Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bennett, Anna of the Five Towns,

[For more information on the the West Midlands and the Potteries:]

When reading Anna of the Five Towns in the context of our class, we should grapple first with the question: what makes the book modern? It contains a myriad of themes and issues that engage with the constellation of theories and movements that we've previously read and discussed. Some specific points of interest in the text are:

- Psychology: Characters often act out of impulse or with a compulsion that they do not fully understand. Also, Anna herself, very early on, acknowledges the wish to know what others are thinking as well as the difficulty of doing so. How might this connect to our discussion of a society that is achieving an awareness of itself? Is this an awareness of being 'un-aware'?

- Industry and Mechanization: How is industrialization portrayed in the text? For example, refer to the second paragraph of Chapter 6. The narrator seems to describe an underlying beauty to the industrial landscape. How does this help the text engage with a movement like Futurism?

- Religious and Secular ideals: The world that the novel depicts is underpinned by Methodist religion yet surrounded by secular and capitalist pursuits. How do Ephraim Tellwright and the revivalist brought in by the community typify this interpenetration of religious and economic faith?

- Feminist theory: Though we haven't directly engaged with feminist theory, what are your thoughts concerning the treatment of female characters in the text? How do they relate to male figures of authority? Refer to the beginning of Chapter 9 for a specific example from Ephraim Tellwright's point of view.

- What can we see in the text that would be a commentary on capitalism and class structure? Specifically, is it helpful to read the relationship between the Tellwrights, Mynors, and Prices through a Marxist lens?

- In Victorian novels, the ending usually passes a final judgment on characters, where good characters are rewarded (often with marriage) and bad characters are punished. What is the novel's verdict? Is there a clear verdict?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

(Percy) Wyndham Lewis

[Image: Wyndham Lewis, "Self-Portrait as a Tyro"]

Vorticism, the movement that Lewis co-founded, was the only British avant-garde movement of the early twentieth century and was an attempt to challenge the radical energy of Continental modernism with a home-grown radical aesthetic. In light of this aspiration, does it seem to you that any of the materials that we have read up to this point (inlcuding Freud, Nietzsche, Marx, Mallarmé, Bergson, Marinetti and Lewis' own manifesto--or anything else that you think relevant) help you to gain a foothold on Lewis' complex and elusive quasi-drama, "Enemy of the Stars"? Keep your response brief but try to be as specific as possible in explaining why a given author (or authors) seem to articulate ideas that you think are also at work in Lewis.

For more information on Lewis and Vorticism, including images of his own artwork, go here:

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Matthew Arnold, "On the Modern Element in Literature"

Matthew Arnold, English poet and critic, writes in “On the Modern Element in Literature” regarding the phenomenon known as the modern. According to Arnold, this idea of the modern could be described as “intellectual deliverance,” or the desire to obtain such deliverance, satisfy demand for it, and to weigh everything on a utilitarian scale, asking “How far can [it] contribute to this deliverance?” Arnold’s notion of such deliverance arises from “man’s comprehension of [] present and past,” which are closely intertwined:
“The spectacle, the facts, presented for the comprehension of the present age, are indeed immense. The facts consist of the events, the institutions, the sciences, the arts, the literatures, in which human life has manifested itself up to the present time: the spectacle is the collective life of humanity.”
According to Arnold, the past literatures which are most interesting to our present age, that transcend their own epoch, are those which “have most adequately comprehended, have adequately represented, the spectacle before them.” The “coexistence…of a great epoch and a great literature” is what will lead us to intellectual deliverance, and helps define a period as modern. Arnold furthermore describes the “modern epoch” as “banish[ing] the ensigns of war and bloodshed from the intercourse of civil life,” and allowing for the “develop[ment] of the arts of peace uninterruptedly.” Arnold’s ultimate goal is what he sees as “the supreme characteristic of all: the intellectual maturity of man himself.”

• Do you agree with Arnold that the most “modern” nations are those “in which the demand for [intellectual] deliverance has been made with most zeal…”?

• How does Arnold’s understanding of the modern relate to the past and the present?

• Is there such a thing as a “true point of view”?

• “No single event, no single literature, is adequately comprehended except in its relation to other events, to other literatures…” Do you agree with this claim of interconnectivity?

• What pieces of literature could be said to have “adequately comprehended [and] adequately represented, the spectacle before them,” thus surviving their age and still bearing weight in ours? What past culture is perhaps the most “modern” to Arnold?

• How does Arnold's conception of what it means for a civilization to be modern relate to Marinetti's dynamism? Can these two interpretations co-exist?