Modernism, Empire, World Literature
By Joe Cleary
After World War I, American, Irish and then Caribbean writers boldly remade the world literary system long dominated by Paris and London. Responding to literary renaissances and social upheavals in their own countries and to the decline of war-devastated Europe, émigré and domestic-based writers produced dazzling new works that challenged London's or Paris's authority to ﬁx and determine literary value. In so doing, they propounded new conceptions of aesthetic accomplishment that were later codiﬁed as 'modernism'. However, after World War II, an assertive American literary establishment repurposed literary modernism to boost the cultural prestige of the United States in the Cold War and to contest Soviet conceptions of 'world literature'. Here, in accomplished readings of major works and essays by Henry James, Ezra Pound, W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Eugene O'Neill and Derek Walcott, Joe Cleary situates Anglophone modernism in terms of the rise and fall of European and American empires, changing world literary systems, and disputed histories of 'world literature'.