Literature

"Reading" Gephi

I think that Gephi actually made it a bit more difficult to “read” the Little Review, but that’s probably because I don’t fully understand everything that the program can do and/or how to do it. It was helpful, though, to see how everything was connected because it wasn’t so obvious at first how they were, just reading it page by page. Something else that was really helpful/interesting was to see how you could isolate one of the nodes and it showed you what else was connected to that one, so you could see how one theme or author was represented throughout the magazine. I think it would be really cool if you could click on a node and see the actual journal page, kind of a mixture of the Modernist Journals Project and Gephi, and then all of the pages of the nodes that are linked to that one; that would allow you to “read” it through the graph, and to actually read it. Plus, it would make the issue’s themes easily searchable. (I tried to add screenshots, but they were not working for me.)

 

American Literature & Socialism in The Masses (vol.1 no. 7 July 1911)

 

For this assignment, I chose to examine how three pieces in The Masses no. 7 contribute to a discourse on the role of literature in the socialist movement in America.  Horatio Winslow’s opening editorial, “What Everybody Knows,” elucidates a conflicting conception of literature in the expressed mistrust of printed text and, contradictorily, the imperative function of literature to the socialist movement.  Introducing the letters received from readers, Winslow explains that they “did not come in response to an appeal. … They were not made up in the office” (2, emphasis his).  Winslow expresses here a felt imperative to qualify what will follow as genuine, unsolicited praise for The Masses. By foregrounding the letters in this manner, Winslow makes clear an underlying mistrust of printed text, as it is prone to falsification or modification prior to being received by the reader.  However, this suspicion of print is almost immediately countered by his proclamation of the importance of literature to the socialist movement and his use of letters to promote The Masses.  Winslow continues by explaining that the magazine has been “built up by such men as Eugene Wood, George Allan England, Arthur Young, Chas. Winter and others just as well known” (2).  In spite of his previously expressed mistrust of printed text, Winslow conceives of the artistic and literary elements present within the magazine as the primary feature of the magazine.  By namedropping these writers, he also assumes a level of literary competency in his readership, as they would need to be familiar with literary figures in order to comprehend the references.  As the opening of the magazine, this editorial highlights a contradictory sentiment towards literature in its expressed need to qualify printed text alongside the appeal to an understanding of literary figures and the notion that the work of these writers and authors will “convert more people” (2, emphasis his).

Contributing to this expressed imperative function of literature as propaganda, Emanuel Julius’s “Roadtown: A Glimpse of the Future” also speaks to the role of literature in the growth of socialism in America, but adds a layer of complexity to its function.  Having described Edgar Chambless’s plan for a utopian city, Julius explains that – because of the time saved through conveniences of Roadtown – “families [will] adjourn to the library or music room” (6).  Depicted in this manner, reading and/or literature can potentially serve two functions in Roadtown.  As the family is coming together in the library, literature could potentially be seen here as serving an educational and propagandistic purpose – as the adults would instill the virtues of living in Roadtown in both their children and themselves during this time.  This function aligns itself with the sentiments in Winslow’s “What Everybody Knows” by conceiving of literature as serving a wholly utilitarian function in the promotion of socialism.  However, given the utopian description of Roadtown and the ability of “a few men with the aid of machinery [to] do the work which now occupies half a hundred mothers,” this enjoyment of literature in the family library could be a leisure activity (6).  By potentially endorsing literature as a leisure activity, Julius complicates the function of literature/printed text, because it can be seen here as existing solely for itself, art for art’s sake.  Further, given the idyllic description of the rural mingling with the urban in Roadtown, this latter function could be seen as the ideal role of art in the socialist setting.  In calling forth these two oppositional functions of literature, Julius further complicates the portrayal of literature’s role in this issue of The Masses.

