Dreams of a Totalitarian Utopia

Dreams of a Totalitarian Utopia: Literary Modernism and Politics

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Dreams of a Totalitarian Utopia
    Book Description:

    While these authors' political inclinations are well known and much discussed, previous studies have failed to adequately analyse the surrounding political circumstances that informed the specific utopian aspirations in each writer's works. Balancing a thorough knowledge of their works with an understanding of the political climate of the early twentieth century, Leon Surette provides new insights into the motivations and development of each writer's respective political postures. Dreams of a Totalitarian Utopia examines their political commentary and their correspondence with each other from 1910s to the 1950s. Contextualizing their political thought in a world troubled by two world wars, the Great Depression, and the Bolshevik Revolution, Surette traces their shared concerns and the divergent responses of each of these figures in the historical moment to the risk they perceived of democracies becoming the pawns of commercial and industrial elites, leading to war and mindless consumerism. They all leaned toward autocratic solutions, though Pound and Lewis eventually admitted their error.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8665-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-18)

    One constant we will find in the cultural and political commentary of Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot is their hostility to the liberal democratic capitalist countries in which they were born and in which they pursued their careers. That hostility was based on two factors: first, their distrust of the mass man created by the mass circulation press, photography, the phonograph, the cinema, and ultimately the radio; second, their belief that the immense wealth created by industrial societies was poorly and inequitably allocated: too little went to the populace at large and to artists, and too much...

  5. I Dreams and Nightmares
    (pp. 19-54)

    The story of literary modernism in English, if viewed from the perspective of the two prominent American expatriates – Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot – can be understood as an American conquest of English letters. Although the conquest was certainly not complete, it has been enduring. British writers today are at least as likely to look to American writers as models to imitate, or reputations to challenge, as American writers were to look to British writers in the early years of the twentieth century. No doubt, the change reflects the reversal in relative strengths – economic, military, and cultural – of the respective...

  6. II A Twentieth-Century Renaissance
    (pp. 55-82)

    Ezra Pound sailed from New York for Europe in early February 1908. He was leaving a teaching post at Wabash College in Indiana, having been bought out by the administration for reasons that remain somewhat obscure, but which involved a female member of a travelling acting troupe.¹ He landed at Gibraltar; then trained to Venice, where he published a slim volume of poetry,A Lume Spento(“With Taper’s Quenched”). That volume was marked by his admiration for William Butler Yeats and the style of the British “Nineties.”² At this stage Pound was just a skilful imitator of current European fashions,...

  7. III The War as a Symptom of Cultural Decay
    (pp. 83-138)

    Of the men under consideration here who collaborated in the cultural wars of 1912 to 1914, only British and French nationals served in the war. Two of them – T.E. Hulme and Gaudier-Brzeska – were killed. Wyndham Lewis and Edward Wadsworth (both Vorticist), Richard Aldington (who married Pound’s undergraduate sweetheart, Hilda Doolittle) and Herbert Read (who later collaborated with Eliot onThe Criterion) – even Ford Madox Ford, despite his age – all served and survived. Pound memorialized those of his friends who served in the war in canto XVI (published in 1925 and modelled on the Purgatorial section of Dante’sCommedia). The preceding...

  8. IV The Response to Fascism
    (pp. 139-180)

    The scholarly understanding of fascism has undergone considerable revision in the last few decades. Principal figures in that revaluation are the Israeli scholar, Zeev Sternhell, and the British scholar, Roger Griffin. While these two students of fascism disagree on some aspects of its nature and origin, both see it as a broad ideological movement within European – or Atlantic, to be more inclusive – culture and society. The understanding of fascism articulated by those two scholars is foundational for the following discussion.

    Griffin focuses on those aspects of fascism that we have already found to be characteristic of the attitudes that Pound,...

  9. V “Things Fall Apart”
    (pp. 181-234)

    The Great Depression that followed the stock market crash of October 1929 confirmed the belief of both the Cassandras and the Pollyannas that the era of liberal, democratic capitalism had run its course. The Crash came just two years after Charles Lindbergh had inaugurated air travel by successfully traversing the Atlantic, landing at Le Bourget on 21 May 1927, greeted by a crowd theNew York Timesestimated at 100,000. TheTimesdeclared: “his feat electrified the nation and inspired enthusiastic interest in aviation.” In that same year Heidegger (1888–1976) publishedSein und Zeit(Being and Time), a work...

  10. VI Looking Back
    (pp. 235-272)

    As we have seen, Pound sailed to the United States in 1939 in a quixotic effort to persuade the United States to stay out of the impending conflict. His intervention had no effect whatsoever, but it is worth reminding ourselves that in 1939 he was in line with majority American opinion on this point. Although Hollywood depictions of American involvement in World War II would lead one to believe that the United States was a leading opponent of fascism and Nazism, in fact, it stayed out of the conflict until it was itself attacked by the Japanese in December 1941....

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 273-284)

    Eliot’s assessment of himself and Lewis in a letter of June 1919 – “Lewis isnota sham, but a simple natural innocent, like myself” (Letters,303 ) – is compatible with Lewis’s assessment of Pound inTime and Western Manas a “revolutionary simpleton.” All three men were babes in the woods in the realm of political philosophy andrealpolitik. Lewis was more outspoken than Eliot, and more sensible and prudent than Pound. They were all anti-democratic, as is frequently alleged. But we should remember that popular democracy was a new thing in their lifetime. That they should have been suspicious...

  12. APPENDIX: An American Fascist
    (pp. 285-300)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 301-338)
  14. References
    (pp. 339-352)
  15. Index
    (pp. 353-363)