In The Ecology of Modernism, Joshua Schuster examines the relationships of key modernist writers, poets, and musicians to nature, industrial development, and pollution. He posits that the curious failure of modernist poets to develop an environmental ethic was a deliberate choice and not an inadvertent omission.

9780817358297In his opening passage, Schuster boldly invokes lines from Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” which echo as a paean to pollution: “Burn high your fires, foundry chimneys! cast black shadows at nightfall!” Schuster labels this theme “regeneration through pollution” and demonstrates how this motif recurs in modernist compositions. This tolerance for, if not actual exultation of, the by-products of industrialization hindered modernist American artists, writers, and musicians from embracing environmentalist agendas.

Schuster provides specific case studies focusing on Marianne Moore and her connection of fables with animal rights; Gertrude Stein and concepts of nature in her avant-garde poetics; early blues music and poetry and the issue of how environmental disasters (floods, droughts, pestilence) affected black farmers and artists in the American South; and John Cage, who extends the modernist avant-garde project formally but critiques it at the same time for failing to engage with ecology. A fascinating afterword about the role of oil in modernist literary production rounds out this work.

Schuster masterfully shines a light on the modernist interval between the writings of bucolic and nature-extolling Romantics and the emergence of a self-conscious green movement in the 1960s. This rewarding work shows that the reticence of modernist poets in the face of resource depletion, pollution, animal rights, and other ecological traumas is highly significant.

Joshua Schuster is an assistant professor of English at the University of Western Ontario.

Charles Bernstein and Hank Lazer, series editors

“This is an exhilarating manuscript, bursting at the seams with insights and pregnant formulations. The subject matter may be chastening, but the perspectives applied are consistently stimulating.”
—Jed Rasula, author of Syncopations: The Stress of Innovation in Contemporary American Poetry and This Compost: Ecological Imperatives in American Poetry

“This is a first-rate study that moves boldly between high and low, between poetry and music, and in doing so revitalizes our sense of modernism’s complexity and achievements.”
—Brian M. Reed, author of Hart Crane: After His Lights and Phenomenal Reading: Essays on Modern and Contemporary Poetics

Short Paper
6 X 9, 232 pp
ISBN: 978-0-8173-5829-7 Paper
ISBN: 978-0-8173-8853-9 Ebook
Price: $39.95

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and reference discount offer “MODERNISM.”