In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Book Reviews WWI & the Language of Modernism Vincent Sherry. The Great War and the Language of Modernism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. xiii + 395 pp. $45.00 THE TITLE of Vincent Sherry's very good The Great War and the Language of Modernism suggests the book's relationship to Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory. As does Fussell, Sherry looks at the effect of the war on language. But there, most of the resemblances stop: Sherry's body of evidence and definition of language are quite different. Fussell limited himself to the British war poets and did not really do the great high moderns (on the other hand, the obvious evidence pointed to those war poets). Sherry's book goes to the canonical high moderns, whose relationship to the Great War has never been completely clear, shrouded as it is by these writers' sparse comments on the war. So there is almost no overlap between the poets these two authors cover. Sherry's book is also more subtle in where it goes for evidence, both in terms of cause and effect. It argues that the high moderns adapted the "sheerly verbal logic" of liberal defenses of the war, turning that to aesthetic ends. And in doing so, Sherry, of course, has taken on something harder than Fussell. Sherry begins with a juxtaposition, placing the opening events of the Great War against the language "that attempted to rationalize and support them." The Liberal rationalization was insupportable, and became the occasion of purely verbal performances of empty logic: logic that has the sound of sense, but is devoid of content. This Liberal language had aesthetic properties that could be marshaled to give the appearance of logical argumentation—it was not so much content as an almost content -less grammar. The disjunction between sound and sense created a crisis of sorts; Sherry argues that "A deep mainstream of established attitudes —call it public reason, call it civic rationality—was convulsing under the effort to legitimize this war." Sherry records the moment when a way of looking at the world suddenly was found to be inadequate, the moment of the disintegration of liberal rationality. (I need to point out here that Sherry could have done a better job of distinguishing between 339 ELT 48 : 3 2005 "Liberal" and "liberal.") He follows this with the question of what the high modernists made ofthat gap. The defenses of the war created an event that allowed for and provoked a stylistic rebellion, one which is "revealed in the consistency of the shift these three writers [Eliot, Pound, and Woolf] exhibit. In their varying fashion, they reenact the disestablishment of a rationalistic attitude and practice in language, in the verbal culture of a war for which Liberal apologies and rationales provided the daily material of London journalism." The ambition of the book, then, is large; Sherry argues that the war "presents the stimulus and condition I have advanced as the formative circumstance of English literary modernism." Sherry thus implicitly argues that the disjunction between the events of the war and the liberal language used to justify it, rather than the war itself, had the greatest effect on the language of modernism. The book has four major sections. The first attempts to describe the parameters of Liberal reason, and the stresses to which this reason was put in rallying the nation to war. After that it turns in its major sections to examine how some of the great high modernists put that discrepancy to work. It begins with Pound and mimicry, turns to Eliot and the art of the pseudostatement, and then closes with a look at Virginia Woolf's more conflicted and emotionally resonant relationship to that originating language. Along the way, it has short sections on Gertrude Stein, I. A. Richards, Ford Madox Ford, and American New Criticism. The central strength of the book arises from Sherry's prodigious talents as a close reader. He has done a great service in carefully reading how the language of Liberal reason was enlisted to support the War. He argues that the liberal idea of reason as balance, harmony, and proportion is to a large degree an...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 339-342
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.