Imagining the Primitive in Naturalist and Modernist Literature

By Gina M. Rossetti | Go to book overview

Chapter Four
The Primitive as Modernist Artist

Primitive art and poetry help our understanding of civilized art
and poetry. For the artist is, in an impersonal sense, the most con-
scious of men; he is therefore the most and least civilized and civ-
ilizable; he is the most competent to understand both civilized
and primitive.

T. S. Eliot, “The Indians of North America”

T. S. Eliot’s statement raises some intriguing possibilities about the figure of the primitive in the context of American modernism. Much of our understanding of American modernism stems from Ezra Pound’s imperative to artists and poets to “make it new.” Pound’s mantra seemingly implores artists to free themselves of the past, to start fresh in a new, uncharted environment and unburden themselves of history. In the works of some American modernist authors who heed this call, primitivism becomes aestheticized. Primitivism comes to the fore most principally as an ignorance, acquired or real, of the history and rules of art, of culture and civilization, of manners, conventions, and established norms. Indeed, one notes a burgeoning historical naïveté or innocence that seeks to build up its own world in the absence of knowledge of the past. To

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Imagining the Primitive in Naturalist and Modernist Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter One - The Primitive as Primordial Beast 26
  • Chapter Two - The Primitive as the Brute Working Class 66
  • Chapter Three - The Primitive as the Immigrant 90
  • Chapter Four - The Primitive as Modernist Artist 117
  • Chapter Five - The Primitive as the Racial Exotic 143
  • Conclusion 173
  • Bibliography 177
  • Index 189
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