Early Modernist Poetics
CCM 2: This chapter summarized how Modernist writers went about achieving monetary success. I found the process fascinating. Basically, they went against the way books become successful today, which is through mass market paperbacks which they hope to sell in as large a quantity as possible. During this period, writers like Eliot and Joyce only had a few copies of books published. These were sold at an elevated price because they were presented as items for collecting. It is similar to how some baseball cards today are released in very small lots, thereby drastically increasing their re-sale value. This concept seemed ahead of its time and was quite clever. The most detailed example given was Ulysses, which was released at 1000, on three different “levels” of quality and therefore cost. (56) My immediate thought upon fully grasping the structure was to wonder how this type of scheme was affected by the Depression, so I was pleased to find that the author answered this question. The answer was that this structure collapsed, thereby turning the writers to academic settings. (62) I also liked how the author had really given thought as to WHY this worked: “Which is why the deluxe or limited edition acquired such prominence: it transformed literary property into a unique and fungible object, something that nearly resembled a painting…” (61) It seems that this whole set-up was something of an admission that the work being done in this period was not particularly appealing to those who were not part of the intelligentsia.
The article also explored the connection between literary journals and Modernism, concentrating on Little Review, Dial and Vanity Fair. The author asserts that each (in the order listed) represented a moment in the growth of Modernism. (51)
Hulme explains how romanticism and classicism are different and why classicism is better. He believed that a revival of classicism was occurring just prior to World War I. I thought he explained the difference with two key elements. The first is religion, which classicism has but romanticism does not. I particularly like the explanation on page 95: “You don’t believe in God, so you begin to believe that man is a god. You don’t believe in Heaven, so you begin to believe in Heaven on earth. In other words, you get romanticism.” The other difference is the presence or lack of “reservation,” which classicism has but romanticism doesn’t. (96) I thought the key sentence to explain classicism was this: “The great aim I accurate, precise and definite description.” (101)
The Pound article gives advice to new poets. He starts out with three basic principles (page 58), then expands to include several different aspects of writing. I think he is trying to give sincere advice. I particularly liked that he concluded that one should ignore “men who have never themselves written a notable work.” (60) Like Hulme, he advises precision. (63)
“Tradition”: On first reading, I absolutely loved the idea of this article, which advised the importance of a sense of history. Basically, Eliot is saying that you have to know and understand what came before you to be a good writer. As a historian, I appreciated this premise. The more I considered this idea, however, I became less comfortable with it. This seems problematic in terms of a writer’s creativity, though I’m having trouble putting my finger on the precise problem. I also struggled with the following: “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion…” (43)
“Hamlet”: Eliot is tremendously critical of Hamlet, which he calls the “Mona Lisa of literature.” (47) He believes that the play is to some degree a failure because Hamlet “is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible…” (48)