By Andras Gyorgy:
A scholar’s upside down pyramid scheme: Peter Gay’s Modernism
Throughout the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth, the bourgeoisie had few friends among the artists. In fact, the estrangement of writers, poets and playwrights from the moneyed class is a unique and defining feature of the period of startling artistic innovation to which “Modernism” has come to be attached as a period term.
A court poet of the seventeenth century like Andrew Marvell would speak well of court life and of the hosts who put him up for extended stays, while the Homer type would surely praise heroic warriors to an audience of heroic warriors and “would be” heroic warriors. By the late 1880s, the plutocrat who added to his store of wealth and reputation for supporting the arts did not expect a heroic depiction of his person, mansion or his garden, a specialty of seventeenth-century art.
On the contrary, there came between artists and the bourgeois class ugly reports in the arts rising from the Commune of 1871 and the Dreyfus affair, the First and Second World Wars, the Russian Revolution to which its leading avant-garde artists rallied, the Great Depression and the Spanish Civil War, all producing writing, music, drama, painting and architecture, if only to rebuild wrecked cities.
The list of Modernists who took sides in these world-historic conflicts would include—well, virtually everyone. It was a time when every person with a measure of human feeling, most especially artists, “the antennae of the race,” as Ezra Pound called them, felt revulsion at the ruling cliques and their representatives. “Did you do that?” asked the German officer visiting Picasso’s studio and pointing at “Guernica,” a powerful record of the Nazi atrocity. “No,” said Picasso, “you did.”
The reviewer Andras Gyorgy here does not mention which side Ezra Pound chose: the side of fascism. He does so only much later in the review, in a confused paragraph full of name-dropping which wrongly presumes that all the readers of the review have read at least ten biographies of Ezra Pound. That is a pity, as Gyorgy discusses interesting questions and much of his criticism of Peter Gay‘s book seems to be on target.
Art and money in Britain today: here.