12 Pages


There is a two-thousand-year old philosophical problem, to be found in the Euphythro,3 where Socrates discusses whether an action becomes right because the gods admire it or if the gods only admire actions that are already right. Exactly the same dilemma affects the formation of high modernism.4 Its makers, the ‘Men of 1914’ (Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, T. S. Eliot and James Joyce),5 created a modernist manifesto set against the Romantic and the feminine tradition of writing. They believed in hard, emotionless and impersonal masculinist literature and devalued writing that indulged in expressions of the unconscious and the subjective experience. Despite the fact that these modernists were often keen to help female writers, such help, as the case of Ezra Pound’s editing of H. D.’s (Hilda Doolitle’s) poetry illustrates, enforced their own principles of writing on a female literary practice. This was frequently achieved at the cost of suppressing what was most distinctive about female writing. Were the ‘Men of 1914’ justifi ed in imposing their masculinist practices of writing, because such practices were superior to the feminine in literature? Or did such practices come to be understood as superior only because their advocates propagated them as the only way to create high art? And was it therefore wrong of the ‘Men of 1914’ to devalue the female literary practice as inferior?