Modernity in East-West Literary Criticism: New Readings

Modernity in East-West Literary Criticism: New Readings

Modernity in East-West Literary Criticism: New Readings

Modernity in East-West Literary Criticism: New Readings


This collection of eleven essays concerns the movement of modernity in East-West literary criticism. Most of the contributions address particular cross-cultural relationships such as W. B. Yeats's interest in the noh play, Ezra Pound's imagism, and the influence of Zen aesthetics on Western poetry. The Western writers discussed range from Americans, including Emerson, Thoreau, Faulkner, Wright, and Snyder, to Europeans, such as Marcel Proust. The Eastern writers include Basho, Tanizaki, Lao Tzu, Wan Wei, Tagore, and Yone Noguchi.


Modernity in Western literature historically refers to a movement that flourished in the first four decades of the twentieth century. It is characterized by a synchronic and nonnarrative mode of thinking: the modernistic temperament underscores a reaction against and a release from Victorian literature. As a result, modernist writing creates a microcosmic world that thrives on self-referentiality and moral relativism. William Faulkner, himself an influential modern novelist, called modernists such artists and writers as Picasso, Stravinsky, Proust, Yeats, Pound, Eliot, Joyce, Lawrence, and Woolf. In Anglo-American literature, Eliot comes to represent the crescendo as well as the descent of modernity. In the twenties and thirties, such critics as I. A. Richard and F. R. Leavis, and then through the forties the American New Critics, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Cleanth Brooks, apotheosized Eliot as the exponent of selfreferentiality, allusion, and impersonality to constitute literary aesthetics.

Just as modernity justified its existence against Victorianism, another revolt was inevitable. As if to write his own obituary, Eliot wrote:

From time to time there occurs some revolution, or sudden mutation of
form and content in literature. Then, some way of writing which has been
practised for a generation or more, is found by a few people to be out of
date, and no longer to respond to contemporary modes of thought,
feeling and speech. A new kind of writing appears, to be greeted at first
with disdain and derision; we hear that the tradition has been flouted,
and that chaos has come. After a time it appears that the new way of
writing is not destructive but re-creative. It is not that we have repudiated
the past, as the obstinate enemies—and also the stupidest supports—of
any new movement like to believe; but that we have enlarged our concep
tion of the past; and that in the light of what is new we see the past in a
new pattern.1

For Eliot, modernity in writing was synonymous with impersonality. Such a mode of writing, as he was aware, was to be challenged and supplanted by a new movement. What is called postmodernity in . . .

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