English 190

Research Seminar: 1922: Modernism's Year 1


Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
5 Fall 2022 Blanton, C. D.
MW 2-3:30 Wheeler 337

Description

At the end of October 1921 (on his own birthday), writing in the small avant-garde magazine The Little Review, Ezra Pound declared a new calendar, celebrating the dawn of a new ‘Year 1’. This new calendar, he suggested, would be dated ‘p.s.U’, post scriptem Ulysses, from the completion of a work that had been appearing in serial form for several months, James Joyce’s Ulysses. In February 1922, Ulysses would be published in Paris, by Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare & Co., a book-shop on the Left Bank (on Joyce’s birthday). That event a century ago has stood as a landmark ever since, the most visible sign of a cultural annus mirabilis

This course is about that year. But instead of reading Ulysses (students interested in doing so are directed to the parallel seminar being taught by Professor Catherine Flynn), we will attend to everything else that was happening in 1922, or at least as much of it as can be reasonably managed.

This includes some of the decisive events that would shape the interwar era. In January, the ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty triggered a civil war and laid the groundwork for what would become the Irish Free State. In February, Egypt claimed limited autonomy from the British Empire as well, but in March, Mohandas Gandhi was imprisoned for sedition in India.

In April, Joseph Stalin became the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party’s Central Committee; in December, Russia joined with Ukraine, Belarus, and several other republics to form the USSR (while Lenin wrote a will and urged that Stalin be removed from his post). Also in April, the Soviet government reached an agreement with the German Weimar Republic, in the Treaty of Rapallo, to renormalize diplomatic and economic relations. In June, Walter Rathenau, the German Foreign Minister who negotiated the agreement, was assasinated in Berlin by early fascist paramilitaries (a year later, associated groups would stage a failed putsch in Munich). In October, the Italian Fascist Party led the March on Rome and installed Benito Mussolini as prime minister.

Also in October, T. S. Eliot published The Waste Land, in the first number of a new review he called The Criterion. A month later, the British Broadcasting Corporation went on the air, Howard Carter opened the Tomb of Tutankhamen in Egypt, the Ottoman Empire was abolished, the Labour Party eclipsed the Liberal Party as the chief opposition in the British Parliament, and Marcel Proust died in Paris. Virginia Woolf published Jacob’s Room, her first novel in an incipiently experimental style, at the Hogarth Press. Ludwig Wittgenstein published the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, and Bronislaw Malinowski published Argonauts of the Western Pacific.

Elsewhere, Gertrude Stein collected a series of her experimental writings as Geography and Plays. Jean Cocteau debuted a ‘contraction’ of Antigone, with sets designed by Pablo Picasso and starring Antonin Artaud. Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky joined the Bauhaus and its first full exhibition, where the remnants of Dada staged its funeral (before joining André Breton and Francis Picabia to formulate what would soon become Surrealism). Franz Kafka began The Castle, a book he would not finish. Pound himself moved to Italy and wrote the Malatesta Cantos; W. B. Yeats took a seat in the Irish Senate. Le Corbusier published a series of magazine articles that would lay the groundwork for the International Style. Arnold Schoenberg completed his ‘Suite for Piano’ (op. 25), the first piece composed entirely according to a serial system of twelve tones; his student Alban Berg completed Wozzeck, the first opera composed according to the same principle. F. W. Murnau released Nosferatu, Fritz Lang released Dr. Mabuse, Buster Keaton released Cops, and Robert J. Flaherty released Nanook of the North; meanwhile, Dziga Vertov developed a theory of ‘film-truth’ (Kino-Pravda) and Sergei Eisenstein formulated a theory of montage.

And so on. One could go on and still leave much out. We will not manage to account for all of it, nor will we try. But we will explore as much of it as we can: poetry, fiction, theater, painting, design, music, performance, architecture, film, philosophy, and more. That exploration will culminate in a final research project, in which students are encouraged to discover their own ways into modernism’s Year 1.

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