The Zukofsky Era: Modernity, Margins, and the Avant-Garde by Ruth Jennison

The Zukofsky Era: Modernity, Margins, and the Avant-Garde by Ruth Jennison

Author:Ruth Jennison [Jennison, Ruth]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781421405292
Amazon: 1421405296
Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Published: 2012-06-18T04:00:00+00:00

Objectivism, the Commodity Form, and the Problem and Promise of Revolutionary Consciousness

I have suggested throughout that we might enhance and renarrativize the stories we tell about the varied tributaries of Anglo-American modernist poetics by merging our histories of literary formations, social movements, and spatial transformation and variance. In the case of Objectivism, we have charted a provisional constellation of solidaristic aesthetic and political responses to the revolutionary cataclysms of the early twentieth century, and a formal embrace of the uneven geographical, cultural, and political developments that these revolutions by turns responded to and revealed. This spatio-political reconceptualization has many advantages over traditional models of modernist mapping that primarily involve historicist periodizations. Let us suppose, with Jameson in A Singular Modernity, that “modernism” is a presently ongoing and chronically unfinished aesthetic-ideological mediation of capitalism’s contradictions.37 If this is the case, and modernism unfurls in constant repetitions, and in countless forms, across increasingly integrated transnational modernization projects, then it is necessary to press beyond historicist models of modernist periodization that barely even began to explain the complexity of their original, intended objects of inquiry: Anglo-American modernism. Scholars of anti-imperialist modernisms have long eschewed arid formal analogies between modernist “fragmentation” and an imagined universalism of similarly sharded collective and individual consciousnesses in favor of accounts of modernisms breathed to life by resistance, revision, and adaptation.38 This study has thus far explored what happens when such formulations are applied to the modernism of the American interior itself.

Objectivism here is such a test case. We have aligned its works according to their engagements with political economic coordinates: first, the geographies of capitalist development, and second, the territorialization of all social and economic structures by the commodity form and its attendant abstractions. Noting the bad universality of the latter might go some way toward explaining why concrecity and abstraction vie for primacy in the manifestos and poetries of other, contemporaneous modernisms. A somewhat playful illustrative sampling of the tension between object and concept sprung by modernist works might include: W. C. Williams’s “no ideas but in things”; Pound’s younger adequations of image to ineffable; Wallace Stevens’s necessary abstractions; Gertrude Stein’s “objects”; Claude McKay’s objects of imperialist commerce in, for example, “The Tropics in New York”; Anne Spencer’s racial ontology of reification in “White Things”; Richard Wright’s urban diorama of oppositional voices that score the collective chant of the future-possible in “We of the Streets”; and T. S. Eliot’s objective correlative.

As studies of modernist poetics loose themselves from the analytics of New Criticism on the one hand and old historicisms on the other, it is nigh to suggest a renewed dialectic between (1) accounts of modernist form, and (2) accounts of modernity as a complicated refraction of capitalist development. The commodity form as analytic offers to cultural critics of modernism and modernity the benefit of a definitive historical arc (inarguably extending its reach ever wider beginning in the late nineteenth century) as well as a particularly beneficial hermeneutic for scholars of poetics: a special attention to the question of, as Marx describes it, “forms of appearance.


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