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Henry James and Modernism

topic posted Sun, October 9, 2005 - 11:54 AM by  JM
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James is accepted as a Modern, right?
Or is the debate still on?
posted by:
JM
offline JM
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  • I hadn't heard this debate. What are some arguments you've heard for an against, and who is making them?

    What do you think?
    • Actually, I've only heard 'for.' There was a Henry James Society conference a few years ago where a bunch of people pushed this idea around. There was a good bit of drinking involved, so my memories are foggy, but there was something about free indirect discourse, objective correlatives, and lack of a narrator.
      • That makes sense.

        Current trend in modernist studies seems to me to be much more inclusive, moving far away from Hugh Kenner's "Pound Era" or the New Critical assignments of major, minor and beyond the pale authors, and toward discussion of 'modernisms' as various historical, stylistic and cultural movements.
    • Some of my friends were talking about this during lunch - the "soft" conclusion was that he is modern but his style was kind of throwback. I don't really have an opinion though.
      • I want your friends! ;-) Really, though, I'm lucky if mine (bless 'em-I love them, I really do!) ever have anything more interesting to discuss than how many teeth their baby currently has or how long their commute to work took that morning. *sigh*

        I guess that's why I spend so much time here on Tribe!

        MT
        • Could somebody please explain why current scholarship is moving away from Kenner? Is it simply to be more expansive in the definition of modernism, or is there limits to _The Pound Era_? (I guess those would possibly amount to the same thing.) What does the newer version of modernism consist of?

          For the record, my investments are in other historical periods, so my questions are really just motivated by curiosity (though I confess to being keen on Pound, in some fashion).
          • To be more expansive and because of the limits to Kenner's classifications both.

            Kenner tended to view Pound and certain of the men--Yeats, Eliot, Joyce--that he influenced as the pinnacles at the center of modernism, the great men around which lesser artists, insofar as they existed, revolved.

            More recent scholarship has rediscovered that that's not how artists at the time regarded each other. Pound _was_ a certain kind of center, as an editor and a promoter of the works of others. But a lot of other artists, particularly women, were at the time not only at least as highly regarded as Pound, Yeats, Eliot and Joyce, but actually responsible for many of these guys getting published. And these women got more or less written out of history. HD is a good example. Gertrude Stein is another. Harriet Monroe was largely behind a lot of publication--her magazine was major. And Joyce wouldn't have been Joyce without Sylvia Beach behind him, getting him published.

            So nobody thinks that Kenner sucks. The most recent journal of the Modernist Studies Association was dedicated to him. And despite the little problem of fascism, there's still a lot of respect for Pound--as an interesting and incredible editor, promoter and friend of greater talents and an occasionally very good poet. But the view of modernism has changed and complicated, and to my mind become more historically accurate.

            American scholarship is also turning more toward enormously influential movements that prior scholarship hadn't taken seriously, such as, for instance, the Harlem Renaissance.

            I don't know, back to the original question, why anybody would argue that Henry James shouldn't be included. That kind of "who's in, who's out" game isn't typical of the current discussions I've been part of. Those who do play them tend to like to suck all the radical tendencies of modernism into their definitions of 'postmodernism' in a rather feeble attempt to make all of modernism boring and facist (which also negates actual history). In fact,a friend of mine who specializes in American modernism included two chapters on James in her dissertation, so.....
            • So:

              1. He was dead long before Ulysses, The Wasteland, the Cantos, etc... If memory serves, did he even live to see the end of WWI? In that sense, he had no contact with the major texts I have tended to think of as modernist.

              2. There are definitions of modernism that are more inclusive than Joyce, Eliot, Pound (to say nothing of Williams, Stevens, H.D., etc.)

              That said: is modernism a movement, an historical period, a set of characteristics shared by many writers across different literary movements? What does one mean when, for instance, one claims James as a modern?

              I would be inclined to think about modernism as a movement, as opposed to, say, a mere confrontation with the phenomenon of modernity. Shakespeare's plays have characters who confront the experience of modernity (All's Well That Ends Well), but I wouldn't want to call Shakespeare a modernist.

              Does the same apply to James? To respond to Josh's original question with a question: what are you seeing in James that makes you wonder?

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