(for the Other People)
Modernism itself now occupies the position to which T. S. Eliot relegated Ezra Pound's "Hell":
Mr. Pound's Hell, for all its horrors, is a perfectly comfortable one for the modern mind to contemplate, and disturbing to no one's complacency: it is Hell for the other people, the people we read about in the newspapers, not for oneself and one's friends. 1
Only recently (or so it seems) we were still laboring to become Joyce's contemporaries; today "modern" is everything we no longer care to be. To my knowledge, no other age has ever thought of itself as "post" anything in quite so self-congratulatory a fashion, yet even from the safety of our side of the hyphen--the "post-modern," the "post-structuralist," or whatever-- we may be protesting too much. Consider the titles of two influential studies: "the myth of the modern" (it didn't happen) and "the failure of modernism" (it did happen, but it didn't work). 2 A modernism that never was or never succeeded should hardly prove disturbing to anyone's complacency; yet the phrases themselves betray a curious defensiveness, a critical response in want of the composure the hyphen might be expected to afford.
It is my intention to make that composure harder to sustain, to make modernism less comfortable for the postmodern mind to contemplate. My aims are twofold: to recover from the horror of Ezra Pound's and T. S. Eliot's political commitments, which are inseparable from their poetic