History And Tradition

One of the defining features of literary modernism is the tension it preserves between tradition and originality. Although modernism is defined by its experimentation, its insistent difference from that which has gone before, modernists are also devoted genealogists, energetically tracing their ancestry back through literary traditions. If we return for a moment to Pound's slogan, 'make it new', we can see that it contains an explanation of this apparent contradiction. To make something new suggests that the something is not wholly new: it acknowledges a former existence. Pound's slogan registers a desire to bring things from the past into the present, to make the historical contemporary. This chapter outlines how Eliot, Hulme and Pound theorized literary tradition and history, then explores specific sources for their theories. The final section discusses one particular way that the past was made new by modernist poets: through translation. This chapter opens up many of the questions that will be worked through in more detail in relation to The Waste Land and The Cantos in the next chapter, so it may help to read the chapters as a pair.

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