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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.66, No.2, 415 ~ 421, 2020
Transcending the Quotidian
Qian Wang
Departing from recent critical studies of modernist urban writing, which tend to read representations of quotidian urban life from a socio-psychological perspective, Rong Ou et al.’s work reads modernist urban poetry from a fresh perspective in an ambitious intermedia, transcultural approach. Invoking Henry Lefebvre’s influential critique of quotidian life, this work argues that while urban everyday life is mundane, repetitive, it is also full of creative potential. Through aesthetic critique and transformation of quotidian urban life, Anglo-American modernist urban poetry provides a means to transcend the phantasmagoric unreality of capitalist modernity. The book traces the theoretical and aesthetic origin of a modernist urban poetics, which results from the confluence of Baudelairean urban poetics, English cultural and aesthetic critique of industrial civilization, and traditional Chinese philosophy, aesthetics and poetics. Using Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs Du Mal as a starting point, it teases out three important constituents of Anglo-American modernist urban writing: the figure of the flâneur, the German aesthetic concept Andersstreben, and the practice of ekphrasis. The remaining chapters focus respectively on these three aspects with case studies of an impressive range of canonical modernist urban poetry by poets including T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos William, John Betjemen, Langston Hughes, William Butler Yeats, Richard Aldington, Wallace Stevens, and Bernard Spencer. This work thoroughly historicizes its objects of analysis and offers new interpretations of canonical modernist poems. Its intermedia, transcultural approach and nuanced close reading is particularly commendable. Its provocative findings complicate and refresh our understanding of modernist urban poetry.
Key Words
modernist poetry, urban literature, flâneur, ekphrasis, Andersstreben
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