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TSE  August 2001

TSE August 2001

Subject:

Re: 'Paleo' and 'Neo' Modernism

From:

[log in to unmask][log in to unmask]

Date:

Thu, 9 Aug 2001 21:46:07 EDT

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In a message dated 8/9/01 3:04:29 PM EST, [log in to unmask] writes:

> Are these distinctions basically an attempt
>  to explain why WCW didn't care for TSE?
>  . . .  
> Maybe I misunderstand the whole thing.  My
> head is beginning to hurt
>  
>  Rick Seddon 

Head hurt? Take two aspirin and read some more wisdom of Perl's
["Those are Perl's that were so wise!"]

-- Steve --

===============================================

In the last post, I quoted Perl as accusing the Neo-Modernists of 
'anti-classicism'. Here is some of his elaboration of the topic.

------------------------------

[Perl]:


  "Anti-classicism", while it's necessary to introduce at this point, I think 
that the word is actually a misnomer for what I'm talking about. I said a 
moment ago that Whitman's project was undertaken at the expense of high 
culture, and it was this aspect of Whitman's anti-classicism that his 
admirers most admired. Williams said of Whitman, "He destroyed the forms 
antiquity decreed". And in this celebration of destruction I think there is 
less 'anti-classicism' then there is, to be more precise, 'iconoclasm'. 
Williams [addressed this idea] in an essay on Gertrude Stein, whom he adored. 
He said, "Stein has gone systematically to work smashing every connotation 
that words have ever had in order to get them back clean. It can't be helped 
that the whole house has to come down. It's got to come down because it has 
to be rebuilt. And it has to be rebuilt by unbound thinking".  This contrast 
between 'unbound thinking' on the one hand and 'bound thinking' on the other 
hand is for William Carlos Williams I think the same thing that Frank Kermode 
is talking about when he talks about Paleo versus Neo Modernism. From the 
William Carlos Williams' or Gertrude Steins' perspective, Paleo-Modernism, 
classic Modernism is an example of 'bound thinking' and the Emersonian, the 
Whitmanian tradition is the tradition of 'unbound thinking'. The leading 
shared characteristics of the Neo-Moderns, apart from their intense dislike 
of Classicism, is their intense displeasure with Paleo-Moderns, their intense 
displeasure and rivalry with their colleagues. 

.. . .Now the most extreme of these opponents of classic Modernism is William 
Carlos Williams. He was a particularly sharp critic of T. S. Eliot because of 
the link that Eliot was establishing at the beginning of this century between 
Modernism and Classicism. Let me quote Williams on the subject: "Hellenism", 
he says, ('Hellenism' meaning the Greek form of Classicism), "especially the 
modern sort is too staid, too chilly, too little fecundative to impregnate my 
world". He goes on in this same essay (this is from the prologue to 'Kora in 
Hell' in 1920), he goes on to portray Eliot as a toady to antiquity, a toady 
to the past. He writes, "It is convenient to have fixed standards of 
comparison: All Antiquity!" (He's fed up) "And there is always some 
everlasting Polonious of Kensington forever to rate ever highly his eternal 
Eliot". 'Eternal Eliot' -- let me point out to you that Eliot was five years 
younger than Williams and that Eliot was 32 when this was written. 'Eternal 
Eliot'. By the way, Eliot lived in Kensington -- 'Polonious of Kensington'. 

  But again, anti-classicism may be a subterfuge. The real problem may again 
lie elsewhere. "T. S. Eliot's work", William Carlos Williams says, "is the 
latest touch from the literary cuisine. It adds to the pleasant outlook from 
the club window." I think this is more revealing than the remarks about 
classicism. Virginia Woolfe employs similar images when at the opening of "A 
Room of One's Own" in 1928 she describes the feeling of being excluded from 
the library of an all male Oxbridge college (she won't tell you which one). 
Both of these writers, one because he is a middle-class American and the 
other because she is female, feel excluded from the great cannon in which 
Eliot is being included. This is, for both of them, a formative experience 
that both of them take to be the result of somebody else's snobbish 
exclusivity. Williams' response to this injustice was to storm the literary 
Bastille. Let me quote him: He says, "There is nothing sacred about 
literature. It is damned from one end to the other. There is nothing in 
literature but change, and change is mockery. I'll write whatever I damn 
please, whenever I damn please, and as I damn please, and it will be good if 
the authentic spirit of change is on it." That could be the motto of 
Neo-Modernism. 

=====================================================

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