T.S. Eliot and High Modernism

duy nguyen jislober at hotmail.com
Mon Sep 16 11:05:31 MDT 2002

Ian Watt's classic the rise of the novel suggests that modernism developed
later and along difference lines than it did on the continent, never
evolving in full many of the characteristics that we've come to associate
with high modernism, which seems mainly to be based off French models -- the
emphasis on form and language in particular.  It's always struck me as
strange that the birth place of modern captialism should have failed to
produce compelling ideologies and aesthetics for legitmizing that system.
It may be that in England capitalism was already a reality and as such
didn't need to be legitmated in the same way as on the continent where it
was still in the process of emerging, struggling to come into existence
against the old feudal order.

The socio-economic conditions or preconditions to modernism were also much
more apparent in French modernism.  Baudelaire practically defines
modernism's project as a reaction to the overspecialization of bourgeois
life, a return to the happy primitive who does everything for himself, who
is a warrior, a father, a husband and a farmer and so forth.  Modernism is a
reaction to an intensifying division of labor, and the limiting of
individual human potential, the reduction of the man to his value producing
labor and nothing more.  Modernism as the attempt to recreate or rather
simulate a sense wholeness which the fragmentary nature of modern society
essentially make impossible.

It was perhaps the transitional nature, the slower changes toward fullblown
capitalism of French society, relative to what existed in England, that made
it possible to preceive the enormous transformations in society that capital
was effecting.  One still had the sense of what was dissappearing and what
was replacing it.

Another interesting point that Watts makes is that both right and left
contributed the creation of bourgeois ideologies and informed movements like
modernism.  The different ends of political spectrum merely served two
different, though equally important functions within the overall scheme --
ideologies of production and consumption.  Throughout the 19th century, it
was often the church that railed against the excesses of the market,
wasteful spending -- the protestent ethnic.  The romantics and perhaps every
other major movement after them can be thought of perhaps as the opposite of
the protestent ethic -- an ethnics of consumption.  In their attacks on the
bourgeois values of thirft and frugalist, these artist did not so much
oppose the system itself as merely reinfornce...
Shoot got to get back to work.

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