Marianne Moore and the Cultures of Modernity

Marianne Moore and the Cultures of Modernity

Marianne Moore and the Cultures of Modernity

Marianne Moore and the Cultures of Modernity

Synopsis

Victoria Bazin examines the poetry of Marianne Moore as it is shaped by and responsive to the experience of being a modern woman, of living in the aftermath of the First World War, of being interpellated as a modern consumer and of writing in "the age of mechanical reproduction." She argues that Moore's textual collages and syllabic sculptures are based on the cultural clutter or debris of modernity, on textual extracts and reproductions, on the phantasmagoria of city life revealing something modernism worked hard to conceal: its relation to modernity, more specifically its relation to the new emerging and expanding mass consumer culture. Drawing extensively on archival resources to trace Moore's influences and to describe her own distinctive modernist aesthetic, this book argues that it was her feminist adaptation of pragmatism that shaped her poetic response to modernity. Moore's use of the quoted fragment is conceptualised in relation not only to Walter Benjamin's philosophical history but also to William James's image of the world as a series of "partial stories." As such, this account of Marianne Moore not only contributes to a greater understanding of the poet and her work, but it also offers up a more politicized and historically nuanced understanding of poetic modernism between the wars, one that retains a sense of the formal complexities of poetic language and the poet's own ethical imperatives whilst also recognising the material impact of modernity upon the modernist poem. This book will appeal, therefore, not only to scholars already familiar with Moore's poetry but more widely to those interested in modernism and American culture between the wars.

Excerpt

This study examines the poetry of Marianne Moore as it is shaped by and responsive to the experience of being a “modern” woman, of living in the aftermath of the First World War, of being interpellated as a modern consumer and writing in “the age of mechanical reproduction” (I 211–44). It argues that Moore’s poetic response to modernity can be understood in dialectical terms, embodying as it does the pleasures of modernity’s material excesses as well as the “plunder” inherent in its logic and structures. This doubled and contradictory image of the modern is inscribed in the fractured form of Moore’s stony, sculpted verse reflecting the equivocal and ambivalent position of Moore’s own historical subject position as a woman poet operating within the discursive frames of modernity.

Moore’s textual collages and syllabic sculptures are based on the cultural clutter or debris of modernity, on textual extracts and reproductions, on the phantasmagoria of city life revealing something modernism worked hard to conceal; its relation to modernity, more specifically its relation to the new emerging and expanding mass consumer culture. As a consequence, my readings of Moore’s poetry depend not only upon close textual analysis but also upon the readings of what I have referred to as the cultures of modernity, a capacious term that includes the philosophical, cultural, political, religious and social debates informing and inspiring Moore’s poetry as well as the material circumstances of the poetry’s production and consumption.

The aim of this study is not simply to push against the critical boundaries of modernism, an accomplishment of recent influential studies in the field, but to contribute to the understanding of the cultural history of modernity; a history that has been all too often represented and theorised in predominantly masculinist terms. Significant interventions have been made by feminist critics and cultural historians such as Janet Wolff, Laurie Teale and Deborah Parsons to re-examine the limiting configuration of modernity in relation to the historical experience of women and the symbolic role of woman. For instance, Rita Felski’s The Gender of Modernity is attentive to the ways in which “theories of both the modern and the postmodern have been organized around a masculine norm and pay insufficient attention to the specificity of women’s lives and experiences” (15). The key symbols of the modern, such as the flâneur, the dandy and the stranger are, she argues, explicitly gendered as masculine thereby constructing the modern through a series of figurative male subject positions. If “woman” is represented within these interpretive frameworks she is often the sign of a pre-modern or non-modern subjectivity that occupies a space outside the dehumanizing forces of capitalism. Yet the opposition between a masculine “modern” world and an ahistorical feminine sphere imagines “woman” as a transcendent and almost mythical sign of integrity and virtue. In these terms, “woman” is figured outside the dialectic of modernity . . .

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