1922, Paris, New York, London:
The Modernist as International
One of the very first literary events of 1922 was an unusual dinner party in Paris, at which Ezra Pound played host to T. S. Eliot, James Joyce and the American publisher Horace Liveright (Dardis 1995: 86–92; Rainey 1998: 82). Eliot, on his way back from a rest-cure in Lausanne, was in possession of a manuscript not yet entitled The Waste Land, and Joyce had just scrambled his way through the final revisions to Ulysses, which was to appear a month later. Liveright, who had been turning his firm into one of the major American outlets for daring and experimental writing, was prowling Europe in search of authors just like Eliot and Joyce. It must have seemed, even at the time, like a millennial conjunction of literary planets, since all the participants were aware that these still unpublished works would make 1922 the first year in an entirely new literary calendar.
In the end, only Eliot actually published any major work with Liveright, who issued The Waste Land in December 1922. In later years the three writers themselves became more distant and estranged, as Pound, who at one-time had both The Waste Land and Ulysses passing through his hands, came to find Joyce’s new work too radical and Eliot’s too conservative. Even though it did not yield the results Pound apparently had in mind, however, this extraordinary social occasion does reveal a great deal about the modern movement that was to make its public mark so auspiciously in 1922. It might seem, in fact, to expose modernism as an artistic cartel, with Pound its chief monopolist. In this light, the celebrated difficulty of works like The Waste Land and Ulysses seems part of an elaborate sales job, as if they were never meant to be read but just admired from a distance.
What this argument suggests, in short, is that literary modernism enters the world of commerce only to secure itself all the more completely from competition. But the very site of this meeting tells a different story. Three Americans and an Irishman meet in Paris to discuss the future of English literature because that future was to be made by travellers such as themselves, moving through cities like Paris in a process of constant cultural exchange. Americans of this era were drawn to Paris because, in addition to legal alcohol and low rents, it offered culture, but that culture was to a surprising extent based on American materials. The French avant-garde was fascinated by American skyscrapers, American cars, even American plumbing. As Edmund Wilson marvelled in Vanity Fair, ‘Young Americans going lately to Paris in the hope of drinking culture at its source have been startled to find young Frenchmen looking longingly toward America’ (Wilson 1922: 49). In Paris, international modernism self-reflexively celebrated its own internationalism and the