Lauren Arrington is Professor of English at Maynooth University, Ireland. She is author of Revolutionary Lives (Princeton University Press, 2016), W. B. Yeats, the Abbey Theatre, Censorship and the Irish State (Oxford University Press, 2010), and a book about W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, and late modernism in Mussolini’s Italy, forthcoming with Oxford University Press. She is editor of the collection Late Modernism & Expatriation (Clemson University Press, forthcoming) and, with Matthew Campbell, The Oxford Handbook of W. B. Yeats.
Joan Didion begins her 1968 collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem with W. B. Yeats’s “The Second Coming” printed in full as an epigraph; the title and the long quotation underscore Didion’s perception of the rupture of the 1960s: a revolution—sexual and political—of which she was skeptical. As she explains in her preface, she “had been paralyzed by the conviction that writing was an irrelevant act, that the world as I had understood it no longer existed.” Later in the same book, in the essay “On Morality” she argues that the “ethic of conscience” as a measure of a writer or anyone else’s morality was an “insidious” metric; neither the individual’s intention nor—as will be discussed in this essay—the form of the work conferred “any ipso facto virtue.” Scholars of modernism have not been so careful.