Origins Of Modernism

Eliot, Hulme and Pound are emphatically twentieth-century writers and thinkers. They saw themselves as representative of the beginning of a new century, a century that was itself fascinated by its own modernity. The invention and popularization of the telephone, the cinema, the automobile and the aeroplane, together with what we might think of as intellectual inventions, such as Freud's psychoanalysis and Einstein's theory of relativity, transformed the cultural landscape and created what seemed to these writers to be a distinctively modern consciousness (Kern 1983: 1—2). They emphasized their own modernity repeatedly in their writings: Pound's maxim 'make it new' is probably the most frequent quotation from the period (1994: 265). But, at the same time, the very importance Eliot, Hulme and Pound attached to their contemporaneity suggests a reaction against something else, something they thought of as the 'not modern', as it were. An understanding of that 'not modern' will help to clarify what is at stake in these writers' claims to modernity, and in turn illuminate their poetic project. Therefore, this chapter will describe the late nineteenth-century literary culture against which Eliot, Hulme and Pound consciously reacted. But it will also explore the influence of that culture on their thinking and their poetry, and of particular significance here is the impact of a group of French poets known as the symbolists, whose work had a profound effect on all three writers. The chapter will conclude by looking closely at an early and important prescription for modernist poetry, T.E. Hulme's 'A Lecture on Modern Poetry', delivered in 1908.

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