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Regression and Apocalypse

Regression and Apocalypse: Studies in North American Literary Expressionism

Sherrill E. Grace
Copyright Date: 1989
Pages: 315
  • Book Info
    Regression and Apocalypse
    Book Description:

    Expressionism continues to fascinate scholars, and in fact has recently passed through yet another revival. From its roots in German history, aesthetics, painting, theatre, and literature, it has spread to become an international phenomenon. In this analysis of Expressionist writing by Canadian and American authors, Sherrill Grace adds important new dimension to our understanding of the works of a number of playwrights and novelists.

    Working from a set of topoi and structural paradigms, Grace discusses selected examples of expressionistic texts by Eugene O'Neill, Herman Voaden, Malcolm Lowry, Ralph Ellison, Djuna Barnes, and Sheila Watson. Each of these writers was demonstrably conversatn with and influenced by German Expressionism in one or more media; taken together they suggest an alternative modernism to that of Joyce, Woolf, or Stein, and a common articulation of problems in stylistics, genre and form, and thematics.

    Grace concludes by relating the expressionism of these modernists to the 'neo-expressionism' of postmodernist art, pointing out a number of contemporary painters and writers who exploit the legacy of Expressionism in new ways.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7915-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-8)

    ‘The problems of Expressionism will continue to be worth pondering until they have been superseded by better solutions than those put forward by its exponents.’ So announced Ernst Bloch, philosopher, utopian idealist, and apologist for Expressionism, before reminding his readers that the ‘heritage of Expressionism has not ceased to exist, because we have not yet even started to consider it.’¹ Bloch made these remarks in a 1938 defence of expressionist art against attacks by the Marxist critics Georg Lukács and Alfred Kurella, who had argued during the thirties that German Expressionism led directly to fascism. In 1938 the ‘heritage’ of...

  6. Part One: ‘Entartete Kunst’ – Modernism in Germany

    • 1 Expressionism: History, Definition, and Theory
      (pp. 11-42)

      Arguments abound as to when and why German Expressionism died. Some contemporaries claimed that, as a movement, it died with the young artists killed in the First World War. Others were certain that it had been stamped out with the repression of the Spartacist uprisings in 1919 or with the return to a new objectivity(neue Sachlichkeit)in painting after the war, while still others believed that the peak of expressionist theatre during the early twenties was Expressionism’s last gasp. But as late as 1933 Adolf Hitler knew that the spirit of Expressionism had not died, and hindsight shows that...

    • 2 German Expressionism in the Arts
      (pp. 43-68)

      Expressionism in Germany touched all the arts. Although the painters are usually credited with initiating the revolt, proto-expressionistic novels such as Heinrich Mann’sProfessor Unratand Jakob Wassermann’sAlexander in Babylonappeared in 1905; expressionist plays began to be written as early as 1908, when the Vienna performance ofMurder, Hope of Women (Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen)caused a small riot, and distinctly expressionist poetry could be heard in the Berlin cafés by at least 1910. My purpose in the following pages is to look more closely at the individual media and genres and the dramatic shattering of conventions demanded...

      (pp. None)
  7. Part Two: Expressionism on the North American Stage

    • 3 ‘The New Art of the Theatre’ in New York and Toronto
      (pp. 71-81)

      When Bellasco protested against experimental theatre productions in New York, it was already too late to stifle the new impulses shaping American theatre in this century. Things had begun to change as early as 1912, the year that, according to Floyd Dell, editor ofThe MassesandThe Liberator,gave birth to a ‘New Spirit ... in America.’¹ The same year also saw the performance of Wedekind’sSpring Awakeningby the New York German-language Irving Place Theatre. Between 1912 and 1921 – only nine short years – what we know today as modern American theatre was born.

      The factors contributing to this...

    • 4 Eugene O’Neill: The American Georg Kaiser
      (pp. 82-116)

      When Eric Bentley began work on the German-language première ofThe Iceman Comethin 1951, he faced a problem that has always confronted O’Neill directors, critics, and readers: he had to decide what to do with O’Neill’s expressionism. In an article with the somewhat condescending title ‘Trying to Like O’Neill,’ Bentley concluded thatThe Iceman Comethhad ‘a genuine and a non-genuine element, the former, which [he] regarded as the core, being realistic, the latter, which [he] took as inessential excrescence, being expressionistic.’¹ In order to preserve what he considered to be the ‘essential – or at least better’ O’Neill, Bentley...

