Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Modernism and Politics

As if I didn’t dislike the personalities of Ezra pound and T.S. Eliot enough, I find out they are anti-Semitic fascists. This should have been something that I knew as an English major who had studied these famous poets, but I did not. I knew there was a reason I found them detestable. In all seriousness, I felt like this is something that I should have learned before now. My favorite part of the chapter was the ruling that Pound suffered from “delusions of grandeur.” I think this is evident in his article on little magazines and his manifesto of what poetry should be. It was interesting to see that there are letters coming about T.S. Eliot that might disprove the longstanding idea that he was anti-Semitic and uncaring. I wonder how much the letters will actually prove to debunk these ideas about Eliot and how long it will take for the characterization of Eliot to change.

Leonard Woolf’s “Fear and Politics” seemed to be more represented of a liberal standpoint on politics. I love the way that he used the animals and humor to get across his political message. It seemed the verbal equivalent to the political cartoon. My favorite section is the ne where the animals believe that the humans are gods/god. The paragraph takes us through history of polytheistic religions to monotheistic religions. Having the animals talking about religion to explain the unexplainable, humans’ purpose and role, both attacks society’s sense of religion and our sense of ourselves. The assertion that human society is a jungle and cannot be fixed shows how disillusioned people, like Leonard Woolf, were with the war and with society.

Forster’s “What I Believe” showed the same types of disillusionment with the war and politics that Woolf’s “Fear and Politics” showed. Forster emphasized the individual rather than society. He says, “personal relations are despised today” (166). He goes on to say how we put the government first, and we should be putting our loyalties to our friends before the government. Showing he is disillusioned with the results of war, Forster says, “if people continue to kill one another as they do, the world cannot get better than it is, and since there are more people than formerly, and their means for destroying one another superior, the world may well get worse” (169).

This disillusionment with the war is something that takes a different tone in Virginia Woolf’s “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid.” She is writing to convince Americans to help the British in the war. She says, “Let us send these fragmentary notes to the huntsmen who are up in America, to the men and women whose sleep has not yet been broken by machine-gun fire, in the belief that they will rethink them generously and charitably, perhaps shape them into something serviceable. And now, in the shadowed half of the world, to sleep” (3). She uses the same narrative style that she uses in A Room of One’s Own. The tone also sounds similar and she is also addressing women in specifically in her essay (though the end seems to call for everyone’s help). Her example of the restriction of child bearing in relation to restricting men from weapons is one example of her appeal to women. All the other essays seem to be addressing men and how they can work in politics, where Virginia Woolf takes on how women can help with the war/politics.

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