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  • Editor's Introduction
  • Jean-Michel Rabaté

It is customary to begin an editor's introduction with an obituary, and this may end up looking like a banal and repetitive ploy. In this case, however, I feel that there is an immediate relevance to the contents of an issue mostly devoted to canonical modernist writers. In fact, I would like to parallel two obituaries. It was with sadness that I read in the New York Times of October 10th, 2005 the news of Wayne C. Booth's death. It happened that I was just then reading the wonderful special issue that Modernism/Modernity has devoted to Hugh Kenner. Hugh Kenner and Wayne Booth both had long lives (they died at 80 and 84 respectively) and productive careers. As Marjorie Perloff reminisces in her tribute, more than to anyone else, it is to Hugh Kenner that we owe the "invention of modernism." The specific inflection he gave to that term, with its stress on American or Irish male writers to the detriment of British or female writers looks now like a thing of the past or a personal quirk, and no-one working today would be ready to exclude Virginia Woolf from the modernist field because she is too "soft" and too "Bloomsbury," as Kenner famously did three decades ago. In spite of this, our sharper appreciations of Joyce, Beckett, Pound, Eliot, and Zukofsky have been durably shaped by Kenner's inimitable style, his urbane skepticism toward biographical approaches, his resistance to flabby ideological pigeonholing, his insistence on facts and the need for concrete historical knowledge. Without Kenner, for instance, the whole project of a cutting edge review like Modernism/Modernity would never have been born.

Wayne C. Booth appeared as a welcome antidote to the more provocative statements in Kenner's groundbreaking but at times a little too "Poundian" analyses. Booth was able to introduce welcome nuances into Kenner's pioneering description of Stephen Dedalus as a ridiculous prig and not as an idealized version of Joyce's artistic aspirations. There as in other cases, Booth understood the need to move from the rhetorics of irony to the ethics of community, thus effectively displacing the inheritance of an older New Criticism. He did so by inching skillfully towards a more philosophical awareness of the relationship [End Page v] between texts and audiences, between authors, books and their human or political contexts.

These two directions remain today as the strongest motivations for the authors who have been gathered in this issue. Some stress the philosophical basis of modernism, especially the strong impact of thinkers like Nietzsche and Bergson. Others pay more attention to the rhetorics of address that create an audience or an ideal reader and also to the complex narratological issues raised by the anti-realist strategies of modernist authors like Djuna Barnes and Samuel Beckett. Thus we begin with Christina Britzolakis's wide-ranging "Pathologies of the Imperial Metropolis: Impressionism as Traumatic Afterimage in Conrad and Ford," an essay that maps out the genealogy of modernism in relation to cities like London and to popular fiction as well, in a movement leading to the interaction between imperialism and impressionism. John Zilcosky addresses in a new key the impact of Nietzsche's philosophy of history on the young T. S. Eliot in "Modern Monuments: T. S. Eliot, Nietzsche, and the Problem of History." Taking his cue from Williams' account of the writing of his best known poem, Sergio Rizzo analyzes how racial concerns inform in a subdued key "The Red Wheelbarrow" in "Remembering Race: Extra-poetical Contexts and the Racial Other in 'The Red Wheelbarrow.'" Two essays then deal with Bergsonism and its durable impact on Frost, Pound, and Joyce. Thus Robert Bernard Hass, in "Re-Reading Bergson: Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, and the Legacy of Modern Poetry," and Ruben Borg in "Two P's in a Pod: on Time in Finnegans Wake," both show how modernist poetry and prose writing was underpinned by a new awareness of time, memory, and spatiality partly shaped by Bergson's dynamic synthesis of science and metaphysics.

This essay is the first in our customary "Joyce section" which continues with a detective plotting that Hugh...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1464
Print ISSN
0022-281X
Pages
pp. v-vii
Launched on MUSE
2006-01-23
Open Access
No
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