‘Étant donnés’: Questioning the material and marginal givens of modernisms scholarship
April 12th and 13th 2013
Dr Sara Crangle,University of Sussex & Dr Ruth Hemus, Royal Holloway
Supported by the Irish Research Council
&School of English & Department of German, UCC
Katalin Kürtösi, University of Szeged, Hungary
„The best things are off the highway” – on Modernism in Canada
The paper tackles the issue of Modernism on a ’margin,’ namely in Canada. The strive towards Modernism varied according to geographical location, forms of art and genres: painting preceded literature, while in the theatre it appeared a few years later. In the first three decades of the twentieth century, in Canada, conscious efforts to create a ’national’ culture were present side by side with following international models. Poets were well aware of the new tendencies as their forewords to the volumes confirm, but the poems themselves often followed traditional patterns. Theatre artists and playwrights looked at the Irish Renaissance as well as American and European innovators for new ideas and wished to match them with their own experiences.
One case study is painter and writer Emily Carr (1871-1945) – often compared with Georgia O’Keefe and Frida Kahlo – who was consciously striving to be ’modern:’ her letters and journals clearly prove this. Her artistic career shows the typical features of Modernism, e.g. her interest in the ’primitive’ (in her case, Native art in British Columbia), or her fight against isolation and being neglected as female artist: she described herself as „an oddment and a natural-born solitaire” (diary entry, November 6th, 1933 – in: Opposite Contraries, 43) Carr transgressed borders: besides painting, she made pottery, and wrote short stories and ’life writing.’ For later generations of Canadian artists, she served as emblematic figure and inspired music, poems, plays, dance performances.
For many artists, the North offered not only an authentic Canadian landscape, but the barren scenes also served as models for abstraction. The pictures by some Group of Seven artists (L. Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald) inspired poems (A.J.M. Smith) and plays (H. Voaden).
I wish to argue that there is a diversity of Modernisms, and less-known Modernisms should not be labelled as ’second rate.’
 Susan Crean, ed. Opposite Contraries. The. The Unknown Journals of Emily Carr and Other Writings. Douglas & McIntyre, 2003. p.75.
Rachel Warriner, University College Cork
“Foster[ing] a change in the meaning of art”: Heresies, Feminist art and the Avant-Garde
In the first issue of the journal Heresies, which was dedicated to the thorny question of the relationship between art and politics, the collective outline their vision for the project. They state:
We believe that what is commonly called art can have a political impact, and that in the making of art and of all cultural artifacts our identities as women play a distinct role. [...] We are committed to the broadening of the definition and function of art.
Explicitly framed as a feminist art journal, and edited by prominent feminist artists and critics, issue one of Heresies makes clear its interest in both the position of women in the art world and their oppression under patriarchy. Tying the two experiences together as one conceptual concern, the question of the marginalised nature of women artists in an artworld dominated by the legacy of mainstream modernism comes to the fore. Ending the manifesto like mission statement that opens issue one is this proposition: As women, we are aware that historically the connection between our lives, our arts and our ideas have been suppressed. Once these connections are clarified they can function as a means to dissolve the alienation between artist and audience, and to understand the relationship between art and politics, work and workers. [...] Our view of feminism is one of process and change, and we feel that in the process of this dialogue we can foster a change in the meaning of art.
With this paper I will contend that the Heretics’ collective mission to reframe art and politics in the service of feminism relates to a wider question about how radical feminist practice relates to modernism. This relationship is often considered to be one of resistance and marginality; the marginalised status of women’s artworks is seen by critics as both obscuring and, conversely, empowering the work. Despite a quality of resistance to the mainstream and its commercial concerns, marginality also disempowers women practitioners who are unable to earn a living as artists, thus amateurising their practices. I seek to complicate this discourse by suggesting that the collectivising drive of feminist artists, coupled with their wish to democratise art and redefine its boundaries, fits in with another area of modernist concern: that of the avant-garde. Considering the practices of feminist artists working in New York in the 1970s and ‘80s as part of a coterie-style collective, I will argue that by connecting these oeuvres with theoretical and historical discussions of avant-gardism we can determine a new relationship between feminist art and modernism that goes beyond limited discourses of marginality and opens up feminist practice to more broad critical analysis.
