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Posts in “Modernism”


Jun 24, 2017
Like many netizens, I was amused by Andrej Karpahty’s “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Recurrent Neural Networks” when it first appeared. I don’t mean the explanation of what a recurrent neural network is or the claim that there’s much wisdom in Paul Graham’s essays. The text-generation samples, however, were really neat. RNN text-generators power many bots on the social media platform known as “twitter,” and I suspect that they may also be used in commercial solicitations.

The Distribution of PhDs in Modernism/modernity

Jan 2, 2014
Modernism/modernity is an important and relatively new journal (1994-) that publishes interdisciplinary work in modernist studies. Though I’ve never submitted an article to it (I did publish a book review there), I’ve long heard that it is very difficult to publish in. The last time I checked, the journal did not submit acceptance statistics to the MLA Directory of Periodicals (these statistics make for interesting reading if you’ve never looked at them, by the way).

Empson on Joyce

Feb 14, 2010
William Empson was a man of strong opinions: This horrible nastiness of Eng. Lit., which makes the teachers preen on themselves on being too smart to attend to the story (so that they can tell any holy lie they choose instead) must I think derive from the short-story technique of Chekhov, though he would have been astonished and exasperated by it. (Selected Letters, ed. Haffenden, p. 481) The context there is a discussion of King Lear, and I just chose it to illustrate the often-vehement intentionalist-line that Empson took in much of his criticism.

Um so schlimmer für die Tatsachen

Nov 16, 2009
Ernst Bloch’s first wife owned gold mines in Russia: “I used to say that I paid 30 million marks for the Russian Revolution, but that it was worth the price to me!” There’s something very cheerful about that remark, which was made in 1974 or so (note the “used to.”) I’m teaching selections from The Principle of Hope this week in my utopia and modernism seminar. Like many of Bloch’s readers, I’m fascinated by his discussion of the relation between ideology and utopia, that the former could produce only crudities without the inherent anticipatory illumination (”Vor-Schein”) of the latter.


Sep 9, 2009
Everyone is familiar, I take it, with the following passage: the natural grammatical transition by inversion involving no alteration of sense of an aorist preterite proposition (parsed as masculine subject, monosyllabic onomatopoeic transitive verb with direct feminine object) from the active voice into its correlative aorist preterite proposition (parsed as feminine subject, auxiliary verb, and quasimonosyllabic onomatopoeic past participle with complementary masculine agent) in the passive voice None of the sources I’ve seen propose an onomatopoeic explanation for the verb in question here (and I’m actually curious about who the first person was to spell that out in print), and I wonder if that’s not a curious intrusion of Bloom’s incomplete information about the world and word, similar to “aorist.

Christine Brooke-Rose on Pound

Jul 8, 2009
Pound was proceeding by poetic intuition, and who knows, his may be the only comprehensible poetry to the twenty-first century, when a new economic order, unimaginable to us now, may have emerged from the present apparently irreconcilable dogmas; it may be, for that matter, a post-McLuhan age, an age of mixed media and ideogrammic thinking in quick cut, when we may all be speaking Chinese, with nothing of our civilization left but the fragments he has ‘shelved (shored)’ against our ruin.

Study Guides for Contemporary British Literature, ca. 1921

May 30, 2009
Specialists may recognize John Matthews Manly’s and Edith Rickert’s Contemporary British Literature: Bibliographies and Study Guides from Harcourt Brace, 1921. It refers to Joyce as a defrocked priest, for example, and sees fit to mention about Woolf only the apparently inexplicable fact that she is the daughter of Leslie Stephen. In spite of this, I found the most amusing entry to be devoted to Ralph Hodgson: Born in Yorkshire, 1872.

On Mr. Eliot's Sunday Morning Service

Mar 18, 2009
The second stanza of this poem runs: In the beginning was the Word. Superfetation of τὸ ἒν, And at the mensual turn of time Produced enervate Origen. An earlier version was: In the beginning was the Word. Superfetation of τὸ ἒν, And at the menstrual turn of time Produced the castrate Origen. The changes were Pound’s suggestions, apparently. Generally speaking, Pound’s revisions of Eliot’s poetry tended not to be bowdlerizing; but it’s arguable that they are here.

An Effort

Feb 8, 2009
(After “Le Directeur”) Damn unlucky Thames Drains the Spectator. Even the bow-tied editor Of the Spectator Leaks phlegm. The reactionary actuaries Of the hibernator Spectator Strut hand-in-hand, A footpad’s band. Under land Darling Lil— No lace frill— Hears the snot-nose Of the hibernator Spectator’s Head investigator And puts on clothes. I’ve yet to read a convincing explanation of the speaker in this poem, given Eliot’s political sensibilies, though I’m, as always, open to suggestions.

The Modern Apocalypse

Jan 31, 2008
Is the title of the graduate seminar I’m teaching now (borrowed from Kermode’s The Sense of an Ending). Here’s the course description: The twenties and thirties were revolutionary, violent, low, and dishonest by turns. They were also haunted by the promise of a better world. This seminar will examine how writers of the British Isles envisioned the future and diagnosed the present in the interwar era. We will read works written in an overtly apocalyptic mode and those whose vision is more restrained, more concerned with the changing perception of time in the emerging modernity of the present.

