above: Tate, Engle, Ransom
A BRIEF LESSON IN FOETICS
Modern students of literature are well-trained to detect irony in texts.
Why, then, are students today clueless when it comes to irony in human behavior?
The ‘Fugitive’ cult of New Critics (Ransom, Brooks, Warren, Tate, et al) was both politically right-wing AND Modernism’s career-advancing wing in the United States.
Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, and Robert Penn Warren– “I’ll Take My Stand” (1930)–were Old South Agrarians and New Critics and Writing Program mavens who were closely tied to Pound & Eliot’s Modernist priesthood, by which poetry, as a ‘thing of beauty’ loved by the people—in the spirit of poets like Shakespeare, Poe, Shelley and Keats–was turned into a tool of academic power and abuse.
Let’s begin with the mid-19th century Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood—its very name betokens the cult-like modus operandi of Pound, Eliot and their followers, who abused, downplayed, or ignored whole eras of great art–the Renaissance and the Romantics and the Enlightenment–in the name of some tenuous idea of ‘modernity,’ which turned out to be a reflection of their own private sicknesses. This Brotherhood spawned Ford Madox Ford, a Pre-Raphaelite painter’s grandson, who worked in the U.K. Propaganda War office on behalf of Great Britain in the butchery known as World War One.
Ford, who changed his German name, met child of U.S. mint, Ezra Pound, right off the boat in London before World War I, and introduced Pound to rich, sordid circles of aristocratic privilege which bankrolled various elitist, cynical, crackpot art movements.
In the 30s, while Eliot was denouncing Jews at the U.VA., and Pound was settling comfortably into Mussolini’s Italy, Modernist Ford made his way to the Confederate flag-bedecked home of New Critic godfather, Allen Tate, in Tennessee, (where manic-depressive Robert Lowell soon dropped in as houseguest, dropping out of Harvard on the way to study with John Crowe Ransom at Kenyon.) It almost sounds like a Country Western song, doesn’t it?
What were these ‘good old boys’ trying to accomplish in terms of academics and literature, anyway?