Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Monday, Tuesday

Though I was already familiar with one of Virginia Woolf’s short stories (“Kew Gardens”), I mainly noticed with Monday, Tuesday how the stories reflected her domestic, in addition to artistic, concerns. I sometimes lost track of exactly what Woolf was going for due to her experimental efforts, but a few stories stuck out. “A Society” seemed to be the story that most reflected the concerns she discusses in A Room of One’s Own (by dealing more directly with the issue of women’s disconnect from the goals of much of the art of her time), which I could also see to some degree in “An Unwritten Novel” (though I wondered more with this story if there were more specific works she was responding to, while the former story seemed a more generalized response), while “A Haunted House” and “The Mark on the Wall” appeared to be intended more as responses to other kinds of writing in Woolf’s time, reinterpreted to fit in with the Bloomsbury lifestyle, as Kempe noted with Woolf’s approaches to houses and rooms (76-77). I again couldn’t tell if they were meant as responses to any specific works, but the former reminded me a bit of The Turn of the Screw (as a more psychological reimagining of the idea of the haunted house concept), which I guess Roger Fry may have also noticed when he made the Henry James comparison with “A Mark on the Wall,” if he had seen this story yet as well (Kempe 81). The latter, meanwhile came across as perhaps a counterpoint to “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by featuring a narrator who can take some comfort in finding something so out of the ordinary that reflects “how very little control of our possessions we have” (48).

I wasn’t as sure what to make at first of the revelation that the mark was a snail. Going along with “Kew Gardens,” I could see the symbolism of the snail as reflecting the natural world in contrast to society’s often more materialistic concerns, though I was surprised that it would come up in more than one story. It made me wonder if this story’s position at the end of collection reflected how this symbol was the ultimate point that Woolf wanted readers to get from her stories, though I hadn’t always associated each story so much as I was reading them, since they sometimes seemed to have rather different interests and approaches, and so I hadn’t thought so much of their arrangements as part of the collection as a whole. I mainly just wasn’t quite sure how to tie this idea in with my impression of this story as related to “The Yellow Wallpaper,” since Gilman didn’t seem at first like the kind of writer Woolf would be so interested in responding to (even that story also responded in some way to the issues of modern art and women’s rights in relation to writing), though I guess their interests were just similar enough that Woolf felt she needed to emphasize the main point with which they differed, since her work seemed to try to and avoid dealing so much with the issue of madness, I guess because she was trying to keep a more optimistic outlook (with protagonists who can learn something from these concepts rather than be destroyed by them), or not let it distract from her other artistic interests (so that in Mrs. Dalloway, for example, these concerns are explored with Septimus rather than more overtly with Clarissa). As part of Monday, Tuesday, I could see this story as meant as a kind of bookend with “A Haunted House,” maybe to show the progress of Woolf’s ideas of nature and art as they develop through the collection, from the relatively straightforward concerns of the first two stories to the philosophies of the last ones, with the narrator of “The Mark on the Wall” showing more awareness of these ideas than previous ones did.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Modern Art

MacLeod’s article was helpful for me in straightening out the major modernist artistic movements, since I was only really aware of a few. I also liked how he made some direct comparisons with major poets and writers (Williams, Stevens, etc), so I got a better idea of how the art and literature of this period interacted (usually they seemed to just be treated as parallel, other than with the more obvious Stein-Picasso connection). I was glad to be able to associate the writers we’re reading with more specific artists, though I wondered why the influence of the wars on art wasn’t explored more (other than in relation to the Dadas). This mainly occurred to me while reading Clive Bell’s “The Artistic Problem,” in which he describes works of art as being “beautiful in themselves” (102). This seemed to me like an almost more Romantic approach to art, and didn’t seem a definition that would work with artists such as Otto Dix (or even necessarily with earlier artists such as Goya), whose wartime influences resulted in some very dark, grotesque works (though he may have, like Fry, just defined beauty differently, wasn’t sure from that essay). But MacLeod’s reference to Marianne Moore’s “Poetry” in particular drew my attention to the similarities of her idea of the “imaginary gardens with real toads” with the Bloomsbury group’s promotion of modern art, particularly when Desmond MacCarthy writes “that a good rocking-horse often has more of the true horse about it than an instantaneous photograph of a Derby winner” (99).

The other issue that interested me in these readings was the issue of the Bloomsbury Group’s approach to art and criticism. Going with that idea of the group as a subculture rather than a utopian ideal, I started to wonder more about whether they were basically the “hipsters” of their times (which had been hard to conceive of before, given how they usually seem to portrayed now in films such as Tom & Viv as such a privileged, leisurely class, or in criticism in general as more canonical, rather than contemporary, writers), since with Bell’s “by ‘we’ I mean intelligent people under sixty” remark (102) it certainly seemed like this would be a label they might get if they were around today, whether justifiably or not, through such interest in contemporary art and the assumption of being part of a more educated, youth-oriented class of people. I also began to wonder about this group’s approach to criticism in relation to T.S. Eliot’s, so I was surprised to find that they seemed to have more in common than I thought they would, particularly in parts of Fry’s work, since I had thought of them as being so philosophically opposed. Though there seemed to be a greater emphasis on the importance of emotion for the Bloomsbury writers, there still seemed to be that same interest in form and envisioning artistic creation in more scientific terms, with Bell still emphasizing the importance of work and a sense of detachment in creating art (104-105), and the assumption that artistic tradition is something that must be internalized and reinterpreted to suit modern concerns rather than simply copied (105-106), ideas echoed in Fry (400) while he also acknowledged how criticism was influenced by personal experiences (398), and even while emphasizing the emotional content of art still seemed to agree at least somewhat with Eliot’s emphasis on detachment (403), since his interest in the Post-Impressionists seemed to be in the sense that they gave more control and order to Impressionistic concerns.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Eliot's Early Poems

