As a term in the contemporary critical lexicon, popular modernism has the unusual distinction of being both suggestive and, until recently, unthinkable. It hints at a hidden or “soft” side of modernism, where work that is acceptable, accessible, and inoffensive might be accommodated, yet for the founders of the “old” modernist studies—from Edmund Wilson, Hugh Kenner, and Richard Ellmann to Malcolm Bradbury—such a side did not, could not, exist. As far as these critics were concerned, modernism was difficult, demanding, and refractory, or it was nothing at all. Surrendering to the lures of the popular was tantamount to sacrificing the core strengths that shook up the literary world. Popular modernism, then, had no place as a term in postwar critical discourse. In addition to this genetic or heritage-derived problem, there is the wider question concerning the popular itself and its definition....
Violent Minds: Modernism and the Criminal
Paul Sheehan is associate professor in the English Department at Macquarie University in Sydney. He is author of Modernism and the Aesthetics of Violence (2013) and has recently published essays on Marcel Proust, Michael Haneke, and literary relativity.
Paul Sheehan; Violent Minds: Modernism and the Criminal. Modern Language Quarterly 1 September 2020; 81 (3): 387–390. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-8351649
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