Modernism and Cultural Conflict, 1880-1922

By Ann L. Ardis | Go to book overview

Conclusion: modernism and English studies in history

The arts, literature, poesy, are a science, just as chemistry is a science …The arts give us a great percentage of the lasting and unassailable data regarding the nature of man, of immaterial man, of man considered as a thinking and sentient creature.

Ezra Pound, “The Serious Artist” 1

In the early 192 os it was desperately unclear why English was worth studying at all; by the early 1930s it had become a question of why it was worth wasting your time on anything else. English was not only a subject worth studying, but the supremely civilizing pursuit, the spiritual essence of the social formation. Far from constituting some amateur or impressionistic enterprise, English was an arena in which the most fundamental questions of human existence — what it meant to be a person, to engage in significant relationship with others, to live from the vital centre of the most essential values were thrown into vivid relief and made the object of the most intensive scrutiny.

Terry Eagleton, “The Rise of English” 2

I begin with these epigraphs in order to remind my readers of the backdrop of disciplinary restructuring that has framed this historical recontextualization of the Joyce—Pound—Eliot strand of literary modernism as I review the main objectives of this study. Fascinating work has been done recently on 1922, the ano mirabilis of literary modernism, that challenges us to think more expansively about popular as well as high culture modernisms. In contrast to that kind of synchronically “thick description” of literary modernism, however, I have chosen to work diachronically in this book: I have tried to position “the men of 1914” within a cultural debate about the value of the arts, and the mission of English language and literature studies in particular, that began at least as early as 1880 in Britain. This debate animates not only T. H. Huxley's claims in 1880 that the “modern” university's curriculum should be centered on training in science rather than the classics and Matthew Arnold's counter-argument

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