Wyndham Lewis on de Sade

Jan 31, 2008
I gave a talk on Wyndham Lewis yesterday, and as I was reviewing his always provoking Time and Western Man, I noticed this quite-apt passage on de Sade: Whatever the Marquis de Sade said about life or things in general, you could be in no doubt as to what his remarks would come back to in the end; you know that they all would have the livery of the voluptuary, that they would all be hurrying on the business of some painful and elaborate pleasure of the senses, that they would be devising means to satisfy an overmastering impulse to feel acutely in the regions set aside for the spasms of sex.

On The Impossibility of Teaching Anecdote of The Jar

Oct 19, 2007
My course blog for an American Lit survey at ECU last year gets about ten-to-twenty hits each day for “anecdote of the jar analysis” or similar. I told the students in that class that this would be likely to happen and that they were writing for future generations (and even developed a poster presentation based on this alarming pedagogical thesis). Other than habit and general inertia, one of the reasons this happens is that it’s a deeply mysterious poem, one that probably deserves no place in freshman and sophomore anthologies.

M. R. James and the Sibyl

Apr 28, 2007
I wonder if Eliot had read this piece [JSTOR] by M. R. James in the Classical Review? He notes that the sibyl had dried up like a grasshopper and wouldn’t be in an “ampulla” otherwise, a detail I’ve always found myself dwelling on when I’ve taught the poem.

Don't Think You Know Better Than Haig

Feb 2, 2007
Readers of Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory may recall that he quotes this newspaper account of how the average subject can help with the war effort. I wonder if our Alexander thought of it in that fleeting moment when he thought himself in charge. I can remember watching that unfold on my grandmother’s tv, though thankfully I was too young to be aware of Haig. Speaking of which, you may remember that Homer wears a “Haig in ‘88” t-shirt in one episode.

Graduate Opacities of the Evening

Dec 9, 2006
J. C. Powys appreciated Hart Crane’s “For The Marriage of Faustus and Helen” (Hart Crane, LOA 338), and Crane was also consoled by the vigorous style of Lewis’s Time and Western Man, a “lot better than the usual Doug Fairbanks of controversies” (575). I could see “There is a world dimensional/For those untwisted by the love of things/Irreconcilable” as an epigraph for A Glastonbury Romance. Also, well known, but worth repeating is Crane’s judgement that “Rimbaud is the last great poet that our civilization will see” (467).

First Words

Nov 5, 2006
I’m increasingly interested in the work of Paul Laffoley (and hope to see the exhibit running between Jan 4 and Feb 17 at the Kent Gallery). One of the bits of lore that Laffoley tends to repeat in interviews and his writings is that his first word, spoken at six months of age, was “Constantinople.” He then purportedly remained silent for several years afterwards. Thinking perhaps that the meaning here may be to change the world, not interpret it, I noticed the following from Stefan Collini’s Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain: “Trawling through the literature on the Dreyfus affair, I eventually discovered the original of General Mercier’s remarks: ‘At the moment when the Turkish army forced the ramparts of Constantinople, the so-called intellectuals of the capital of the Lower Empire were debating theological quibbles.

From the Diary of Harold Nicolson

Sep 6, 2006
”‘Are you,’ I say to Joyce, hoping to draw him into conversation, ‘are you interested in murders?’ ‘Not,’ he answers, with gesture of a governess shutting the piano, ‘not in the very least.’” (July 30, 1931) From the fascismo period, I should note.

Bloch and Goldmann

Sep 3, 2006
I’ve personally always found more interesting than Lukacs and Gramsci, despite Tony Judt’s claim claim here that they are only of antiquarian interest. Several people I knew in graduate school were avid readers of The Spirit of Utopia, though I think I might have been the only person I knew to be interested in Goldmann’s transformational concepts. I once suggested that Lem was more–or at least as–deserving of general acclamations and prizes than Kolakowski, and Judt’s essay has not exactly changed my mind.

Taste in Poets

Jul 20, 2006
Michael Berube posts about Yeats, mentioning in passing that he’s the greatest English-language poet of the 20th C. I replied there that I prefer Stevens, Eliot, and possibly also Auden; but “prefer” is not quite the same thing as “consider the greatest.” Outside of some appreciative pockets, this kind of question is something I haven’t heard anyone take seriously since I was an undergrad, if then (though the problem trended more apathetic than contemptuous thereabouts).


Apr 29, 2006
What do the following words have in common? beat bumf cackle combativity congery hog-wash shot thing vaticinatory That’s right. All of their OED quotations cite Lewis’s The Apes of God. Is it as accurate of a systasis as the Amazon SIPs? Maybe not. But still.

Sorel on Galileo

Apr 10, 2006
Sorel even suggests that Galileo perhaps derived his interest in the laws of gravitational acceleration from the type of constant force presented by the monarchy, with its power swelling under his eyes every day. (Wyndham Lewis, The Art of Being Ruled, 29). I wonder if Sorel was the first person to make that observation. Probably not. It may remind you of “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize.” It may not.

A Worthwhile Question

Apr 8, 2006
Comes to us from Michael Saler’s “Modernity, Disenchantment, and the Ironic Imagination”: “Why can’t I find a single copy of my own monograph in any bookstore, but I can find many copies of Hamlet translated into Klingon?” I appreciate Saler’s citation of Vaihinger there. A review of C. K. Ogden’s translation from The Journal of Philosophy, hoping that the Germans will become acquainted with American pragmatist thought, notes “the existence of intellectual pursuits in America other than suppressing of the theory of evolution and the consumption of beer,” on which latter point I should note how amused I was by Habermas’s example in Theory of Communicative Action of the Bavarian workers taking their mid-morning (9:00 AM) beer break.