The Old Moderns: New Essays on Literature and Theory

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Denis Donoghue does not go in search of a fight. He is, among critics, notable for his tact and genial temperament. But by setting aside his own bearing in favor of the bearing of his object, he produces an artifact that rebukes certain competing reports. And thus it is with his consideration of Modernism in the present selection of essays, wherein he makes quick work of the conventional claim that in Modernism an event, or a cause whose consequences can be enumerated, is in evidence. Instead, Donoghue declares ...
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Overview

Denis Donoghue does not go in search of a fight. He is, among critics, notable for his tact and genial temperament. But by setting aside his own bearing in favor of the bearing of his object, he produces an artifact that rebukes certain competing reports. And thus it is with his consideration of Modernism in the present selection of essays, wherein he makes quick work of the conventional claim that in Modernism an event, or a cause whose consequences can be enumerated, is in evidence. Instead, Donoghue declares Modernism "a stance, an attitude, a choice," further asserting that "it is not necessary to be modern." Nor is it necessary for a critic to be dogmatic or to make theoretical hauteur his game. It is in his rejection of the allure of dogmatism that Donoghue discovers the difficulty of the task before him; for to make any headway, he must take "one meaning of Modernism and ... put up with the embarrassment of knowing that a different account of it would be just as feasible." But in testing his "one meaning" against writers as various as Wordsworth, Poe, James, Yeats, Joyce, Kafka, Eliot, and Stevens, and against an array of philosophers, theorists, and critics (Blackmur, Benjamin, Trilling, Foucault, Jameson, Levinas, and de Man, to cite certain of these), Donoghue makes himself hospitable to an inventory of modern postures as diverse as the personalities who adopted them, or were adopted by them. The result is a meditation on the self's experience of itself for better or for worse, as the animating force of the Modernist enterprise. Mainly for the better, according to Donoghue, who finds in the mind's self-attentive questionings and strivings an imaginative space of resistance and resonance that is commonly lacking in the beguiling mendacities of modern city life. For all his distrust of the potential will to power of "supreme fictions," Donoghue sides with the rebellious angels - but with misgiving. Tender toward "the refusing imagination," he knows that
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
There are as many versions of modernism as there are critics, asserts Donoghue, distinguished literary critic and English professor at New York University. One common ground linking modernist writers, in his view, is their mistrust of mass society and their experience of city life as fragmentary and uprooted. That theme loosely holds together this miscellany of 17 astute scholarly essays and lectures. Donoghue shuttles handily between such writers as Poe, Wordsworth, Joyce, Eliot, Yeats, Wallace Stevens and Henry James, and engages in critical polemics with the theories of Lionel Trilling, R. P. Blackmur, Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault and Matthew Arnold. In two essays, he defends Eliot against those who disparage his literary output as the work of an authoritarian social critic. Elsewhere Donoghue discusses the influence of Nietzsche and Pound on Yeats, the art of translation, and the injection of the politics of the right or left into literary criticism. Reader's Subscription alternate selection. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Donoghue (English and American literature, New York Univ.) regards Modernism as a response to the growth of the city and the crowd, causing the artist to turn inward. He considers Stevens, Yeats, and Eliot to be the exemplars among modern poets and in various essays gives luminous discussions of their work. Donoghue's Catholic humanism is concerned with the place of ethics and justice in the making and reading of literature. In the section on theory, he sifts through views of theory and literary interpretation. His discussion of Henry James is a model of insight and precision, while the description of theorist Richard Blackmur's critical ability mirrors Donoghue's own method. In a seemingly effortless style, Donoghue has written a fine and encouraging book. Recommended for literature collections.-- Gene Shaw, NYPL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780394589343
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/22/1994
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Pages: 303

Table of Contents

Introduction
The Man of the Crowd 3
Beyond Culture 32
Ariel and His Poems 54
The Use and Abuse of Theory 77
The Political Turn in Criticism 91
The Sublime Blackmur 106
Translation in Theory and in a Certain Practice 118
On The Golden Bowl 135
William Wetmore Story and His Friends: The Enclosing Fact of Rome 152
The Modern Yeats 169
On a Late Poem by Yeats 177
T. S. Eliot: The Communication of the Dead 193
On "Burnt Norton" 217
On The Idea of a Christian Society 235
Is There a Case Against Ulysses? 250
Notes on a Poem by Stevens 259
Is There a Perennial Literature? 269
Notes 289
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