Kathryn Anderson, University of East Anglia
When Poets Wrote Ballets
In using the ballet both as an object of cultural reverence and as a tool for formal subversion, many modernist poets gained a new expressive medium that proved versatile, challenging, and sometimes shocking. Written, sometimes published, but rarely (if ever) performed, ballet texts by poets encourage a new look at literary modernism: in the unlikely realm of print, they vividly illustrate modernism’s audacious negotiation of conventions of genre and medium. In this paper, I explore the challenges-and critical value-of their analysis through the case study of E. E. Cummings’s 1935 ballet adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
For Tom: A Ballet, Cummings adapted his characteristic aesthetic in order to articulate intended movement, creating a new kind of kinetic verse that deserves attention as an extension of Cummings’s more classifiable poetic work. The text transposes dance notation into verse, suggesting that time and movement can be sufficiently marked by language where music and metrics normally stand: but is it a fully realised work, or merely a failed blueprint for production? As Tom: A Ballet has never been performed, I consider the implications of hypothetical ‘activation’: if the poetic text exists in anticipation of its realisation as a danced work, what should we make of it now? Furthermore-what does it mean to read a ballet?
Questions like this mean that critics, scholars, and dance and theatre practitioners have avoided the work (and others like it) altogether, but I propose that it is precisely through the ballet’s challenging nature that it is essential to a more comprehensive study of Cummings’s oeuvre and an expansion of the boundaries of experimental modernist texts. That so many poets turned to writing ballet demonstrates the value of tradition in a specifically nuanced modernist project that negotiated a concrete cultural past in the context of artistic revolution.
Michael Kindellan, Universität Bayreuth
Textual Criticism and Poundʼs late Cantos
The ante-penultimate and penultimate sections of Ezra Poundʼs Cantos—Rock-Drill (1955) and Thrones(1959) respectively—are philological in the sense that they engage in the “laborious appropriation”1 of pre-existing literature. Hugh Kenner went so far as to argue that the subject of the latter instalment was philology.2 Methodologically, however, they enact a critique, and perhaps even make a travesty of philological reading insofar as the brevity of intertextual references in these cantos is so extreme and the hunt for sources so annoyingly unrewarding. Donald Davie, an early and sympathetic Pound critic, called these cantos “unreadable”.3 Given that the larger context of my interest in this subject stems from an on-going (and arduous!) bibliographic study of these late cantos, it is my aim to present a paper that addresses impasses and problems the textual critic faces in trying to read these potentially antiphilological sections philologically. Following some opening remarks, I want to isolate for discussion one discovery made while working on Poundʼs notebooks: published versions of a number of the so-called paradisal cantos, numbered 90-95, are so similar to their first manuscript drafts in substantives, accidentals and spatial arrangement / lineation that studying them becomes less a practical difficulty than a theoretical one: archival work on such cantos must confront questions of authority and intention instead of orthography or revision (for example). What this means—i.e., what I hope to suggest—is that these manuscripts disturb the traditional boundaries between literary and textual criticism. As such, I would conclude by thinking about these manuscripts as “sincere” documents, which is itself a consequence of Poundʼs understanding of philology as an essentially aesthetic pursuit.
1 Sutherland, Keston. J. H. Prynne and Philology. Unpublished PhD dissertation. Cambridge: University of Cambridge, 2004. p. 13.
2 Kenner, Hugh. The Pound Era. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971. p. 532.
3 Davie, Donald. Ezra Pound: Poet as Sculptor. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964. p. 205.
Kirstin Donaldson, University of York
The Marginal Made Manifest: The Construction/Destruction of Modernist Identity in the Experiment Group Manifestos 1928-31
The Experiment group were active in Cambridge between 1928-31. They were a group of undergraduate students who organised themselves around the production of a little magazine, Experiment, that acted as a forum for their poetry, prose, art, and criticism across a number of disciplines. The original editorial panel of ‘Five’ consisted of significant figures in British intellectual history: William Empson, William Hare, Hugh Sykes-Davies, Jacob Bronowski, and Humphrey Jennings. The full list of contributors is equally impressive, and includes names such as Julian Trevelyan, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Malcolm Lowry. Although the later careers of many of these figures have been extensively studied, this early period of cultural activity has been largely overlooked. This paper will address how this formidable group of young artists organised themselves, and to what ends. I will attempt to do this through an assessment of the ‘manifestos’ produced by the group at significant periods of Experiment’s history.
