By Paul Saint-Amour, University of Pennsylvania
Weakness: not a word that would seem, at first blush, to have anything to say to modernism. Modernism doesn’t blush; it blasts. Its reputation is for strength in extremis—for steep critiques of modernity, energetic convention busting, the breaking of vessels. In the words of its early theorists, modernism is “rebellion against authority,” a “revolution of the word,” “kicking over old walls” and “breaking of ‘Do Nots.’” Nothing small-bore about revolt, nothing weak about making it new. Surely weakness is modernism’s obverse—injured, low-energy, and acquiescent—all the cloying orthodoxy that modernism would shock its way out of. Modernism is the production of aesthetic strength through iconoclasm and strenuous innovation. It is strong people exhibiting strength.
By David Nowell Smith, University of East Anglia
Major advances in modernist poetics have long occurred through contact with experiments in the visual and plastic arts: one need only think of the “cubist” poetics of Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Pierre Reverdy, and Gertrude Stein, of the New York School’s links to Abstract Expressionism, or, most recently, of conceptual writing’s regular citation of Brion Gysin’s claim that “writing is fifty years behind painting." Poets would find their community amongst artists; but also, the poetics itself would emerge out of critical engagement with the work of the poets’ artist peers: adapting compositional practices and techniques; adopting conceptual vocabularies. At times, this leads to intermedia experiment (Calligrammes, collage, concrete work); at others, to a renewed focus on the medium–specificity of poetry: both the peculiar possibilities of language as material and resource for art–making, and the repertoire of techniques and conventions through which this material is deployed.
“The Baritone with Muscles in his Throat”: Vaughn Monroe and Masculine Sentimentality during the Second World War
By Andrew Berish, University of South Florida
During the Second World War sentimentality reclaimed the mainstream of American popular music. Ballad recordings—slow, romantic love songs—increasingly pushed aside the hot jazz sounds of the era’s dance bands. The singers of these songs were an assortment of old and new faces—Bing Crosby, Dick Haymes, Vaughn Monroe, and Frank Sinatra. Their hit songs, recordings such as “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “Together,” “My Devotion,” and “There Are Such Things,” exchanged cynicism and irony for optimistic expressions of love, faithfulness, and devotion. These popular ballads shared in a broader wave of sentimentality that suffused the era’s mass culture—Hollywood film, commercial popular music, and radio programming. 1940s sentimentality, although responding to new social conditions produced by the war, was modeled on and nourished by a historical tradition of sentimental culture stretching back into the mid-nineteenth century.
By Lisa Hollenbach, Oklahoma State University
On a late December evening in 1956, public radio station KPFA-FM in Berkeley, California, broadcast a poetry reading by a young writer whose first book, Howl and Other Poems, had just appeared that fall from local publisher City Lights Books. Allen Ginsberg, who had recorded the tape in KPFA’s studios a few months earlier, performed three poems from the book, including the long poem “Howl.” The broadcast was Ginsberg’s first appearance on radio and the first sound recording of “Howl” to reach a public audience.
By Jeremy Braddock, Cornell University
In June, 1946 Nancy Cunard wrote an angry, detailed letter to Ezra Pound at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. In it Cunard described returning to the north of France after the war, discovering her house to have been looted by Nazi soldiers or French collaborators, her African art destroyed, her massive printing press smashed, a copy of Pound’s Cantos propped in a shattered window.
By Joan Kee, University of Michigan
A young woman sits in the center of a room crammed with laboratory equipment (fig. 1). Behind her are glass flasks filled with unknown liquids and neatly arranged in rows. A large table juts from the painting’s right edge. It groans under the accumulated weight of numerous implements all intended to measure, gauge, and subsequently coax into orderly submission the unruly world of the living. Next to the woman is a kymograph, used for measuring physiological response in animals. Battery powered, it records responses transmitted through electrodes attached to the subjects and is frequently used in pharmacological experiments monitoring the effects of drugs. Two white rabbits housed in round wire-mesh cages below the table await their fate. Particularly conspicuous against the general pallor of the laboratory space is a black microscope placed on one corner of the table. It is positioned to the right of the young woman, who wears a laboratory coat of such dazzling whiteness that it seems to thrust her body toward the painting’s surface.
By Melissa Dinsman, York College, The City University of New York
In an evocative statement on his 1942 film Mrs. Miniver, William Wyler, famed Hollywood director and vocal advocate for wartime intervention, argues that his film “about a family” is, for all intents and purposes, propaganda. Watching Mrs. Miniver today, the film’s interventionist position is impossible to miss. That art can also be propaganda is, of course, an argument frequently made by cultural critics such as Walter Benjamin (in the final pages of “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”) or George Orwell, who famously claimed that “all art is propaganda” but “not all propaganda is art." But Wyler’s reflection holds special significance for its focus on the politics of the family drama and his suggestion that the domestic is political. As I will argue, Mrs. Miniver and similar family-centered films are propaganda not only because of their wartime content and release dates, but because they are shaped by an underlying structure of melodrama, which, by the 1940s, already had a theatrical and cinematic reputation for making social and economic appeals.
By Corey Gibson, University of Groningen
Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
—Oxford Union Debate, December 3, 1964
This motion was adapted from Barry Goldwater’s speech at the Republican National Convention on July 16, 1964, in which he accepted the party’s presidential nomination. One month after Lyndon B. Johnson’s landslide victory over the firebrand conservative, the motion was debated in an altogether different though no less performative context. Amongst those speaking for the motion at the Oxford Union were two unlikely bedfellows: the poet, Hugh MacDiarmid, an avant-gardist in the cultural sphere and vanguardist in the political, outspoken Scottish nationalist, and professed communist ideologue, and the political activist and cultural icon, Malcolm X, former Nation of Islam minister, revolutionary black nationalist, and, increasingly during this period, anti-colonial internationalist.
By Alessandro Giammei, Princeton University
vivam, parsque mei multa superstes erit