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Main page » Audiobooks » Literary Modernism: The Struggle for Modern History

Literary Modernism: The Struggle for Modern History


(8 lectures, 45 minutes/lecture)
Course No. 292

Taught by Jeffrey Perl
Bar-Ilan University
Ph.D., Princeton University

"It is no trick to like what you like. It is no trick to understand what you understand."

With that pronouncement, Professor Jeffrey Perl invites us to abandon our preconceptions and consider some of the most controversial authors of the 20th century: the Literary Modernists.

  • Who were the Literary Modernists?
  • How did the "Classical Modernism" of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and James Joyce differ from the "Neomodernism" represented by Gertrude Stein and William Carlos Williams?
  • What made them believe as they did? What did they have to say to us? What might they still have to say to us?
  • How were the political extremism and self-destructive choices so many of them made during the war years related to their writing and the personal demons that haunted them?

These lectures do not shrink from the challenges imposed by these questions, or by challenging the answers scholars have routinely accepted. Indeed, Professor Perl accepts them with relish.

Nor do the lectures shrink from the difficulties of Literary Modernism itself, which can only be appreciated within the wide-ranging context of the philosophy, literature, politics, and morality of its own time.

Two Opposing Schools and the Myths That Have Endured

Professor Perl neatly delineates the differences between the two opposing schools of Modernist thinking:

  • The "Classical Modernists" including Pound, Eliot, and Joyce
  • Their "Neomodernist" attackers, such as Stein and Williams.

Professor Perl debunks many myths about these two opposing schools, especially those that have grown around the politics of these authors.

In doing so, he helps us see our own cultural bias toward literature. And he allows us to look more clearly at the literary artists who have contributed to the definition of culture.

You’ll see Eliot, Joyce, Pound, Yeats, James, Lawrence, and others spring to life, with all their radical ideas, personal demons, and beliefs about art and morality.

Professor Perl explores the political extremism of so many of them, revealing their often destructive choices during World War II.

And though his arguments are often complex, the lectures are brilliantly organized and crystal clear.

A Gift for Cutting through Complexity

Time after time, Professor Perl sets foot into what might appear to be an impenetrable thicket of literary and philosophical complexity, bristling with conflicting ideas and leading us we know not where.

Yet he always emerges on the other side with each "i" dotted, every "t" crossed, and all implications dealt with, so that you are left with the certainty that you have understood every word of his argument, no matter how complex it might have appeared.

For example, Joyce’s monumental work Ulysses is one of the most notoriously intimidating novels ever written. But Professor Perl’s discussion leaves you with a new appreciation and understanding of what Joyce set out to do and how he accomplished it.

His discussion of Ezra Pound’s final interview, which came years after one of literature’s most famous voices had fallen silent, is equally insightful.

In fact, he believes it may well be the most telling moment in literary history.

"Words no good."

Pound—epic poet and once-accused Fascist collaborator—had been acquitted of capital treason on the grounds of insanity and institutionalized for a dozen years before returning to Italy.

He had agreed to the only interview he would ever give during this final period of his life. But he had remained mute, reacting to every question with persistent silence.

"Why aren’t you answering my questions?" asked the reporter from The New York Times.

"Words no good," answered Pound.

They were the only words the author of The Cantos and the last surviving Literary Modernist would utter during the entire interview.

But after listening to this course, you’ll understand why this single primitive sentence, lacking even a verb, perhaps carried as much import as any piece of writing ever produced by any member of this celebrated, debated, and oft-misunderstood literary movement.

A Course with Rewards Worthy of Its Demands

Professor Perl has crafted a course that is deep, complex, and demanding of your constant attention.

But if you care about literature and its relationship with the ideas and culture around it—and are willing to give this course the attention it deserves—it is also an uncommonly rewarding learning experience.

Because Professor Perl is able to draw on whatever intellectual discipline is necessary to make his point, his lectures remain completely accessible to those new to Modernism.

Yet they also probe deeply enough to satisfy the most dedicated readers of these giant figures who so shook the pillars of literature during the first half of the 20th century.

You’ll have a chance to see how Eliot’s dissatisfaction with philosophy’s ability to explain and shape the world he saw around him caused him to turn his back on his impending doctorate in philosophy.

Instead, he became a man of letters, abandoning what was perhaps one of the most promising philosophical careers of the century.

Hear Pound's War Propaganda

And you’ll come to a new understanding of Pound’s remarkable tragedy as you get a chance to listen to Professor Perl read some of the worst of the propaganda broadcasts Pound made from Italy into England—explaining, as well, why he did what he did.

This is a course rich in arch humor and populated by intensely dramatic figures. They were men and women whose deep-seated beliefs about culture, class, and the pain of real people could barely be contained on the printed page and often burst out into real life.

For those of you who have tried some of these writers and retreated—perhaps remembering traumatizing collegiate encounters with The Waste Land or Ulysses—Professor Perl’s opening invitation to set aside our preconceptions may be particularly pertinent and is well worth repeating:

"It is no trick to like what you like. It is no trick to understand what you understand."

It is quite a trick, though, to have you like and understand what you otherwise might not have. And it is something this course for thinkers accomplishes with seriousness and zest.

Course Lecture Titles

1. Introduction—Modernity and Modernism
2. Transition
3. Against Theory
4. Waste Lands
5. The Complete Consort
6. Modernist Theater
7. Apocalypse
8. Postwar, Postmodern, Postculture




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Tags: Literary, Modernism, lectures, Professor, shrink, understand, Literary, University, trick, Jeffrey