The manifesto and the magazine have become inextricable with our conceptions of Modernist activity. I will question what constitutes a Modernist manifesto: is the manifesto a stable and coherent literary formation? Is the creation of a manifesto necessarily a self-conscious declaration of artistic position? Ultimately this paper will seek to assess how a marginalised Modernist group sought to manipulate the genre of manifesto writing in their publications to both align themselves to, and differentiate themselves from, the historical avant-garde.
James Cummins, University College Cork
‘an island to the east of ireland’: Tom Raworth, National identities and coteries.
From January 1966 to April 1968 a magazine called The English Intelligencer was edited by a number of young British poets, most notably Andrew Crozier and Peter Riley. It was originally conceived of as an ‘English’ project focusing on new avant-garde writers. Despite its now broad influence The English Intelligencer was never meant for public consumption remaining instead privately distributed amongst a small coterie of writers. However, even amongst this group, which never exceeded 65, there were various levels of participation and to some degree marginalization.
One such marginalized member of this coterie was Tom Raworth whose poem ‘to the Island East of Ireland’ appeared in The English Intelligencer. In this paper I will use this poem to explore a number of key ideas most notably, as the title indicates, explores marginalized subsections within national identity. I will posit that this is particularly relevant considering Raworth’s multinational, English and Irish, heritage. Through this concept Raworth puts pressure on the journal’s nationalistic and narrow view of what constitutes not only ‘Englishness’ but ‘English poetry’ . In the poem Raworth also delivers another attack on the coterie of readers and contributors to The English Intelligencer by divulging the four living people who have influenced him as a writer. He does this not by naming them but by listing their own multiple nationalities, none of them English. By using this list of influencers I will also explore how, despite his rejection of one coterie, Raworth establishes his own and how throughout his careers he uses the shared knowledge of his readers to establish his biography.
Christopher La Casse, University of Delaware
“The Little Review’s Wartime Retreat”
Étant Donnés asks us to question modernism’s margins: “Where is it?” “Who generates it?” Recent work in periodical studies situates coteries and their aesthetic movements within mediums that were inherently public—from economics, advertising revenue, and distribution networks to editorial policies and articles debating politics or social concerns. In “The Little Review’s Wartime Retreat,” I investigate how co-editors Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap re-imagined their magazine in relation to a changing public sphere. To do so, I follow the editorial and material changes that responded to the First World War’s economic, political, and cultural pressures.
Little magazines survived in mutually supporting counter-culture networks, and from 1914 to 1916, while still residing in Chicago, The Little Review published articles by famous anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, promoted their lectures, and advertised their books and anarchist magazines. Initially, the magazine did not imagine itself “inherently marginal,” but reflected Goldman’s belief in Friedrich Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of values” which could encourage individualism liberated from bourgeois institutional norming. After a German U-boat sunk the Lusitania, however, nationalism consolidated public opinion while the 1917 Espionage Act rendered such political activism obsolete. In response to a civic mood marked by jingoism, the editors distanced themselves from the masses, began to promote an “aristocratic” reading of Nietzsche that many anarchists rejected, no longer publicized for Goldman or Berkman, and stopped publishing articles critical of wartime culture. Following Woodrow Wilson’s April 1917 declaration of war, the editors vanished beneath Ezra Pound’s editorial presence, as he filled the pages with his coterie: W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Ford Madox Ford, Wyndham Lewis, and James Joyce. Consequently, The Little Review’s dynamic print community that once commented on current events, reviewed books, theatre, art exhibits, and musical performances had begun publishing mostly apolitical fiction. Far from stable or monolithic—modernism(s) conceptualized though little magazines—captured the fluid and ever-changing boundaries between modernists and the wider public.
