"Hope" and "modernism" are two words that are not commonly linked. Moving from much-discussed negative affects to positive forms of feeling, Hope and Aesthetic Utility in Modernist Literature argues that they should be. This book contends that much of modernist writing and thought reveals a deeply held confidence about the future, one premised on the social power of art itself. In chapters ranging across a diverse array of canonical writers – Henry James, D.W. Griffith, H.D., Melvin Tolson, and Samuel Beckett – this text locates in their works an optimism linked by a common faith in the necessity of artistic practice for cultural survival. In this way, the famously self-attentive nature of modernism becomes a means, for its central thinkers and artists, of reflecting on what DeJong calls aesthetic utility: the unpredictable, ungovernable capacity of the work of art to shape the future even while envisioning it.
Introduction: The Contexts of Modernist Hope
Chapter One: The Image in the Mirror: Aesthetic Utility in Late James
Chapter Two: Screened Anxieties: Hope and Fear in D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation
Chapter Three: Unpredictable Texts: H.D.’s Grammar of Creation
Chapter Four: Recovering Democracy: Unfashionable Hope in Melvin B. Tolson’s Libretto for the Republic of Liberia
Chapter Five: Refusing Silence: Art as Deferment in Waiting for Godot and Endgame
Coda: Legacies of Modernist Hope: Poetic Unknowing and the Call to Wonder