Art and authority : a comparative study of the modernist aesthetics of Ezra Pound
Due to the pressure to define a contemporary literature, 'High' modernism in English is often presented as a univocal canon of authors and works whose ideals have been identified and surpassed. This study attempts to re-emphasise the diversity of this writing by showing how crises in inherited authority were 'staged' by its aesthetics. The manner of this staging is examined in the writings and programmes of a selected group of authors while a focus is provided by the aesthetics of Ezra Pound. Pound's work is taken to be of especial interest because of the scope of his influence in establishing a 'modern' movement, the extremism of his writing's antagonism to authority, and the ambiguity of critical responses that the politics of his project continue to elicit. Chapter 1 examines the ways in which Pound promotes an 'aesthetics' of history and politics as the key to contemporary revolutionary change, and views his writing through a body of thinking which considers that the artwork, and not authority, might 'found' a modem culture. Chapter 2 treats Pound's metaphysics, showing how 'de-authorised' conceptions of religion, sexuality and language underpin this project. Chapter 3 deals with the writing of T. S. Eliot, and with the particular anti-aesthetics that inhabit his criticism and the draft of The Waste Land. Eliots project is shown to oppose Pound's by defining a desired authority against the power of art, an opposition that Pound's editing of The Waste Land effectively masks. Chapter 4 discusses the 'mass' aesthetics of James Joyce's Ulysses, and shows that the processes of self-interrogation that feature in this work realign the antipathy between art and authority in ways that militate against the ideals of a Poundian art of 'power'. Chapter 5 treats the work of D. H. Lawrence as a site where an empowered art and culture is both overtly promoted and intrinsically challenged. The proximity of Lawrence's programmatic modernism to Pound's is stressed, while an inbuilt antagonism to its own ideals is shown to sharply distinguish the dynamic trajectory of Lawrencean aesthetics from a Poundian art of self-authorisation. While establishing the antagonism between art and authority as a common focus for modernism, this study underlines differences and antipathies that emerge between the projects and texts under discussion, charting the diversity of responses to a commonly felt crisis. The study concludes with a discussion of Pound's post-war poetry, examining the fate of a writer who failed to extend into his own aesthetics the insights that modem crises in authority delivered.