From this establishment of oppositions in how literature could function in the early articles, Vera Lynn’s “Fear” can be read as a reconciliation of these conflicts by depicting the function of literature at the moment of this issue's publication.  The brief fictive sketch depicts a boy “brought up on a farm…[that] longed for a friend…[in] the Terrible City” (16).  Lynn’s short piece clearly provides an allegory for the present alienating experience of capitalism and calls for a change.  The title of its section, "The Color of Life," further elucidates its function as a naturalist depiction of the present moment.  In bringing up the disparate experiences of the rural and the urban, Lynn’s “Fear” refers back to “Roadtown: A Glimpse of the Future” and explicates the disparity between the present conditions and the utopian view of a socialist civilization depicted therein.  Although Julius brings up a non-propagandistic function of literature, “Fear” contributes to the broader discourse on the function of literature by explicating the imperative to serve a solely propagandistic function at the present moment of the issue’s publication.

The Unheard (?) Herald

In the January 5, 1911 edition of The New Age, an article appears  on page 223 called “The New Laocoon”, edited  by G.F. Abbott.  The article begins with a discussion on Western art between the narrator, Mrs. De Bore-Smith, and Professor M. Stephan Snobowitch. As might be expected from their names, the author’s companions had very definite, and very critical, opinions on the subject. The image created from these two critics is hardly an endorsement of the British art scene, and the language of criticism in general. Snobowitch says that Europe needs, “…a lawgiver to do for the twentieth century what Lessing did for the eighteenth - to review the accepted rules of aesthetic right and wrong, to revise them by the  light of the latest experiences, to reject the obsolete, to recast the permanent, and to codify the whole into a fresh Canon  of the Beautiful.”  This argument extends the idea of a literary canon to a ridiculous extreme. The proposition here being that all of European art should conform to one set of ideas seems to be a parody of the British method of criticism,  tying together and comparing disparate works in order to constantly revise an established canon.
    The narrator then declares himself to be this new “lawmaker”, seeing his main qualification to be that he has no background in art, and therefore has no personal bias. Of course, this again  would be a jab at the type of unqualified criticism a Mrs. De Bore-Smith would present. The narrator then discusses the importance of embracing Eastern forms of art as inspiration because they are not limited by the bounds of realism. Of course,  this idealization of the “backwards” nature of the cultures of an entire continent is another subject entirely. The idea of rupturing from reality in order for art to, “improve Nature…by idealizing the real to realize the ideal” is one that becomes a core concept of modernism. While the writer would have us believe he is unquaified, he clearly presents an artistic idea more relevant than those of his art patron companions.

Bibliographic coding in Dana

Instances of bibliographic coding in Dana #8 (from December 1904):  a sequence of two articles and a poem, which together develop a strong sense of the magazine's own principles and aims.  The first article, "In Praise of the Gaelic League" by Stephen Gwynn, addresses criticisms raised by a "Mr. Ryan" against the League, which was conceived in an effort to preserve the use of the Gaelic language in Ireland.  Following this article is the first half of a short biography of Jane Austen (the second half was published in the following issue), which not only relates details of  Austen's life, but also praises the bucolic character of her novels as they were informed by her own happy distance from "the grim misfeature of the England of collieries and factories" (Dana 8, 251).  Finally, appearing on the last page of this article is a poem by Seumas O'Sullivan, "In the City."  O'Sullivan views the city as a display of the fallen state of humanity, a kind of anti-Eden, where what is natural and good is stifled within its streets, among the "rows of stinking fish and vegetables" (251).  The publication of these three works in sequence supports, in diverse and nuanced ways, Dana's overall interest in questions of Irish culture: Irish culture vs. the presence of England/English in Ireland, the primitive vs. progress, industrialization vs. progress, the country and the city, Edenic nature vs. toxic urbanity.  What first drew me to these pieces together was the inclusion of Austen's biography, nearly a century after her death.  Certainly, such biographies are a dime a dozen and concrete details about Austen's life at this point appear finite: there is very little left to uncover.  However, examining the writing which appears before and after the biography gives clues as to the significance and relevance of Austen's work to the editors of Dana.  By placing her stories firmly at a distance from the dramas of the city and world politics, Austen appeals to the longing for a return to innocence, to a more simple though not simplistic way of life, something purer, unmarred by the corrosive realities of London.  O'Sullivan's poem, in its indictment of the city immediately following, supports the presence of this longing in the pages of Dana itself.  Together, these two pieces provide an interesting context for the article supporting the Gaelic League, which may not necessarily reject English influence on Irish culture, but does seek to preserve a more "natural" Irish character in a time of English/imperial influence.