At the Violet Hour: Modernism and Violence, in England and Ireland

At the Violet Hour: Modernism and Violence, in England and Ireland

At the Violet Hour: Modernism and Violence, in England and Ireland

At the Violet Hour: Modernism and Violence, in England and Ireland

Synopsis

Literature has long sought to make sense of the destruction and aggression wrought by human civilization. Yet no single literary movement wasmore powerfully shaped byviolence than modernism. As Sarah Cole shows, modernism emerged as an imaginative response to the devastating events that defined the period, including the chaos of anarchist bombings, World War I, the Irish uprising, and the Spanish Civil War. Combining historical detail with resourceful readings of fiction, poetry, journalism, photographs, and other cultural materials,At the Violet Hourexplores the strange intimacy between modernist aesthetics and violence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The First World War and T. S. Eliot's The Waste Landdemonstrate the new theoretical paradigm that Cole deploys throughout her study, what she calls"enchanted" and "disenchanted" violence-the polarizing perceptions of violent death as either the fuel for regeneration or the emblem of grotesque loss. These concepts thread through the literary-historical moments that form the core of her study, beginning with anarchism and the advent of dynamite violence in late Victorian England. As evinced in novels by Joseph Conrad, Henry James, and others, anarchism fostered a vibrant, modern consciousness of violence entrenched in sensationalism and melodrama. A subsequent chapter offers four interpretive categories-keening, generative violence, reprisal, and allegory-for reading violencein works by W. B. Yeats, J. M. Synge, Sean O'Casey, and othersaround the time of Ireland's Easter Rising. The book concludes with a discussion of Virginia Woolf's oeuvre, placing the author in two primary relations to the encroaching culture of violence: deeply exploring and formalizing its registers; and veering away from her peers to construct an original set of patterns to accommodate its visceral ubiquity in the years leading up to the Second World War.
A rich interdisciplinary study that incorporates perspectives from history, anthropology,the visual arts, and literature,At the Violet Hourprovides a resonant framework for refiguringthe relationship between aesthetics and violence that will extend far beyond the period traditionally associated with literary modernism.

Excerpt

Nothing is older than the story of violence. As anthropologists tell us, ancient cultures and religions drew their fuel from violence: acquiring its power, protecting against its ravages, rendering it divine or anthropomorphic, creating rituals and ceremonies to slake or reorient it, finding for it a language and an art. Violence is a beginning, not only because the first cultures saw it so, but because the pattern repeats, with modern nations often seeing in war or in other large-scale violent events their points of origin. the outcome need not be victorious; Easter 1916 is a glorious beginning, as is Masada, and in the ruins of Troy, Virgil conjures the seeds of Rome. in the Aeneid, it is a band of ragged survivors who eventually will found the empire, but first, they look like modern stateless people, huddling and afraid, traumatized refugees who have seen their families killed before their eyes, their glorious city burned to the ground. the outcome need not, moreover, be triumphant; the killing and uprooting of Native Americans, which can be named the founding violence of America, represents a blot on the nation’s ideals, a form of engendering bloodshed that, shorn of its manifest destiny, compromises the culture’s self-image. and the outcome is never complete: where there is a flood, there is also an ark. If violence is contemplated as an origin, it cannot entirely be so, the operations of transformation, carryover, and trace being as important as those of genesis and creation. Violence leaves its stains, and the long march of years, despite efforts at redemption or revisionism, will often fail to obscure them.

Literature, with its unique ability to embed long pasts into vibrant narratives of the present, and with its restless urge to rewrite inherited stories, has always offered an exemplary forum for making violence knowable, showing how it can be . . .

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