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Paradoxy of Modernism

Paradoxy of Modernism

Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Paradoxy of Modernism
    Book Description:

    In this lively, personal book, Robert Scholes intervenes in ongoing discussions about modernism in the arts during the crucial half-century from 1895 to 1945. While critics of and apologists for modernism have defined modern art and literature in terms of binary oppositions-high/low, old/new, hard/soft, poetry/rhetoric-Scholes contends that these distinctions are in fact confused and misleading. Such oppositions are instances of "paradoxy"-an apparent clarity that covers real confusion.Closely examining specific literary texts, drawings, critical writings, and memoirs, Scholes seeks to complicate the neat polar oppositions attributed to modernism. He argues for the rehabilitation of works in the middle ground that have been trivialized in previous evaluations, and he fights orthodoxy with such paradoxes as "durable fluff," "formulaic creativity," and "iridescent mediocrity." The book reconsiders major figures like James Joyce while underscoring the value of minor figures and addressing new attention to others rarely studied. It includes twenty-two illustrations of the artworks discussed. Filled with the observations of a personable and witty guide, this is a book that opens up for a reader's delight the rich cultural terrain of modernism.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12884-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Part I Paradoxies

    • 1 High and Low in Modernist Criticism
      (pp. 3-32)

      My objectives in this chapter are to look into the way the terms High and Low were deployed in the critical discourse around Modernism, and how they slide easily into absolute notions of Good and Bad. I shall also try to situate that discourse in relation to some earlier versions of the High/Low distinction, and to use the results of that investigation to argue that the paradoxy we find when we look into these matters should lead us to rethink the Modernist canon and curriculum, opening up both of these to accommodate texts formerly excluded, and should make us more...

    • 2 Old and New in Modernist Art
      (pp. 33-94)

      In 1918 we find Ezra Pound worrying about “the frenetic modernist” who will miss something of great beauty because its subject matter, which Pound himself has mocked, is “demoded.” And as late as 1993 we find Virginia Woolf, reporting on a conversation in “Bloomsbury” about Walter Sickert, in which a consensus is reached that this derivative painter, whose work is often naturalistic in its content, and might well have been associated by Woolf with the despised Edwardians, is the best that England has to offer. I begin with these texts as a way of pointing to a certain complexity or...

    • 3 Poetry and Rhetoric in the Modernist Montage
      (pp. 95-119)

      Like High and Low or New and Old, the opposition between poetry and rhetoric is one of those key distinctions used by Modernists to advocate the superiority of their work to that of others. The way this invidious distinction played out in Modernist discourse will emerge if we look into the question of montage and its role in film and poetry. It has been claimed that montage is the key device for Modernism in the verbal as well as the visual arts, and this chapter began its life as a contribution to a conference on just that topic, in which...

    • 4 Hard and Soft: Joyce and Others
      (pp. 120-140)

      My epigraph comes from a review of a London performance of Richard Strauss’s operaElektrathat appeared inThe New Agein March 1910. During this year, and those immediately following it, the journal became the central battleground in England for debates over the direction that literature and the arts should take to meet the demands of modernity. What art, what music, what kinds of writing might be adequate to express the thoughts and feelings of the new age that so many people felt was coming into being around them at this time? These questions were debated with wit, passion,...

  5. Part II Paradoxes

    • 5 Durable Fluff: The Importance of Not Being Earnest
      (pp. 143-161)

      The first of my two epigraphs is from an article inCollege Englishon “The ‘Oprahfication’ of Literacy.” The second comes, of course, from the first scene of one of the lightest and funniest texts in our literary heritage:The Importance of Being Earnest.Among those things one shouldn’t read, those things that Oprah wouldn’t read, are a group of texts that belong to the category that I want to call “durable fluff.” I am using this paradoxical expression in an attempt to name a phenomenon that fascinates me: the way certain texts that are “light and funny” totally lacking...

    • 6 Iridescent Mediocrity: Dornford Yates and Others
      (pp. 162-194)

      There is, as you will have noticed, a striking contradiction between these two views. The first seems to set out the official program of High Modernism, while the second praises the work of a writer who never approached canonization in the Modernist pantheon. In fact, that gorgeous phrase “iridescent mediocrity” in the first statement might seem a particularly apt description of “theBerryvolumes of Dornford Yates,” which are the subject of the second. The first of these pronouncements was made by Cyril Connolly. It is from the opening paragraph of his extended literary meditation,The Unquiet Grave.The second...

    • 7 Formulaic Creativity: Simenon’s Maigret Novels
      (pp. 195-218)

      Back in Chapter 1, I raised the question of literary formulas, suggesting that many excellent writers had worked with formulas of one kind or another, mentioning Jane Austen in passing. This, of course, was in the context of High Modernist denigration of formulaic writing as inevitably inferior and Low, which, like the automatic association of literary Lowness with social Lowness so frequently made by critics, is simply an error that prevents us from understanding the way literature actually works. It is time, now, for me to return to the question of formulaic writing and try to justify my claim that...

  6. Part III Doxies

    • 8 Model Artists in Paris: Hastings, Hamnett, and Kiki
      (pp. 221-256)

      By “model artists” I mean models, women who posed for painters, but crossed over to the other side of the easel, either as painters or writers, and also painters or writers who moved in the other direction and posed for artists, allowing themselves to become objects for the gaze of others. My examples will be three women who produced some very interesting writing about the world in which Modernism flourished, and especially about the bohemian underside of that world. In the epigraphs for this chapter are hints of different stories, about women who crossed the artist/model line in different directions,...

    • 9 The Aesthete in the Brothel: Proust and Others
      (pp. 257-280)

      It is time to return, now, to the theme of High and Low, with which we began this series of probes into the paradoxy of Modernism—but High and Low in a different sense. Modernism was the era in which a particular combination of High and Low reached its apogee in the Never Land called Bohemia, given textual form by Henri Murger’sScènes de la vie de Bohèmein 1846 and a permanent place in modern culture by Puccini’s operatic version in 1895. In Bohemia the High and the Low rubbed elbows and other body parts, sang and danced together,...

  7. Works Cited
    (pp. 281-284)
  8. Index
    (pp. 285-295)