Sam Ladkin, University of Sheffield
Reception Ethics and Poésie Brute: Mark Hyatt and John Wieners
I am co-editing, with Miles Champion, So Much for Life: the Selected Poetry of Mark Hyatt. Little has been published of Hyatt’s work, and much of that has only been published posthumously, after his suicide at the age of 33 in 1973. There is a story to tell about the way in which the experimental poetry community has kept his work in print in three chapbooks, and numerous small press journal publications. He became known via Michael Horovitz’s Children of Albion, and his poetry has been passed down, hand to hand, ever since.
There is a more involved story to tell, and one which is difficult to sketch out, about Hyatt’s life: raised relatively illiterate in a traveller community, Hyatt had some fleeting contact with a literary set in the 1960s, having a child with Cressida Lindsay, and was, at times, a heavy drug user. Hyatt was bisexual, though probably more conflicted than that suggests, moving from periods of homoerotic writing through to relatively repressed heterosexuality. Such judgements, however, are too easy to make. This life story would not typically be a recourse for my own critical writing, but in this case leads to one feature I’m hoping to discuss: Hyatt had many of his manuscripts “corrected” by his male lover Atom. That is, it was his decision to publish poetry not ostensibly showing signs of little formal education. He was also, of course, unstable as a person. In such circumstances there is clearly no recourse to the “original” texts that tie in with the intentions of the author; he demanded mediation. What, then, of the 2000 pages of manuscripts and typescripts we now hold, to publish?
John Wilkinson (in Hidden Agendas: Unreported Poetics, ed. Louis Armand (Literraria Pragensia 2010)) argues for the term poésie brute, calling on the more established, but still ethically dubious, tradition of art history scholarship negotiating naïve art or art brut. As Wilkinson concludes, Hyatt’s work is hard to close read; its inconsistencies and lurches and incoherence are hard to trust when too much pressure is placed. The obscurity of modernist and avant-garde poetry meets a “special or cult or cant poetic language” that is also obscure in its social marginality. Thought must be given, therefore, to editorial practice, to reception history, and to the presumptions of formal poetry analysis, not least in the ethics of these disciplines. I want to draw on Wilkinson’s work, his invitation to consider art brut, and his longstanding work on John Wieners, to reflect on issues of editing, concerns about a voyeuristic attachment to damage, and alternative models of close reading. Wieners, a similarly erratic figure with an infelicitous sexuality, and history of mental illness and drug abuse, offers a powerful comparison: but is the comparison too easy?
Yasna Bozhkova Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3
“Odious oasis/ in furrowed phosphorous — — —”: Mina Loy’s “Lunar Baedeker” at the
“Degree Zero” of Poetry
“La Littérature est comme le phosphore : elle brille le plus au moment où elle tente de mourir.”
R. Barthes, Le degré zéro de l’écriture
For a long time, the work of Mina Loy (1882-1966) was absent from the modernist canon. Only recently have scholars become more fully aware of the extent to which her resistant and highly opaque poetics has proven seminal to the formation of the modernist vortex. Nowadays, when it has come to be generally accepted that the heretofore marginalized Loy ranks with the leading early modernists, it seems more fitting to probe further the very essence of Loy’s marginality which, as Roger Conover has suggested, “seems itself a form of status”1.
In order to trace the multifarious ways in which Mina Loy’s cryptic work continues to interrogate critical visions of modernity and modernism, this paper shall focus on examining Loy’s emblematic poem “Lunar Baedeker” through the lens of some of the fundamental questions raised by Roland Barthes in his seminal essay Writing Degree Zero. In “Is there any Poetic Writing?”,
Barthes argues that modern poetry does away with the stable, regulated relationships between words which characterize traditional poetic discourse, and seeks to create instead “an explosion of words”2, a disjunctive nexus where each word becomes a “Pandora’s box from which fly out all the potentialities of language”3. In Loy’s fractured verse the use of such uncharted, unpredictable and potentially threatening poetic language is taken to extremes, creating a poetic universe where meaning permanently oscillates between metaphysical essence and linguistic nonsense, a universe ”full of gaps and full of lights, filled with absences and overnourishing signs, without foresight or stability of intention”4. Through its obscure, ornate vocabulary, vehement alliterations and Decadent setting, strewn with images of decay and decomposition, “Lunar Baedeker”, perhaps more than any other poem of Loy’s, crystallizes the violent, ungovernable, and, as Barthes suggests, eventually inhuman potentialities of such a poetic language.
