The Living Moment: Modernism in a Broken World

Jeffrey Hart, Author
Jeffrey Hart. Northwestern Univ., $18.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-8101-2821-7
Reviewed on: 07/30/2012
Release date: 08/01/2012
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In an enthusiastic appraisal of modernist literature, literary theorist and political essayist Hart (Acts of Recovery: Essays on Culture and Politics) celebrates Frost, Eliot, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and other heavyweights of the early 20th century, launching into a final accounting of Marilynne Robinson and Thomas Mann as later modernist masters. Interweaving close readings, elucidations of historical context, and the occasional personal anecdote, Hart creates something akin to an impassioned undergraduate lecture, encouraging readers toward a "reinvigorated humanism" in tones that convey both sincere ardor for the modernists and a pedantic expectations of his audience. The worth of modernist literature as "an art of the saving remnant" that attempts to "explore the experience of living in a broken world" will be old hat to any reader with a passing knowledge of the selected poets and novelists, who are often put in occasionally enlightening conversation with one another. Likewise, the intense focus on the accepted Western canon ties the essays to a limited sense of literacy, criticism, and culture, even as some practical resonances are highlighted. While useful as an introduction to the core and lingering questions of modernism, the lauding of widely lauded classics rarely surprises or manages to extend the scope and understanding of an important moment that is still living. (Aug.)
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