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Book Reviews English Avant-Garde, 190T-1918 Paul Peppis. Literature, Politics, and the English Avant-Garde: Nation and Empire, 1901-1918. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. χ + 236 pp. $59.95 PAUL PEPPIS proposes a fresh angle on the notoriously controversial topic of modernist politics. He rightly notes in the introduction that the opposing factions in the modernist debate have an unfortunate tendency to oversimplify. Those who denounce the modernists as elitist, racist and fascist often fall prey to a kind of excessive anger and moral indignation that reduces their argument to rhetorical gesturing, whereas the apologists for modernism focus too exclusively on aesthetic issues and are apt to lose sight of the cultural and political context in which modernism arose. Rather than adding his voice to either the choir of condemnation or apology, Peppis builds his argument on the contention that "credible accounting of modernist politics after the Great War must begin with an examination of those the avant-gardists supported before it." In his view, the most fruitful approach is to revisit the original claims made by the avant-gardists regarding their political ambitions, examine these in the light of prevailing influences of nation, empire and nationalism, and place these firmly in the historical context. He quotes with approval Josephine M. Guy's statement in The British AvantGarde that "the achievements of radical and innovative artists and writers " are best "measured in terms of their own culture and not ours—in terms, that is, of the specific intellectual, political, or aesthetic orthodoxies to which those artists and writers were opposing themselves." The first chapter charts the ideological course of the early literary career of Peppis's main protagonist, Wyndham Lewis. A close analysis of a number of comic travel tales published in Ford Madox Ford's English Review demonstrates that Lewis shared with Ford a keen sense that culturally , politically and economically England was a nation in decline. However, at the same time he rejected Ford's and the English Review's urbane brand of liberalism and imperialism. Rather than looking to the past to rediscover the untainted civilized values of pre-modern, preindustrialist Englishness, he sought the remedy for England's waning powers in the unleashing of the vital, aggressive, intuitive forces now 195 ELT 45 : 2 2002 dormant in the nation's heart. In this process, he envisaged an important role for foreign influence, so that in the end we find Lewis and many of his fellow intellectuals holding an agenda that combines fervent nationalism with cosmopolitan leanings. Peppis sees this apparent contradiction as a key-concept in the understanding of the rise of the English avant-garde. In the second chapter, the author examines English responses to new French culture and the German Threat on the basis of Alfred Orage's "Independent Socialist Review of Politics, Literature, and Art," the New Age. The journal's Francophones saw an infusion of French culture as the only way to revitalize England's flagging creative powers, although they were worried that the medicine might prove too strong. For their Francophobe opponents, France represented all that was decadent and "unmanly" and they loudly proclaimed England's uncontested superiority . Their overcharged patriotism, however, is analyzed by Peppis as redolent of a deeper sense of national cultural weakness, which ultimately they share with their Francophile opponents. Similarly, he finds common ground between the anti-German chauvinists and the advocates of German culture in their general agreement on Germany's worst national characteristics and in their shared sense of British decline. It is from these ambivalent attitudes, Peppis argues in the third chapter , that in the face of European competition, Vorticism was born, "one of Europe's most insistently avant-garde groups." The challenge that gave rise to the founding of Vorticism and its periodical BLAST in 1914 did not come from France or Germany, but from Italy. The Futurist movement, with its agenda of aggressive cultural expansionism, roused the Vorticists to an equally aggressive nationalist programme intended to place Britain once again at the forefront of modern European art. Peppis underscores "the engagement and complicity of these two radical art movements with the imperial politics of their respective nation," emphasizing at...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 195-197
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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