Friday, March 27, 2009

The "tea-tray" in Parade's End

One certain literary source to which Madox is alluding with the multi-layered iterations of the Tea Tray image in Parade's End is this poem from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll:

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat,
How I wonder what you're at:
Up above the world you fly
Like a tea tray in the sky.

On the Novel: W. Somerset Maugham

One major writer well in our period, but not associated with Great War fiction -- and certainly, deliberately, not with Modernism -- is W. Somerset Maugham. (At the outbreak of the War he served with a British Red Cross unit in France before taking up a far more interesting assignment as secret agent in Geneva and then Petrograd.)
I was idly looking at an abridged edition of his masterpiece Of Human Bondage today and found Maugham's 'Introduction' to it absolutely fascinating, and an important statement on the nature of the novel. It is worth posting here in full: I hope you have the chance to read it and find it, as I do, memorable.

Modernism & the Impossible Present

A student last term sent me this useful poetic definition of Modernism:
"[M]odernism is the struggle of the future to free itself from the clinging hands of a dying past"- from "Modernism as a World-Wide Movement." A. Eustace Haydon, The Journal of Religion, January 1925.
You will notice the support this lends to my repeated thesis in lecture about Modernism's troubled position vis à vis the temporal present -- yet one more concept that analogises to shell-shock.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Copy-Editing Symbols

Update: third hotlink now fixed: thanks to "Editor" for the tip.

Follow this link for a legend of the standard copy-editing symbols. These can be used during successive editing of essay drafts.

More here. And here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Parade's End" -- Likenesses

From left to right, "McMaster" (Joseph Conrad), "Christopher Tietjens" (Ford Madox Ford), and "Sylvia Tietjens" (Violet Hunt.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

And the Weather is...

So, the weather, from my office today, in mid-March is....

Mr. Gore? Mr. Gore?

('Cosmic irony.')

And, yes, weather is not climate. We should all remember that...

Monday, March 16, 2009

"Causes" of the First World War

As argued in lecture, there was no cause to the First World War. The popular factoid that the death of a minor (though pleasant and competant) European royal in a dour Balkan capital caused the West to immolate itself in four years of a Dantean Inferno in French ditches is not false but merely silly on its face.
Talking to a classfellow in an Office Hour this week, it came to me that attributing a cause to the War is not an empirical or academical problem, but a historical-conceptual failure to use the term "cause" properly.
Before the putative Enlightenment, it was understood that there are four causes, delineated by Aristotle in his Physics, that together explain an event.
  1. Material cause: the physical properties involved.
  2. Formal cause: the aggregate of underlying properties which amount to its unique identity.
  3. Efficient cause: the initial motion or action which began the event.
  4. Final cause: the event's function or purpose -- its end.)
Take a simple illustrative example. I am about to pot the black in a game of snooker. Thwack! It's in; I win yet again. Material cause is the solid constrution of the table, balls, &c.: if the cue ball were tissue and the black jello, the event (the potting of the black) would not take place. Formal cause is the rules of billiards, the shape of the table, cue, rack, and all the other contributing elements that shape and frame -- i.e. that form -- the event. Efficient cause, of course, is the mechanics behind the cue hitting the cue ball. And final cause is Stephen Ogden winning the match and having his universal supremacy at billiards re-affirmed for posterity . Or something like that.

Applying, then, the robust pre-Enlightenment concept of causation to the problem of how and why the First World War began we see at once its great explanatory power as well as the relative feebleness of the Englightenment's shrunken understanding of "cause". The killing of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by an inept Bosnian terrorist is efficient cause of the First World War: and a good efficient cause it is. But being stuck in Englightenment-Cause thinking has trapped the generations of post-War scholars in an impossible search for more, or for bigger, or for better efficient causes: impossible, because no efficient cause and no amount or quality of efficient causes can ever fully explain an event. Now, of course, if the event should happen to be small enough, and if the mind contemplating the case be sufficiently bereft of imagination (or, it might be said, of rigour), then an efficient cause can seem adequate. But events on a large or more significant scale reveal the impotence of the Enlightenment-Cause model.
Material cause of the War includes 1914 Europe's demographics, military technology & ordnance, national-geographical, and perhaps the crossover network of treaties in effect. Its formal cause can be summed up as the ethnic, cultural and political histories of the nations and Empires involved. And final cause was the Prussian militarism shaping, from cultural first principle, the ends and endeavours of that implacably bellicose Empire's leaders, diplomats, soldiery and citizenry alike toward hegemony as a national right, and thus to war. (Insipid utterances of debased clerks in our day moot other final causes than the German: banality of intellect and impotence with fact is a certain sign of an Age of La Trahison des Clercs.

