Literary Modernism and Musical Aesthetics: Pater, Pound, Joyce, and Stein by Brad Bucknell (review)
- ESC: English Studies in Canada
- Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English
- Volume 30, Issue 3, September 2004
- pp. 192-196
- Additional Information
Works Cited Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Bakhtin Reader: Selected Writings of Bakhtin, Medvedev, and Voloshinov. Ed. Pam Morris. London: Edward Arnold, 1994Bergson , Henri. Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic. 1911. Trans. Cloudesley Brereton and Fred Rothwell. Kobenhavn and Los Angeles: Green Integer, 1999. Chakravarty, Amiya. The Dynasts and the Post-War Age in Poetry. 1938. New York: Octagon Books, 1970. Dean, Susan. Hardy’s Poetic Vision in The Dynasts: The Diorama of a Dream. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1977. Garrison, Chester A. The Vast Venture: Hardy’s Epic Drama The Dynasts. Salzburg: Institute for English Language and Literature, 1973. Maynard, Katherine Kearney. Thomas Hardy’s Tragic Poetry: the Lyrics and The Dynasts. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1991. Orel, Harold. Thomas Hardy’s Epic-Drama: A Study of The Dynasts. Law rence: U of Kansas P, 1963. Brad Bucknell. Literary Modernism and MusicalAesthetics: Pater, Pound, Joyce, and Stein. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Pp. xii+288. 32 music examples. $90.00 cloth. Brad Bucknell’s Literary Modernism and Musical Aesthetics is one of a bevy of recent interdisciplinary studies of literature in relation to other arts. This trend is probably a consequence of the spread of digital technologies throughout the developed world. After one experiences the fusion of text, image, and sound on a dvd or the World Wide Web, mixed-media com munication ceases to seem impure or exceptional. Artists’ books, visual poetry, film intertitles, lieder cycles, book illustration— the genre-wilder ness between art forms is now open to academic settlement. Most inter-art forays concentrate on particular case studies. Brad Bucknell’s Literary Modernism and Musical Aesthetics is no exception. The book’s centerpiece is an extended analysis of the perversely speechimitative , madrigal-inspired score for Ezra Pound’s opera Le Testament de François Villon (1923). Nearly as absorbing is the final chapter’s argument 192 IReed that Virgil Thompson’s score for Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) is “a kind of inscription of the first and perhaps ... ideal reader” of the “language landscape” of Gertrude Stein’s libretto (181). These virtuosic readings show Bucknell to be thoroughly, soberly trained in musicology as well as literary criticism. The true excellence of Literary Modernism and Musical Aesthetics, however, lies in its acute awareness that boundary-crossing between media is value-neutral. Its results can be laudable, mediocre, or kitschy. It can proceed intelligently, waywardly, or mistakenly. This principle leads Bucknell to adopt a welcome, corrective skepticism toward his subject matter. Unlike, say, Daniel Albright in Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature, and Other Arts (2000), he is not content to provide a celebratory overview of lesser known mixed media or collaborative works by major modernists. Instead, he begins with the fact that Anglo-American literary modernists tended to be ill-informed about chromaticism, serialism , and twentieth-century art music more generally. Indeed, they rarely invoke music in the sense of a living, evolving corpus of artworks that build on or dissent from conventional rules governing polyphony, counterpoint, and tonality. They most often talk about music in retrograde, romanticexpressivist terms, as an art that “transcends referential or lexical meaning” and possesses “some kind of excessive, yet essential, element to which the literary may point, but which it can never fully encompass” (1). This stereotypically nineteenth-century conception of music persisted among literary modernists, according to Bucknell, because it offered a possible solution to a daunting representational (and vocational) crisis, namely, a loss of confidence in the ability of traditional literary forms to convey “inwardness” accurately and persuasively (3). Serious music, in contrast, as even a casual concert-goer could affirm, had retained the ability to stir subtle shades of passions in a listener. Perhaps a writer, too, might— through careful craft and formal experiment loosely modeled on musical precedent— overcome the deadening weight of cliché and achieve a comparably “deep symbolic reverberation” between author and reader (5). This argument is full of holes, of course. How can a purely lexical work ever approximate the wordless symmetries and strategies of music? Do composers really intend to provide transparent access to their inte rior lives? Has music truly been more successful than poetry or...