30 January 2010

Book chapter: Anti-Democracy: The Politics of Early Modernism

The book by Rebecca Beasley, "Theorists of Modernist Poetry: T.S. Eliot, T.E. Hulme, Ezra Pound" (Routledge, 2007), contains a chapter titled "Anti-Democracy: The Politics of Early Modernism" (pp. 47-61):


From the publisher's description: "Modernist poetry heralded a radical new aesthetic of experimentation, pioneering new verse forms and subjects, and changing the very notion of what it meant to be a poet. This volume examines T.S. Eliot, T.E. Hulme and Ezra Pound, three of the most influential figures of the modernist movement, and argues that we cannot dissociate their bold, inventive poetic forms from their profoundly engaged theories of social and political reform. Tracing the complex theoretical foundations of modernist poetics, Rebecca Beasley examines [...] the modernist critique of democracy [...]. This volume offers invaluable insight into the modernist movement, as well as demonstrating the deep influence of the three poets on the shape and values of the discipline of English Literature itself."

Excerpts: "Eliot, Hulme and Pound all held anti-democratic political views during their early careers. Eliot and Hulme identified themselves with 'classicism', in the sense determined by Charles Maurras and the Action Française. Pound, more equivocally, associated himself with the individualist anarchism advanced by Dora Marsden in [the journal] The New Freewoman/The Egoist."

"Eliot first encountered Maurras, [Pierre] Lasserre and the Action Française in one of his graduate courses at Harvard [...]: its stance against romanticism, Rousseau and democracy, and its commitment to tradition, order and cultural elitism. [...] Pound [...] declared that the artist 'has been at peace with his oppressors for long enough. He has dabbled in democracy and he is now done with that folly'. He proposed instead an 'aristocracy of the arts', arguing that the artist 'knows he is born to rule but he has no intention of trying to rule by general franchise. He at least is born to the purple. He is not elected by a system of plural voting' [...]. Unlike Hulme, Pound did not translate his anti-democracy into a party allegiance [...]. This aversion to political institutions, and to the state more generally, is at the root of his attraction to anarchism and, later, to Italian fascism. [...]

"Even though Eliot and Pound represent quite different strains of anti-democracy, therefore, they both relate their beliefs in the political sphere to stylistic precision and restraint in their poetry. [...] Pound and Eliot are usually seen as part of a single political trend in modernism, but in fact their politics are in many ways antithetical. Both were anti-democratic and, from the 1920s, authoritarian, but Pound's politics were revolutionary, whereas Eliot's were conservative."

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including full table of contents):


Rebecca Beasley is now a University Lecturer and Tutorial Fellow in the Faculty of English at Oxford.

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