Anthony DomesticoAugust 6, 2012 - 9:44am0 comments
Modernist Humanism and the Men of 1914
Joyce, Lewis, Pound, and Eliot
University of South Carolina Press, $59.95,
Ezra Pound was a champion rabble-rouser—a man whose career proves that, at least in literary quarrels, the key to winning is often to speak more loudly, and with more confidence, than one’s opponents. Given his zest for polemical overstatement, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that, in 1922, Pound publicly declared the end of the Christian era. With the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses, Pound said, Christianity had reached a terminal point. What would replace Christianity, he couldn’t be sure of; but that it was over and done he had no doubt. At the time, Pound was editor of the Little Review, and he helped introduce a new calendar to the magazine’s pages, replacing “1922” with “Year 1 p.s.U.”—meaning, “Year 1 post scriptum Ulysses.”
For a long time, most literary critics tended to write as if Pound’s calendar had stuck. In the view of such critics, modernists saw that God was dead and their work was in large part a reaction to his passing: art replaced religion, and the author became, according to Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, “like the God of creation”: “within or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, paring his fingernails.”
But things have begun to change. In recent years, scholars have pointed out just how crucial Christianity and its traditions remained to the modernist...