|Modernists? Anti-modernists, More Like.
||[Apr. 2nd, 2013|10:30 am]
T.S. Eliot and I infiltrated a top-secret hotel and sat in an annexe to the room in which experiments were being performed on pigs...|
Eliot got into my dreams because I went to sleep wondering why we use the word modernist of a bunch of writers who all hated the modern world. Here's Eliot and he aspires to be a 17th century Anglican and here's Ezra Pound and he wants nothing better than to be a 11th century troubador and here's Yeats and he wants to perne in a gyre back to Byzantium- and- great poets though they all are- I can't see how they're so very different in their world view from medievalising Victorians like Rossetti and Morris Then again, here are writers like Kipling and Wells- who are interested in mechanized warfare and contemporary politics and science and bicycles and motor cars- and we deny them the label. Another thing about the so-called modernists is that a lot of them were very right-wing- by which I mean borderline fascist (or in the case of Pound whole-heartedly fascist). And anti-semitic. Which puts them absolutely on the wrong side of history. (Kipling was an imperialist and Wells had totalitarian tendencies but both had too much taste to see anything attractive in Signor Mussolini or Sir Oswald Mosley or the guy for whom Yeats wrote marching songs.) So the writers who really engage with modernity are called traditionalists or something like that, and the ones who reject it are called modernists. It doesn't make the least bit of sense.
Well, I suppose they embraced free verse and obscure, elliptical narratives. But in their attitudes, as you say... throwbacks in many ways.
Yeats never used free verse- and Eliot's is a lot less free than appears at first sight.
I think it has more to do with them belonging to the "right" set and mixing with the "right" people. Also to their work having that sulky teenager vibe (look at me, see how I'm suffering!)that was pioneered by Byron and Baudelaire.
Or- to sum up- that they worked very hard at being cool.
(Don't get me wrong- I love them all to bits- especially Yeats)
I particularly love Yeats, with all his automatic writing and seances and whatnot. There was a terrific edition of "In Our Time" about his spirituality a few years ago. He was the Ted Hughesy shaman-poet of his age. Eliot was in many ways similar. Pound I have never really got into. The anti-Semitic fascist thing has kind of put me off. But then there are a lot of great poets who are not nice people. Robert Frost was by all accounts cranky and misanthropic. No wonder his neighbour wanted a wall.
I think Yeats is about three times the poet Hughes was- And one of the all time greats.
Eliot is odd. As critic and editor he became a sort of gate-keeper for the modernists long after he'd ceased to be one of them himself.
Pound is almost unreadable at length (basically he had nothing to say) but in flashes he can be absolutely brilliant.
So what to make of the likes of F T Marinetti- total modernist, founder of the Futurist movement and out and out die in a ditch Fascist, not just a fellow traveller of the right like the Vorticists and Wyndham Lewis?
I think he and his ilk provide a partial answer to poliphilo
's excellent question. Futurists, eugenicists, and those randy for the machine age thought they were
future-orientated - but the future they anticipated never happened (at least in the way they expected), and now they look more dated than ever as a result.
All movements of any complexity look to the past as well as the future, I suppose. Mussolini looked to the Roman Empire, Hitler to the Holy Roman Empire. They attempt to bridge past and future - but when the future doesn't turn out the way they plan they're left perilously on their broken bridge, clinging to the symbols of past glory as to a fraying rope.
The other thing one could add is that TSE, at any rate, was self-consciously trying to shape a new way of writing poetry for a world that was widely seen as radically different from that which had existed pre-WWI. He used the materials of the past, but only as fragments to shore against the ruins of the present. The poetry was in the fragmentation.
The real intriguement for me is in the modernists who didn't survive the war- Boccioni, Sant'Elia, Rosenberg.
Cyril Connolly says of the "modern spirit" that it "was a combination of certain intellectual qualities inherited from the Enlightenment: lucidity, irony, scepticism, intellectual curiosity, combinedwith the passionate intensity and enhanced sensibility of the Romantics, their rebellion and sense of technical experiment, their awareness of living in a tragic age". Marinetti- with his bombast and apparent lack of a sense of humour- seems a poor fit for any of this. It makes me want to ask whether he can be called a Modernist at all.
But, I have to be honest, I know very little about him.
Futurism is hugely influential upon modernism and Marinetti is the founder of Futurism- for instance, my personal artistic hero, Giorgio Morandi, was in the futurist orbit and known to all of them although not as such of it. Futurism influences the likes of anything from the cubists through Soviet Supremacism to David Hockney and on such small things are the connections made.
Marinetti (of whom I know more than is good for any woman's comfort being intrigued by the Futurist movement) was certainly a modernist, but early 20th century modernism was a strange, strange beastie!
I'm at present researching his redoubtable other half, the artist Benedetta Cappa!
Edited at 2013-04-03 07:51 am (UTC)