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Modernist Heresies

Modernist HeresiesBritish Literary History, 18831924

Damon Franke

The Ohio State University Press Columbus

Copyright 2008 by The Ohio State University. All rights reserved. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Franke, Damon, 1968 Modernist heresies : British literary history, 18831924 / Damon Franke. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13: 9780814210741 (cloth : alk. paper) ISBN-13: 9780814291511 (CD-ROM) 1. Modernism (Literature)Great Britain. 2. English literature20th centuryHistory and criticism. 3. English literature19th centuryHistory and criticism. 4. Religion and literatureGreat BritainHistory20th century. 5. Religion and literatureGreat BritainHistory19th century. 6. Great BritainIntellectual life20th century. 7. Great BritainIntellectual life19th century. 8. Heretics, ChristianGreat BritainHistory. 9. Heresies, Christian, in literature. 10. Paganism in literature. I. Title. PR478.M6F73 2008 820.9112dc22 2007041909 This book is available in the following editions: Cloth (ISBN 9780814210741) CD-ROM (ISBN 9780814291511) Cover design by DesignSmith. Type set in Adobe Minion. Printed by Thomson-Shore, Inc. The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information SciencesPermanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials. ANSI Z39.481992. 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

E quelli a me: Qui son li eresarche con lor seguaci, dogne setta, e molto pi che non credi son le tombe carche. Dante, The Inferno

These are the arch-heretics of all cults, with all their followers, he replied. Far more than you would think lie stuffed into these vaults. Translated by John Ciardi


List of Illustrations Preface Acknowledgments Abbreviations Introduction Part I Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Part II Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 After Words Appendix The Heretical Vintage of Modernism The Academy of Modern Heretics A Society of Heretics The Early Years of the Cambridge Heretics, 191014 Aesthetics and the Modern Heretics Modernist Literary Heresies Canonical Transformations Literary Paganism and the Heresy of Syncretism Fictions, Figurative Heresy, and the Roots of English The Empires of the Mind and the Control of Heresy Meetings of the Heretics Society, Cambridge, 190924 Notes Works Cited Index

ix xi xvii xix 1 23 25 56 76 103 105 142 174 197 219 231 241 251


FiguresFigure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3 Figure 4 Figure 5 Figure 6 Figure 7 Figure 8 Figure 9 The founders of the Cambridge Heretics Society, 190910 Triptych program of the Cambridge Heretics Society, Michaelmas term 1911 Cartoon lampooning The Chawner Affair at Cambridge Announcement of Bernard Shaws address to the Heretics Society The monument of Giordano Bruno, Rome The Panoptic Eliminator The Panopticon, or Basic Word Wheel Mr. Churchill Discovering Basic English C. K. Ogden holding the Panopticon 42 47 58 109 133 200 201 212 213

TableTable 1 The Laws of the Cambridge Heretics Society, October 1909 45



What follows is an intellectual history of the origins of British modernism. The nature of modernism constantly shifts, within its own purview, and within criticism, and this interdisciplinary study embraces such dynamic elusiveness. Aesthetic complexities abound, history is continuous and ruptured at once, and religious concerns, in their very nature, tend to mystify certainty. At the same time, this book is an attempt at a synthesis of the discursive history of modernism, and as such it addresses the modernists in the terms of their own ambitions. For in the late Victorian, Edwardian, and High Modernist times, intellectuals faced the dying belief in a totalizing synthesis of the world. Many fought against a plunge into incoherence and fragmentation in their attempts at universalizing theories or in their invention of substitute aesthetic devices. From the 1880s through the 1920s, the discursive exchange among artists, philosophers, and religious thinkers that initially sought to synthesize worldviews culminated in the pragmatic construction of modernist artificial or synthetic wholes. This is a story of the British modernists and a study of their work, and, even at a cursory glance, it raises the following questions: What do Virginia Woolf s notion of character and Walter Paters curious interest in the Mona Lisa share? What does a cadre of renegade priests have in common with the control of language in George Orwells Nineteen Eighty-Four? What sort of thread weaves together Joan of Arc, The Golden Bough, and the advent of New Criticism? What link, beyond a mere study of statistics, connects compulsory chapel attendance at Cambridge with Keynesian economic theory? The answer to each of these queries is, in a word, heresy. The claim may seem bold and tenuous at first, but this common denominator underpins a forgotten dimension of the origins of modernism, one deeply entrenched in Victorian blasphemy and thexi



