chapter  2
18 Pages

The Age of Anxiety and Influence; or, Tradition and the Thirties Talents

Two large focuses or frames of analysis confront us in any approach now to thirties writing. The first is literary-historical, and involves a sort of traditional knee-jerk division between modernism and the thirties. This is the crude bit of historicising which defines the Thirties as an Age of Utter Reason, a period only of Political Art, of Documentary deviationism, a time of sad Realist cravings, of rampant anti-Formalism, anti-Textualism, and so a sort of unfortunate historical blip or bypass on which Writing got snagged and slowed down in the good long march of the twentieth century from modernism at the beginning to postmodernism at the end. This view sees the thirties as a very unfortunate, even inexplicable, parenthesis, and one which we can now, especially since the fall of Eastern European Communism and all that, simply overlook as a species of shortsightedness, a deviant moment in a larger textualising progress, involving crude ideological preferences which history has not sustained and literary-critical category errors we can only wonder at our immediate literary and critical fathers for indulging themselves in. This is a reading of literary history greatly ministered to by seeing the thirties as thoroughly Leftist and so extremely, even absolutely, hostile to the modernism that flourished before it and continued despite it. And, of course, vice versa.