1 Maeera Shreiber and Keith Tuma (Eds.), Mina Loy: Woman and Poet [National Poetry Foundation, 1998.], p. 259.
2 Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero, Trans. Annette Lavers and Colin Smith.[New York: Hill and Wang, 1968.], p46.
3 idem, p. 48.
4 idem, p. 48.
Tutta Palin, University of Turku/Kingston University
Reassessing Singularity in Modernist Art
Recent discussions inaugurating a Materialist Turn have questioned a certain cynicism that was typical of poststructuralist notions of visual art: the more or less complete dismissal of individuality and originality of cultural articulations and artifacts. Although issues of influence and stylistic lineage were duly replaced by more sophisticated concepts such as intertextuality, sometimes the underlining of the unoriginality of various artistic efforts could end up in reinforcing the hierarchies it was supposed to dismantle. While a conventionalizing approach was very welcome in “questioning the litany”, it was less helpful in waking interest in such unassuming phenomena as, for example, middlebrow modernist art produced at the borderlands of Europe – Scandinavia as my specific point of reference here.
A more materialist approach that draws on a detailed study of individual artworks can be a perfect means of arguing for a principle of analogy that does not exhaust itself in simple similarity (cf. Kaja Silverman’s Flesh of My Flesh, 2009). Yet this kind of a fresh take on singularity returns us to acutely concrete circumstances of geographic location, since the actual objects of study need to be readily available for close scrutiny. Does this mean a return to a crude geopolitical logic of marginalization within an otherwise more and more digitalized world?
My case for discussing this problematic is provided by the oeuvre of the Finnish artist Ester Helenius (1875–1955) who favoured motifs that remained unmarked within mainstream modernism: bouquets of flowers, Parisian scenes, harlequin puppets. Many of them belong to the stock iconography of the École de Paris. While her idiom is easily recognizable as broadly modernistic in a lingering late impressionist mode, she cannot be shown to cite specific artists or images but performs her own singular, passionate acts of painting.
Nikolai Preuschoff, University College Cork
‘These are evidently inventions made at the moment of crashing’. W.G. Sebald’s ambivalent view of modernity
It can be said without exaggeration that the German expat writer W.G. Sebald’s view of the future is mainly a bleak one. The Kafka quote Sebald uses in the spring of 1985 as the preface to Die Beschreibung des Unglücks / The Description of Unhappiness sums it up: “These are evidently inventions made at the moment of crashing”. The title of this essay collection and the titles of the (following) literary works, After Nature (1988), Vertigo (1990) and The Rings of Saturn (1995), indicate a similar vision. Modernism’s inherent belief in a so-called ‘progress’ for Sebald is (and he shares this insight with Benjamin and Adorno) overtly false. In this regard his literary writings focus on and critique an ongoing modernity and attempt to trace its historical unfolding from Napoleon to Nazi Germany. To a certain extent, Sebald’s literary project, with its writing style oriented to the 19th century, can be seen as an attempt at resistance. At the same time, his texts are aware of the techniques developed by historic avant-garde movements in reaction to modernity, and they employ ’classically‘ modernist techniques and topics: a preoccupation with questions of understanding history, an approach to the topics taken from margins and borders, the technique of montage, the inclusion of images, the use of frequent intertextual references and, also, the inclusion of passages of dream and surrealism. These are the tensions in Sebald’s texts (created by his both employing and breaking from modernist ideas) my paper wants to explore, arguing that his poetics recognizes the role of the artwork in bleak modern times as a way to understand historical conditions.