Mastery and Escape: T.S. Eliot and the Dialectic of Modernism

By Jewel Spears Brooker | Go to book overview

"Ole T. E. H.": Pioneer of Modernism

"The point de repère usually and conveniently taken as the startingpoint of modern poetry," according to T. S. Eliot, "is the group denominated 'imagists' in London about 1910.1 The ringleader of this group, its philosopher and one of its representative poets, was T. E. Hulme. Through his own work and even more through the work of major poets such as T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound who learned from him, Hulme contributed immeasurably to poetry in the twentieth century. But he was more than one of the founding fathers of modern poetry; in all the arts, he was a prophet of and an advocate for modernism. Nothing was more important in the development of modern art than the consciousness, shared by major artists in all media in the decade before World War I, that a major dispensation in the history of art, a dispensation reaching back hundreds of years to the early Renaissance, was coming to an end; and that a new dispensation, with themselves as pioneers, was beginning. And no one person was more instrumental in generating this consciousness than Hulme. The old dispensation, he named romanticism; the new, he called classicism. By announcing the new age, by endlessly reiterating it as a fact to the brightest minds of his generation, he armed them with the conviction that they were the makers of a new renaissance; and thus armed, they systematically broke conventions of form honored by centuries, and they established conventions that have become the hallmarks of twentieth-century art. Hulme was not, as he himself freely and frequently admitted, an original philosopher, but in serving as a conduit for Continental thinkers such as Henri Bergson and Wilhelm Worringer, whose ideas are basic in modern thought, he

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1
T. S. Eliot, "American Literature and the American Language", in To Criticize the Critic and Other Writings ( London: Faber and Faber, 1965), 58. Subsequent references to To Criticize the Critic will be indicated in the text, abbreviated as TCTC.

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