I had previously read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” but after reading the Hulme essay I thought about it a bit more as a dramatization of the conflict he discussed, particularly in relation to the issue of Romanticism and the infinite. By contrasting Prufrock with Romantic concepts such as the mermaids and the universe (at least to the extent of assuming it can be disturbed), I interpreted Eliot as emphasizing the greater sense of grounding that Hulme endorsed. In the context of the other 1917 poems, I also noticed a particularly urban sensibility that I hadn’t really noticed in Eliot’s work before (except in The Waste Land), though it didn’t seem as prevalent here as in the other poems from this period (I guess to again emphasize Prufrock’s isolation; he also struck me on this reading as resembling Leonard Bast, who maybe would have had the same kind of dilemma in his encounters with the Schlegels).

With the other poems, especially “La Figlia che Piange,” it seemed like he was trying harder to apply his “Tradition and the Individual Talent” ideas in a way that could work with everyday social interactions, rather than just in relation to literary tradition, since I interpreted this poem as mainly being about the narrator’s wish to understand the female subject in some poetic way (based on “the sunlight in your hair,” and “a gesture and a pose”) that wouldn’t be clouded by an emotional response (maybe embodied by the man, and contrasted by the narrator’s distance from both), though it also seems as though the narrator’s hope for his leaving her to “stand and grieve” may also be a sign of his/her (though I assumed the narrator was male, given the woman’s role as subject to a particular kind of gaze) desire to use emotion as fodder for the imagination without wanting to experience it firsthand. The major difficulty I had with reading these poems was that after seeing Tom & Viv, it was sometimes tempting to read Vivienne’s troubles into his poems (particularly with ones like “Hysteria” and “Cousin Nancy”), though I tried not to. But another point that struck me was just how female-centered many of these poems were, since I’d thought of Eliot’s perspective as being such as masculine one. I wasn’t always certain of the significance of the female figures, but they mostly reminded me of the approach to women’s changing roles detailed in Howards End, with “Cousin Nancy” coming across as a suggestion (or maybe just Eliot’s hope) of how Nancy’s New Woman proclivities could still not entirely dismantle the authority represented by “Matthew and Waldo, guardians of the faith” (though I wasn’t sure if their authority would then reflect what Eliot may have considered more truly “modern” ideals, like the more English ambitions of the Wilcoxes, or just traditional values under fire, like Christianity), while “Aunt Helen” reminded me more of Ruth Wilcox, as an account of the passing of a more naturalistic and aristocratic symbol of classical Englishness. “La Figlia che Piange” seemed distinctive in this regard, since the female subject of this poem seemed more like Eliot’s attempt to find a Muse-figure for himself (though I don’t know what the title translates to, which I imagine would make a difference).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hulme, Pound, and Eliot

I think I ended up agreeing with a lot of Hulme’s points about the way criticism works and how readers’ interests and backgrounds affect their perceptions, though I was rather annoyed at some of his attacks on Romanticism, mostly because I couldn’t tell if his extreme approach was entirely sincere or if he was just making such characterizations in an effort to get more attention for himself by making statements that might seem outrageous (though I wasn’t sure if anyone was genuinely shocked or angered by his statements, despite his reference to the French riot, or if the “us vs. them” aspect of his characterizations was just set up in a way to give him the appearance of being provocative by implying that any effort to defend romanticism would be a result of being some junkie-like fanatic or else irrelevant). In particular, I didn’t like how he referenced the scientific aspect of the classicism/romanticism conflict in just one paragraph and then mostly dropping it (94), because he referenced both sides of the argument as if he didn’t really have an actual opinion of them beyond just viewing them as convenient, making the whole idea of referencing them seem rather pointless. I also didn’t really agree with the “spilt religion” concept (95), since it assumes so much that people would naturally be religious if only it wouldn’t be questioned so much, which I don’t think is true, since it doesn’t seem like anyone becomes religious just by instinct, it either seems to get pushed on them as children, or they just decide on it as adults because nothing else was working for them (he also compares this “instinct” to that of sex, which I found pretty ironic considering how organized religion tends to frown on sexual activity of any sort; I wondered what he would have made of more current issues such as the Catholic priest sex-abuse scandal, which he could use to prove his point about not suppressing natural behaviors, though it doesn’t say much about the organizations he seems to want to uphold so much).

I was also interested in Pound’s and Eliot’s criticisms, because I liked how they really seemed to just be writing as poets rather than established critics (as Kermode noted), and seemed to have absorbed the better aspects of Hulme’s writing, since Pound convincingly characterized the difficulties faced by writers of his generation, while Eliot’s cited influences and interests (such as The Revenger’s Tragedy and his approaches to Shakespeare and the metaphysical poets) were ones that I hadn’t expected and made me more interested in how they tied into the Modernist movement as part of a particular tradition, as he had suggested. Hulme’s references to “zest,” along with Pound’s emphasis on word usage, made me think a bit of Marianne Moore’s discussion of poetry in “Humility, Concentration, and Gusto,” though their arguments otherwise often seemed too gendered and focused on poetry to have much consideration for women writers, or prose works such as Howards End (Hulme’s characterization of romanticism in particular didn’t seem to take into account the more ambivalent roles of writers such as Mary Shelley within the movement), which I guess may have been a factor in Woolf’s writing, though she seemed more interested in discussing prose over poetry (though I only know the “Shakespeare’s Sister” aspect of her criticism so far).