Paradoxy of Modernism

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Robert Scholes

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A reconsideration of the all-too-neat assumptions we make about modernism in art and literature

In this lively, personal book, Robert Scholes intervenes in ongoing discussions about modernism in the arts during the crucial half-century from 1895 to 1945. While critics of and apologists for modernism have defined modern art and literature in terms of binary oppositions—high/low, old/new, hard/soft, poetry/rhetoric—Scholes contends that these distinctions are in fact confused and misleading. Such oppositions are instances of “paradoxy”—an apparent clarity that covers real confusion.

Closely examining specific literary texts, drawings, critical writings, and memoirs, Scholes seeks to complicate the neat polar oppositions attributed to modernism. He argues for the rehabilitation of works in the middle ground that have been trivialized in previous evaluations, and he fights orthodoxy with such paradoxes as “durable fluff,” “formulaic creativity,” and “iridescent mediocrity.” The book reconsiders major figures like James Joyce while underscoring the value of minor figures and addressing new attention to others rarely studied. It includes twenty-two illustrations of the artworks discussed. Filled with the observations of a personable and witty guide, this is a book that opens up for a reader’s delight the rich cultural terrain of modernism.

Robert Scholes is Research Professor of Modern Culture and Media, Brown University. He is the author of numerous books, including most recently The Crafty Reader and The Rise and Fall of English, both published by Yale University Press.

"Paradoxy of Modernism develops a powerful and persuasive new understanding of paradox and pleasure in modernist art and literature; it is a must-read for modernists."—James Phelan, editor of Narrative and author of Living to Tell About It

"If criticism must afford pleasure to readers if it is to endure (and I would agree with Scholes that it must), then Paradoxy of Modernism is one recent critical work whose survival is assured."—Alan Blackstock, Rocky Mountain Review

"In his prefatory remarks Scholes playfully indicated that Paradoxy of Modernism constituted a sort of descent into the underworld for unsuspecting readers. I, for one, appreciate the help of a master who can bring me out of the shadows of my muddled ignorance into the light of understanding. I highly recommend this impressive and indispensable book to those who wish to experience a similar process of enlightenment."—Dominic Manganiello, James Joyce Literary Supplement
ISBN: 9780300108200
Publication Date: March 11, 2006
320 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
22 b/w illus.
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