism with which he was so familiar, and to which he so often pledged his literary allegiance. Targeting such modernism's animus towards sentiment and its calls for impersonality, The Good Soldier reveals this aesthetic to be both destructive of the empathetic imagination necessary to humane relations and successful art, and emulative of the culture of "good people," that very Edwardian cultural elite that the moderns so longed to displace.
This essay examines the neglected genre of the art manifesto in the context of high modernism and Wyndham Lewis's post-Blast polemics. The manifesto in Britain is more often an individual affair than a collective one, and seen from this perspective it is much more prevalent than previously thought: rather than a momentary pre-War embrace by Lewis, Ezra Pound, and others of the Continental fashion for militant rhetoric, it is a form with its own local history (Wilde, Whistler) and post-War legacy (Woolf, MacDiarmid, Lewis reborn as The Enemy). The central example here is Lewis's attack on the editors of transition, whom he accused of dangerous naïveté for what he saw as their endorsement of radical politics ("art for revolution's sake"). The confrontation that follows pits reactionary against revolutionary, the individual artist against the collective, and the British avant-garde against the transition circle of American expatriates in Paris. Most significantly, it represents an exchange of shoptalk on manifesto writing, traversing subjects ranging from the function of the form as cover fire for artistic ventures to the use of rhetorical violence as a shortcut to achieving the desirable tone of urgency and action.
Cole Swensen's homage to opera, Oh, opens with the word scale; this essay examines how scale figures in the thinking about art performed by the volume. The minimalism of Oh refigures the extravagant grandeur of opera, as part of Swensen's rethinking of scale. Swensen uses the lens of fractal geometry to conduct a "respacialization" of the page through which she reconceives the capabilities of lyric and the potential for a rearticulation of the feminine offered by the space of the poem's page. Building upon the examples of Anne-Marie Albiach and Susan Howe, Swensen approaches page space as a potential realm of especially female transgressive and transformative motion, and as the dimension of innovative possibility. The essay proposes and enacts a model of "fractal reading" that enhances understanding of the motion and the transformations of scale in Oh—a model that will illuminate other contemporary avant garde texts as well.
This review deals with new books on Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery, two poets who have been critiqued for inaccessibility for very different reasons: Frank O'Hara: The Poetics of Coterie by Lytle Shaw and Ashbery's Forms of Attention by Andrew DuBois. Shaw, in addition to challenging the pejorative notion of O'Hara as a coterie poet, offers an exemplary strategy for interpreting literary coteries of any era. Additionally, Shaw demonstrates how O'Hara's work is more politically oriented than it is generally given credit for being by tracing how the work enacts a radical and personalized restructuring of the context within which we normally associate public figures. DuBois, on the other hand, tackles Ashbery's "fabled 'difficulty'" (xi), breaking his central theme of attention into four categories that roughly correspond to stages in Ashbery's career: his early development, his use of prose, his stream of consciousness writing, and the relation between senility and his later work.
The volumes under review indicate that feminist literary studies as a discipline continues to produce significant scholarship and thinking. Blue Studios: Poetry and Its Cultural Work, by Rachel Blau DuPlessis, brings together theoretically-inflected essays on poetry. Part manifesto, part guidebook to DuPlessis' artistic influences and process, the volume contemplates issues of praxis and poetics, traversing the border between patriarchal and postpatriarchal cultures. DuPlessis' essays begin with the personal, and theorize an experimental, feminist poetics that counters the gender-blind critic. The Cambridge Companion to Feminist Literary Theory, edited by Ellen Rooney, offers succinct discussions of the methods and issues in a conflicted discipline. The volume foregrounds the differing methodologies adopted by feminist literary theorists. Each essay provides a comprehensive discussion of the history of the branch being treated, and the portrait of feminist literary studies that emerges is comprehensive.
In their recent books, Jennifer Ashton and Alan Gilbert consider both the dominance of the postmodern paradigm and its incoherence. As Donald Allen and George Butterick note in their anthology The Postmoderns: The New American Poetry Revised, postmodernism's "chief characteristic is its inclusiveness, its quick willingness to take advantage of all that had gone before" (12). It's precisely this indiscrimination Ashton and Gilbert read as vexed because it disavows difference. Ashton and Gilbert supply limits to the postmodern by bookending the epoch, with Ashton delineating the modern, and Gilbert suggesting that in the twenty-first century we are witnessing the beginnings of a new cultural and aesthetic movement.