crisis in faith, and one pointing to the censorship of modernist literature and some of the first doctrines of literary criticism. In April 1933, Hitler promulgated the policies of National Socialism, FDR was in the midst of the first hundred days of the New Deal, and T. S. Eliot traveled to the University of Virginia to deliver a series of lectures denouncing the modernist trend to insert the diabolical into literature. Though paltry in comparison to these worldly affairs, Eliots lectures, which would be published as After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy (1934), are not as disparate as they may seem. Each platform positioned itself as a corrective to unwanted turns in twentieth-century history. Eliots self-righteous primer sought to teach readers how to discern whether an author wrote with a proper moral sense, and in such matters, he declared that a spirit of excessive tolerance was to be deprecated (20). April that year indeed was the cruelest month. For Eliot, orthodoxy could and should modernize tradition, which he claimed implies a unity of religious background and makes any large-number of free-thinking Jews undesirable (20). The next winter fed a little life to tolerance when the U.S. Congress repealed Prohibition, and Judge John Woolsey overturned the censorship, on obscenity charges, of James Joyces Ulysses (1922). Critics have handily debunked the intolerance, myopia, and anti-Semitism of Eliots claims, and Eliot himself later disavowed many of the sentiments expressed in After Strange Gods. Nevertheless, the question remains: why would a major critic of the time frame modernist literature in terms of heresy? In answer, I find myself in accord with Eliot on three premises: religion is recurrently an important subject; heresy treats it as such; and scholars are responsible for confronting literary engagements with religion. At the same time, criticism handicaps itself if it assumes the rectitude of any orthodoxy and simply dismisses the opposition as wrong, or, as Eliot did, offers a sketchy and polemical moralization. In 1933, though, authoritarian answers won the day, and many modernists found themselves at the pulpit of prophecy, largely because for fifty years heretical discourses had confounded traditional accounts of the world. Part of Eliots frustration with modernism arises from this and from the fact that he could only define heresy as wrong and a characteristic result of an exceptionally acute perception, or profound insight, of some part of the truth (26). For purposes of this study, heresy should be understood, to quote the OED, both as religious opinion or doctrine maintained in opposition . . . to that of any church, creed, or religious system, considered as orthodox, and by extension, opinion or doctrine in philosophy, politics, art, etc., at vari-



ance with those generally accepted as authoritative. Since the modernists accentuated the use of religious images, concepts, and festivals in their art, heresy, for them, shuttled with ease between religion and aesthetics. Religion and philosophy, conversely, never can escape the poetics of language. Heresy from 1883 to 1924, therefore, should be understood liberally, in that it was both a common interdisciplinary discursive mode and a rallying cry for the general critique of establishmentarian positions. Etymologically, heresy means a choice one makes or a school of thought, and a guiding principle for my investigations is to ask what happens when conflicting value systems or scholarly disciplines are placed in dialogue with each other. While heresy usually arises over differing interpretations of scripture or doctrine, often the interdicted discourse eventually becomes tolerated or even made orthodox. From 1883 to 1924 (a utilitarian demarcation explained in the introductory chapter), the prominent modernist heresy involved an attempt to syncretize contradictory schools of thought in resolutions which would theoretically dissolve the distinction between orthodoxies and their contestation. Such a paradox saw synthesis itself become almost the de rigueur mode of transgression. Theory and criticism evolve through synthesis, and this study hopes to offer its own progressive dialectic of varying schools of thought. By linking rigorous textual analysis with reception theory and the examination of interwoven cultural discourses, particularly those of the Cambridge Heretics Society, 190932, I argue that the literature and culture treated here reveal a modernist sensibility influenced by theological concerns yet committed to the liberation of the body, womens rights, and the concerns of this world. Such a pluralistic view of the world is antithetical to the intransigence of orthodoxy. From 1883 to 1924, though, heretical discursive modes were still able to underwrite sign