Ford Madox Ford in Parade's End puts one conviction of WWI's final cause -- the Tories' -- into the mouth of the protagonist Christopher Tietjens; and that would be the altruism of England. Tietjens is Ford's literary manifestation of Tory England, so when it is said of him that " is, in fact, asking for trouble if you are more altruist than the society that surrounds you," [Penguin, 207] it is actually England that has asked for trouble (and will, in fact, be smashed -- insofar as its Tory character is concerned) by entering the War altruistically to defend the "surrounding" societies of the Belgians and the French primarily for the sake of (to Madox Ford, cricket-inspired) Duty.
[Tietjens'] mind was at rest because there was going to be a war. From the first moment of his reading the paragraph about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand he had known that, calmly and with assurance. Had he imagined that this country would come in he would not have known a mind at rest. He loved this country for the run of the hills, the shape of its elm trees and the way the heather, running uphill to the skyline, meets the blue of the heavens. War for this country could only mean humiliation, spreading under the sunlight, an almost invisible pall over the elms, the hills, the heather, like the vapour that spread from .... oh, Middlesbrough! .... But of war for us [i.e. Britain] he had no fear. He saw our Ministry sitting tight till the opportune moment, and then grabbing a French channel port or a few German colonies as the price of neutrality.
And to conclude, there was indeed no "cause" for the First World War: but there were, as for everything, four causes.
Update: Click this link for a typical school history attempting to explain the First World War in terms limited to efficient causes. It is actually a fairly sophisticated attempt of its type, differentiating as it does between "long term" and "short term" [efficient] causes.

Of Mrs. Melrose Ape

For a winningly burlesque website on all things Aimee Semple McPherson, the original of Evelyn Waugh's parodic creation Mrs. Melrose Ape, click here. The original, by the bye, was Canadian-born ....

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On Cynicism

À propos our discussion in Monday's lecture on cynicism, here is Douglas Coupland:

"I am the most uncynical person on Earth," he says, earnestly. "I'm ironic. I admit that. I'm Joe Irony. But people confuse irony with cynicism, which is like battery acid. It just wrecks everything."

Final Essay

The Final Paper -- three thousand five hundred words due April 6th in the Instructor's Department mailbox -- is open topic. You have every encouragement to exercise your creativity in the choice of topic, which will be directly responsive to course themes, ideas or lecture information and will engage any two course texts in manner which advances academic understanding of the material and its historical and in intellectual context.

Imagism & Vorticism (& Fascism)

Here are the links I mentioned in lecture: of Imagism, and a scan of the Blast vanity publications of 1914-15.
Let me repeat that I entirely reprudiate, deplore & deprecate the loathesome and inexcusible anti-Semitism of Ezra Pound that so evidently animated the Blast tract.

Nature of Modernism

There is a certain uncertainty about the nature of the concept of modernism: the dominant literary mode of 'Twentieth Century British Literature to 194. We have explored its nature as the course has progressed, but you may additionally want to read this engagement with the issue of modernism & personal identity, especially important in Woolf and Madox Ford, from a Marxist angle: especially the key passage quoted here.

Modernism is a term used to lump together an enormous body of artistic work in all forms--poetry, cinema, painting, architecture--that was produced roughly between the 1890s and the mid 20th century. General definitions are difficult, but modernist work tends to be formally experimental and highly self conscious--think of the Cubist paintings of Picasso or the 'flow of consciousness' of James Joyce's novels. Gareth Jenkins is right to emphasise dislocation and fragmentation as characteristics of modernism. The 'high period' of modernism from 1900-1930 was of course a time of unmatched upheaval, in which the promises of the bourgeois revolution were finally shattered by war, slump and workers' revolt. The accelerating development of technology and the penetration of mass production techniques into every sphere of life added to a deep sense of uncertainty. In Perry Anderson's words, 'European modernism in the first years of this century thus flowered in the space between a still usable classical past, a still indeterminate technical present and a still unpredictable political future'.

It has been very tempting for Marxist criticism to glorify modernism given its origin in such a period of upheaval, and its--at least formal--rejection of the past. After the Russian Revolution the intellectuals of Proletkult argued for a rejection of all previous culture, claiming that modernist techniques were the basis for a brave new working class art. Such a simple minded response misses the contradictory nature of all modernism. Gareth is right to point out that modernist work often appears as a retreat from society. Its emphasis on dislocation and alienation could open the way to a kind of rampant subjectivity. His criticism of Virginia Woolf, for example, is telling: 'one cannot escape the feeling, beneath the richness of language, of artistic impoverishment which follows from impoverished grasp of social reality'.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Eveleyn Waugh's Prophecy

Adam Fenwyck-Symes, writing as "Mr. Chatterbox" creates a person -- Mrs. Andrew Quest -- in his column for the sole purpose of writing gossip about her. In 1930, when Waugh wrote Vile Bodies, this was high satire.
It is now real-life.
Sony pays $1.5m over fake critic.
A judge has finalised a settlement in which film studio Sony will pay $1.5m (£850,000) to film fans after using a fake critic to praise its movies. In 2001, ads for films including Hollow Man and A Knight's Tale quoted praise from a reviewer called David Manning, who was exposed as being invented.