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Organizing Organicism: J. A. Hobson and the Interregnum of Raymond Williams Michael Coyle Colgate University ENGLISH LITERATURE IN TRANSmON has contended with "conventional judgements about literary history" since its founding by Helmut E. Gerber in 1957.1 Generally, those "judgments" presume the marginal status of British writing between the Victorian and Modernist periods, and their conventionality is no matter of mere suspicion, but embodied in the formal institution of twentieth-century literary history. Gerber himself recognized as much. He was, we know, "particularly displeased with the historical division of literary study formulated by the MLA." Gerber associated that division, which left no significant place for "literature published between 1870 and 1920," with what he "wryly called 'modern critical practices.'" This essay argues that we are now in a position to understand the historical nature of those critical practices. It identifies what Gerber perceived as "conventional judgements " with the enabling precepts of Anglo-American modernism. By contrasting the historical work of Raymond Williams on the years 1880-1920 with the cultural-historical critique offered by John Atkinson Hobson, a writer working within that period, I suggest how modernist literary-historical models acquired new authority by formalizing nineteenth -century notions of tradition. Hobson is not just any example. Because he was an often topical writer who programmatically mixed literary and non-literary genres, he has rarely figured in literary histories. His declining reception after mid-century in itself exemplifies how the conception of literary history as "tradition" homogenizes our sense of discursive practice. Moreover, Hobson himself offered accounts of the historical importance of the years that Williams designated as "interregnum." Since Williams and Hobson 162 COYLE : HOBSON both wrote from a socialist perspective, the differences between their accounts cannot be attributed to any merely partisan weakness of Hobson's. The differences between Hobson's representations of history and the more familiar accounts that have since prevailed offer an index for the pervasively "modernist" character of much of our literary history. In speaking of "modernist" literary history, let us mean something fairly specific. Modernist writers and the critics who followed them typically predicated their representation of the past on one of two apparently contradictory principles: either "tradition," as in T. S. Eliot's famous essay of 1919, or "rupture," as in J. Hillis Miller's influential Poets of Reality.2 The contradiction is, however, only apparent. It is not just that both ways of representing history aggressively resist literary heterogeneity, but also that the very notion of rupture, of a sudden break or discontinuity, depends upon a previous expectation of continuity. Tradition" supplies that expectation. In fact, "tradition" and "rupture" appear together from the start of modernist historicizing. Eliot's "The Metaphysical Poets," with its assertion of historical rupture—"in the seventeenth century a dissociation of sensibility set in"3—appeared only two years after "Tradition and the Individual Talent." The relation between the two principles has long been evident in the way that most departments of English organize their curriculum—by "periods," each of which requires to be understood in something like its own terms. Almost no one would claim that periodization works consistently well, but no better testimony to its sometimes serious failings need be found than the purview of ELT. the literary productions of a forty-year duration which remain unassimilable by modernist literary-historical models. Eliot's notion of "tradition" reflects his association with Ezra Pound, which in 1919 was in its most intimate period. While they had been friends for five years, the collaboration between them grew closer after the war, with the poets each agreeing to study the satirical quatrains of Théophile Gautier. The immediate results of this collaboration are well known: Eliot published Ara Vos Prec (1919); Pound published Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (Contacts and Life) (1920); Pound's significant revisions of the typescripts of Eliot's The Waste Land followed early in 1922. Pound and Eliot had turned to Gautier in order to distance themselves from what they saw as the vulgarization of imagism. For them, Gautier's quatrains represented discipline. In the course of this work Eliot heard much about Pound's other interests, among which the work of the 163 ELT 37:2...


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