Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hard Modernism

Some notes from Susan McCabe's Cinematic Modernism:

“Male poetic modernism can be seen as a reaction formation against hysteric effeminacy as well as the sensory saturation and excess of the Decadent aesthetics of the 1890s. Pound’s own brand of ambivalence to film stemmed in part from a linkage between the ephemeral art form and the feminine.”

“Pound explicitly configures creativity as “the phallus or spermatozoid charging head-on the female chaos.” To offer a less overt example, Eliot complains that Hamlet lacks an “objective correlative” and suffers from “the stuff that the writer could not drag to light.” This “stuff” is linked, as I later develop, to an anxiety over indeterminate sexuality.”

“These brief instances drawn from the two favorite sons of literary high modernism point towards a collapsing of “unknown content” with the fragmented, mutable, and feminized body. Based on the work of film and cultural theorists as well as the word “celluloid” (itself derived from the word for skin), cinema was associated with the body and the feminine. More specifically, the modern crisis in poetic and bodily representation escalated into a “masculinity crisis” or male hysteria...”

About Eisenstein’s montage: “These “montage pieces” coincide with the jerks, tics, and flaying of hysteric and automaton bodies.”

“Modern dissociation culminates precisely as mechanical reproduction foregrounds the split between mind and sensate body, a split often couched in an inherited dialogue between masculine and feminine, between “hard” form and diffuse matter, between conscious and unconscious impulses.”

About Eliot: “While he may fantasize about a “cooperation between acute sensation and acute thought,” he stresses that intellect must gain the upper hand over “sensibility” or evidence of “bodily content,” a desire that might be traced to his differentiation from the Decadent poetry of the previous generation.”

“... dissociation characterizes the male hysteric’s paradoxical attraction to and disavowal of the corporeal image.”

Like hysteria, melodrama and Expressionsist silent cinema: full of extravagant movements and gestures.


Blogger konrad said...

Well, "can be seen" is a bit of a hedge.

Does she say anything about Germaine Dulac? About Brakhage? (I mean he's not contemporary but owes and admits a great debt to Eisenstein and Vertov). How about Abigail Child?

I'm not just dropping names: these artists' work (as modernists) seem to run counter to the polemic you quoted. Are Pound and Eisenstein really straw men?

8:25 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


This is just some notes from a few pages of the book, but she does focus on literary modernists and how they work with the influence of the movies.

I think perhaps my quote about Eisenstein give you the wrong impression. He's not in the Pound/Eliot group in this essay.

Eisenstein's twitchiness is part of her argument that early cinema creates a kind of hysterical body of "indeterminate sexuality", which brings a lot of anxiety in various people but offers up new paths for others.

I also don't think Pound/Eliot are strawmen because she shows in great depth their participation in early cinema-aesthetics - in Imagism, Prufrock, Wasteland etc. It's just that my notes don't reflect that.

Abigail Child and Brakhage are of course from much later eras.


4:38 AM  

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