ART vs Propaganda

The circumstances of the war made this question more urgent. In 'Hugh Selwyn Mauberley', Pound had attacked wartime propaganda and rhetoric, pouring scorn on the words and phrases used to justify the war and to persuade men to join the armed forces. But what particularly appalled him was that such rhetoric was not only circulated by the government's official propaganda bureau; it was widely taken up by newspapers and journals, too, and so established as the truth about the war. His wartime essays argue that newspapers and journals contribute directly to international conflict by circulating nationalistic clichés that make their way into the public consciousness (1915: 449, 471).

The experience of wartime propaganda generated widespread suspicion of writing that sought to persuade one of a particular point of view or circumvent analytical thought. This affected not only journalism, but literary work too — after all, well-known writers, like Arnold Bennett, Ford Madox Ford, John Masefield and H.G. Wells, had worked for the government's propaganda bureau (Buitenhuis 1989: 14—15). If Eliot and Pound were to write poetry that analysed their historical situation with integrity, they would need to find a way of presenting their interpretation that was emphatically anti-propagandist and resisted easy phrasing.

Hulme addresses these issues in some of his last writings, though the propaganda he opposed was not the pro-war propaganda Pound was discussing, but, on the contrary, the arguments of the pacifist movement. In his series of 'War Notes' (1915—16) Hulme argues that the war is necessary to preserve British freedom, and that pacifist arguments against war are based on unexamined abstractions about man's natural goodness that take no account of the 'facts' of the current political situation. These abstractions have been internalized and naturalized to the point that the pacifist believes them to be universal truths. The problem for Hulme is that because these arguments have been so thoroughly internalized as truths, facts about the war will not change the pacifists' minds. So, he says, one must address the broader beliefs that underpin pacifism: romanticism or humanism (1994: 351, 359, 380-86).

Although there is much in this argument that we have encountered in Hulme's writings before, the specific focus on how ideas are internalized draws on the work of Georges Sorel, a French anarchist-syndicalist allied with the Action Française, whose Réflexions sur la violence (Reflections on Violence) Hulme had translated in 1914. In an introduction added to the translation in 1916, Hulme praised Sorel for revealing democracy as an ideology, rather than 'a natural and inevitable equipment of the emancipated and instructed man'. Ideologies, wrote Hulme, have to be removed 'from their position "behind the eye"' and put 'facing one as objects which we can then consciously accept or reject'. A 'historical method' that shows 'the intimate connection between such conceptions — that of Progress for example — and certain economical conditions at the time of their invention in the eighteenth century, does more than anything else to loosen their hold over the mind' (1994: 248). Eliot reviewed Hulme's translation in 1917, describing

Ideology. A world view or system of belief that determines political and social action. It is most often used pejoratively, for example in Marxist philosophy, where ideology refers to the world view of the ruling class.

Sorel as 'representative of the present generation, sick with its own knowledge of history', and longing 'for the pessimistic classical view' (1917: 478-79). Not surprisingly, Eliot was sympathetic to Sorel's anti-romantic theory of history - so much so that when he gave a series of lectures on 'Modern French Literature' to university extension students in 1916, he included Hulme's translation of Reflections on Violence in his reading list (Schuchard 1999: 30).

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