    • 5 Herman Voaden’s ‘Symphonic Expressionism’
      (pp. 117-138)

      The ‘symphonic expressionism’ of Herman Voaden stands, for the most part, in sharp contrast to the expressionist plays of O’Neill. Where O’Neill’s work always retains a strong sense of represented human subject, considerable sexual tension and violence, and a predominantly pessimistic and regressive vision, Voaden’s work, at its most typical, is a highly abstract, lyrical, and apocalyptic form ofGesamtkunstwerk.In large part, of course, this is a result of temperament. From the start Voaden was basically a more optimistic, idealistic and socio-politically involved individual than O’Neill. Like a number of the Germans – perhaps most strikingly Toller, whom he admired...

  8. Part Three: Expressionism and the Modern Novel

    • 6 The Dark Night of the Soul: Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood
      (pp. 141-162)

      Like the woman in thedouanierRousseau’sThe Dream(1910) with whom Robin Vote is compared, a reader ofNightwoodmay also feel bewitched, or trapped in ‘the set, the property of an unseendompteur,half lord, half promoter.’¹ The most unsettling thing for the reader of Djuna Barnes’s extraordinary 1936 novel is that thedompteuris ‘unseen’ and that with every page he or she becomes less and less certain about the show. Indeed, few texts have sustained as many conflicting interpretations or caused so many genuine problems for their readers. Where is the centre ofNightwood,which chapter,...

    • 7 The Soul in Writhing Anguish: Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano
      (pp. 163-184)

      Everyone who knowsUnder the Volcanorecognizes that it is a highly filmic novel; Stephen Spender said so in 1965, and as a direct consequence many directors flirted with the idea of filming it and many more screenplay writers attempted to adapt it for cinematic treatment.¹ The first response toVolcano’schallenge appeared in John Huston’s 1984 realistic treatment Lowry’s masterpiece, with Albert Finney as the drunken Consul, Jacqueline Bisset as his estranged wife Yvonne, and Anthony Andrews as his shallow half-brother Hugh. What Huston proved, however, is true with many great literary works: they simply do not translate well...

    • 8 Sheila Watson and the ‘Double Hook’ of Expressive Abstraction
      (pp. 185-209)

      In 1935, two years after she graduated from the University of British Columbia with a masters degree in English and a teaching certificate, Sheila Watson (1909–) found herself ‘put down as a stranger’ in Dog Creek, a dry, isolated hamlet in the Cariboo district of the British Columbia interior where she would spend the next two years. Then as now, it is an enormous leap from Vancouver to Dog Creek, from reading Eliot, Pound, Lewis, Stein, and Lawrence to teaching a handful of Indian and white children in a place no one has heard of. ‘I had no idea...

    • 9 ‘The real soul-sickness’: Self-Creation and the Expressionist Method in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man
      (pp. 210-226)

      In the epilogue to his 1952 novel, Ralph Ellison’s ‘invisible’ narrator looks back on the experiences that led to this telling of his story and succinctly diagnoses his condition: ‘The fact is that you carry part of your sickness within you, at least I do as an invisible man. I carried my sickness and though for a long time I tried to place it in the outside world, the attempt to write it down shows me that at least half of it lay within me ...Thatis the real soul-sickness.’¹ With this admission he accomplishes two things: First, he...

  9. Part Four: The Expressionist Legacy

    • 10 From Modernism to Postmodernism: Conclusions, Speculations, and Questions
      (pp. 229-246)

      By the end of the 1920s the ferment and fervour of early modernism were over: Dada was dead, having slipped beneath Breton’s tamer, intellectualized Surrealism;The Waste Land(1922) was behind Eliot and he was moving towards a more classical form and an Anglican vision; Stravinsky’sRite of Spring(1913) and the compositions of George Antheil no longer scandalized audiences;¹Ulysseswas well on its way to canonization by those critics who would help to define it as quintessential modernist; Vorticism was a distant memory, and Pound, who was writing theCantos,was sliding further towards the political right, together...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 247-296)
  11. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 297-308)
  12. Index
    (pp. 309-318)