chapter  11
6 Pages



You’d never know it from the attitudes and theories of many modernist authors and later critics, but modernism takes an abiding interest in nature, human interdependencies with it, and even in its preservation: think of the odor of lilies in Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu; the walk on the beach in T. S. Eliot’s “Prufrock,” the gardens by the sea in H. D.’s poetry; the liminal, Celtic imagination that haunts Yeats’s poetry; the innumerable trees and rivers in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake; the birds, butterflies, and watery worlds encountered throughout Virginia Woolf’s novels, essays and stories; or the green world of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. We hear instead about urban modernity, scientific epistemologies, mechanical, technical, and experimental forms. First circulating in the 1870s, “ecology” derived from the Greek for “house” (oikos), and took on from the first a feminine association apparently foreign to modernism’s predominantly masculine values. Theoretical turns toward gender and materialist analysis, and a heightened concern for the environment in an era of global warming, however, warrant another look. I begin with early authorities who offered little prospect for a nature-friendly

form of modernism: theorizing provided for futurism and vorticism, including Ezra Pound’s insistence on modernist techne. In the androcentric modernist theory associated with “the men of 1914,” there is a further rationale that nature, because it is feminine, should be mastered. Lewis, credited with conceptualizing “the men of 1914,” shares with Hulme a preference for classicism over naturefriendly romanticism. Hulme’s metaphor for artistic control is a springy piece of steel that can be bent precisely by the artist’s fingers. The goal is “to bend the steel out of its own curve and into the exact curve which you want. Something different to what it would assume naturally” (Hulme 1986: 183-4). His process renounces nature in design: his favored texture, “dry hardness” in “Romanticism and Criticism” (1986: 48), suggests that the best organism is a dead one. Lewis structures gender and art on vertical, hierarchical planes. He assigns masculinity/art to surface articulation, and femininity/nature to the chaotic depths of being. Lewis’s Tarr groups “woman and the sexual sphere” with “jellyfish diffuseness” (Lewis 1926: 334) that is the antithesis of Hulme’s “dry hardness,” implying common origins in base, primordial ooze, where the feminine is contained; art must rise above. The proliferation of girders and gears, and bits of

metal bent to specification in “Timon of Athens” also relates to Hulme’s flexible steel template for art. Ecofeminists offer various starting points for masculine domination of nature, including the scientific revolution’s substitution of a mechanical for an organic metaphor for nature (Merchant 1979: xviii) and the rational tradition, dating back to the Greeks (Plumwood 2002). Lewis’s construction of gender allows him to designate as feminine homo-

sexual men like Marcel Proust and Lytton Strachey. Disapproving of Woolf’s essays, particularly as they relate to a “more masculine” James Joyce, Lewis ensconces Woolf as the presiding figure in an enfeebled feminine artistic realm: “an introverted matriarch, brooding over a subterraneous ‘stream of consciousness’—a feminine phenomenon after all” (Lewis 1934: 138). In “A Retrospect,” Pound intensifies the subjective aspect of imagism, centering more upon maker/ perceiver than the natural object, with his “Image” presenting “an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time” (“complex” read in the “technical sense employed by the newer psychologists”) (Pound 1986: 60). Pound resisted many of the recent versions of modernism, as he tried to bring

his version of modernism to The Freewoman and Poetry, and discouraged Amy Lowell’s influence on imagism. Consider Harriet Monroe’s investment in American landscapes, and cultivation of this interest in Poetry magazine, against Pound’s advice, and her urging of the Senate to prevent construction of the Hatch Hetchy reservoir, which devastated a scenic valley in Yosemite. Lowell’s correspondence with D. H. Lawrence reveals their mutual interest in flowers, which each brought to erotically expressive modernist forms, outside imagism’s mainstream. In her own version of imagism, H. D. makes a complex of natural materials,

emerging from a depressed, still condition, and developing their own energies, as when she takes the rose from the rock in “Garden.” This complex poem seems to require that the poet stir: that she break through stone and heat to produce the flower, the fruit of her art. Likewise, the waves and evergreen fir whirl together in “Oread” to produce exaltation in nature. Eurydice, pulled by Orpheus toward the flowers she has sorely missed, first loses them to his arrogance, then arrives at a better alternative in “the flowers of [her]self,” that both contrast and emerge from the black rocks of hell. She determines that hell must “open like a red rose/For the dead to pass” before she will be lost (Doolittle 1983: 55). H. D. moves from dialogue with nature and its gods to commanding the self to work with nature in a motivational form of art. Writing of “Hymen,” H. D.’s sister poet, Marianne Moore, ponders the masculine “tendency to match one’s intellectual and emotional vigor with the violence of nature” (Moore 1990: 352). She finds in “the absence of subterfuge, cowardice, and the ambition to dominate by brute force” in H. D.’s work “heroics which do not confuse transcendence with domination and which in their indestructibleness, are the core of tranquility and intellectual equilibrium” (Moore 1990: 352). H. D.’s case demonstrates the connection between nature and the dark places of psychology, heralded by Woolf as one of the major concerns of modernist writing. She works in collaboration with, rather than domination of, the natural world, partaking of its forces in a combination of ritualistic attending, resisting, and yielding. Had I time, I would go on

to consider the connections established in H. D.’s “Notes on Thought and Vision,” where she imagines non-traditional mind-body connections and immerses herself in a fluid world that is both embryonic and oceanic-a concept I shall return to. Modernist women writers reveal a different sense of the classical world, and of

the capacity of myth. Following Jane Harrison, H. D. and Woolf exemplarily pursue the classics into alternate scenarios. Harrison paves the way for ecofeminism’s focus upon original myths of earth-goddesses. Harrison interestingly adds to the modernist debates about classicism and romanticism because, as Marianna Torgovnick has argued, she offers a different kind of classicism, one well known in her day, but neglected in canonized accounts (Torgovnick 1990: 138-41). In Prologomena to a Study of Greek Religion, Harrison reaches back to early Greek tradition, and through archaeological artifacts, finds evidence of goddess (Great Mother) worship, matrilinity, and the predominance of rites over myths. While Apollo’s rational control was the classical norm for “the men of 1914,” Harrison, like Nietzsche, restores the companion values of Dionysus: ecstasy and proximity to nature. Originally the son or consort of the Great Mother, rather than the son of Zeus, Dionysus is a liminal figure, reaching back from masculine myths to earlier feminine rites, involved with natural objects and settings. Like these modernists, ecofeminists also achieve a different form for the classics through the concept of “Gaia,” a term derived from an early Greek earth mother, but extended into the holistic concept of the entire earth as a living organism. This too is present, though insufficiently acknowledged, in modernism. Challenged to identify the significance of Joyce’s Ulysses to modernist litera-

ture, T. S. Eliot turned to its androcentric mythic superstructure, which he argued paralleled modern life. Hélène Cixous’s “The Laugh of Medusa” and “Castration or Decapitation” were revolutionary texts, forever changing the way feminists viewed mythology, the subject, and Freudian family romance. French Feminism, as articulated by Cixous, Luce Irigaray, and Julia Kristeva, also took unabashed pleasure in the female body and the very liquid metaphors that had been eschewed by Lewis and other male modernists. Derrida’s metaphor of dissemination, and the rhizomatic forms privileged by Deleuze and Guittari, suggest that nature re-entered theory in the era of deconstruction, shared by French Feminism. Theory of écriture féminine and the semiotic invited more feminine readings of Joyce.1