Modernism and Mass Politics: Joyce, Woolf, Eliot, Yeats

By Michael Tratner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Fascist

Gabriele D'Annunzio's Political Influence on fames Joyce

In Ireland, the masses emerging into politics took the form of a nationalist movement seeking home rule. Mass movements did not appear, then, to pose the same threat that we have seen in English writer Wooff and the American writer Eliot. Most of the Irish writers who supported the nationalist movement at the end of the nineteenth century were not driven to modernist forms because the success of the masses did not involve the loss of home and individuality, but rather the release of both from domination by aliens, the British. The turn to modernism in Joyce and Yeats, in contrast, was foreshadowed by their early refusal to accept the dominant forms of nationalist literature. The modernism of these writers, particularly of Joyce, has seemed a result of their rejection of politics altogether. But if we look more closely, we can see that what they were rejecting was only one form of nationalism in favor of another. Yeats complained about the clear rhetoric of the Young Irish movement precisely because such rhetoric implied that the new nation could be understood in already familiar terms and hence would not be much of a change: the Young Irish in his view were middle-class revolutionaries who would merely make Ireland into another bourgeois state. Yeats did eventually join the nationalist movement, but only after the Easter 1916 massacre, when the movement no longer seemed to be seeking to preserve familiar worlds, but rather to be violently breaking through to something new through sacrifice of the self. It was at that same time that Yeats's writing turned toward modernist obscurity.

Joyce never joined any active political movement, so it is more difficult to equate his modernism with any political goals. Even when he wrote

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