Monday, July 2, 2007

Mo' Modernism

I am loving Michael North's book 1922. It's like a sane version of Ann Douglas's very insane book on the Terrible Mongerelcy of the Jazz Age. Anyway, North talks a little bit about when Charlie Chaplin met Claude McKay (Documented in Chaplin's biography "My Trip Abroad") Apparently, "The Tropics of New York" was first published in C.K. Ogden's journal, Cambridge Magazine (Which was also one of the early publishes of Wittgenstein). Anyway, apparently Chaplin either starts or renews acquaintance with McKay and talks about how "Tropics" offered him a moment of escape from the pressures of celebrity and civilization.

North's style of scholarship really appeals to me. I guess it's because its the style of scholarship that is in right now, the kind that Jeremy and the critics we read for that class are engaged with--understanding how Modernism became "modernism" and reading against this master narrative...or at least understanding how complicated the networks of Modernism really were.

A taste. North is trying to understand the academic idea of Modernism and how it got there and why it's so valuable. North is making the argument that postmodernism, which relies on a notion of eclecticism, required the constructed foil of a modernism that was as exclusive as possible:

"Thus, the rivalry between postmodernism and modernism was read back into history, quite openly, as an antipathy between modernism and mass culture, one whose existence has always seemed more a matter of theoretical necessity than of empirical fact. The most widely influential formulation of this view, that of Andreas Huyssen, offers no specific discussion of conditions in the united States or Great Britain, and yet its conclusions are routinely repeated as if they were as applicable to Eliot as to Wagner. Thus, modernism has been transformed in the general estimation from Hugh Kenner's brilliant young technocrat into a doddering old paranoiac possessed by an 'anxiety of contamination by its other: an increasingly consuming and engulfing mass culture,' a life history that seems to match that of Howard Hughes better than that of Eliot of Joyce.

"In short, most of the scholarship that has challenged Kenner's formulation of modernism as the Pound Era has not tried to change his view but rather has begun from it. The result has been the preservation of something called 'modernism' in intellectual amber, something whose purported insulation from the cultural world into which it has introduced is now retrospectively accomplished by critical consensus. Modernism has so thoroughly come to mean that which rejects everything progressive and challenging in the early twentieth century that another term is needed, such as 'avant-garde' or even 'postmodern,' for those writers and artists friendly to change. This simply locks the modern in a tautological box, where it is what it is by definition and not by demonstration."

I'm not very far into the book yet, so who knows where it will go, but I'm thoroughly impressed so far. Also, anyone rush out and buy Rabate's 1913 book yet?