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Book Reviews Volume 32:4, 1989 contributors of a period tendency, they speak of it from within, sharing the philosophical values and aesthetic tastes of a limited number of its participants. Even their title, which ascribes to their own work the tentative and uncommitted orientation they find in their subject matter, is another sign of their commitment. Woe to the Modernist who suffers the misfortune to make up his mind about anything; like Eliot at the point of his religious conversion, he is forthwith stricken from the Modernist rolls. Yet worse: if he should display characters, like those of Dubliners, without the required intellectual qualifications , the judges conclude that "it is only up to a certain point that Dubliners can be described as Modernist" (53). The chief instrument employed by these investigators is, it would seem, the bed of Procrustes, so well tested in the critical workshop for reducing the subject to a size and tractability amenable to a program. Yet things need not have come to this pass. A syntactic component established by inductive procedures—which would require linguistic examination of a number of sentences, at the very least —might yet indicate homologies among the structures of plots, narrative statements, verse utterances, and larger poetic forms. A systematic assessment of the diction of representative texts might well give us reason to think of the Modernist semantic component not as a batch of "notions" but as a foregrounding of scientific, epistemological, and other specialized lexicons. The careful work of linguistic and semiotic analysis remains to be done; Messrs. Fokkema and Ibsch are to be acknowledged for pointing us in a promising direction. And a special thanks for making some of us aware of the Dutch Modernists: Du Perron, Ter Braak, and Vestdijk. Avrom Fleishman The Johns Hopkins University MYTH OF THE MODERN Perry Meisel. The Myth of the Modern: A Study in British Literature and Criticism after 1850. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987. $24.00 MEISEL'S WORK RESISTS FACILE SIMPLIFICATION as it presents, with occasional opacity, his case of the myth of the modern. Billed by Harold Bloom as "The best and least mystified study of literary modernism that I have seen," the text is not without the sort of linguistic turnings that will mystify some and perplex others. In fact, Meisel does a more than admirable job of elucidating modernist 490 Book Reviews Volume 32:4, 1989 writing as an imaginative response to belatedness in literary and cultural traditions involving a self-conscious realization of posteriority that results in an effort to repress or remaster the past. Thus Meisel amplifies a primary concern in Bloom's work; this sense of belatedness informs Pound's mandate to "make it new," just as it helps account for the poetic practice of the mannerisfmetaphysical poets, rediscovered and prized by the avatars of modernism. Indeed Meisel's economy of modernism contains the three stages of Renaissance, Romantic and High Modernism. He is careful to underscore modernism's inherent paradox, that it is "the recurrent desire to find origins or ground despite the impossibility of ever doing so for sure." The will to modernity, particularly in Hardy, both wounds and enables, empowers and makes for anxiety. Modernism's key words, primitivism, formalism and alienation are redefined: "The primitive or primary is, as it turns out, a function of what succeeds it; the formal is also the thematic, the thematic also structurally identified with the formal; and alienation is not the burden of subjectivity, but its precondition ." In the exemplary prologue he explores Hardy's reflexive realism as Hardy's recit produces histoire and his story reflects the language that assembles it. The story, then, in Hardy's hands, becomes a fully reflexive project which is so, ironically, as a direct function of its realism. The commentary on The Mayor of Casterbridge adds a useful dimension to considering the novel as grounded not so much in the oppositions of machinery versus nature (mimetic or empirically available options) but in "rhetorical ones put into play by a modernist desire for the primal that installs origins retroactively." Having set the terms of modernism, Meisel looks to Arnold as "The Belated Reader" and finds him weighed...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 490-494
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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