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Posts Tagged ‘Bloomsbury’

Sara Blair’s “Local Modernity, Global Modernism”

In Arts & Letters, Britain, British Literature, Fiction, History, Humanities, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Novels, Writing on April 24, 2013 at 8:45 am

Allen Mendenhall

Sara Blair’s “Local Modernity, Global Modernism” describes the colorful landscape of the Bloomsbury district and proposes, among other things, that Bloomsbury the geographical space preceded Bloomsbury the movement; the site of Bloomsbury, reputedly “performative” or “kaleidoscopic,” provided the heterogeneous and cosmopolitan culture and influence necessary for the movement to flourish.

Blair admits that “[t]o insist that the sociality producing such definitive performances is itself located […] is not to resolve the question of the relations between literary modes and their geocultural contexts.” And yet she offers that such insistence “does help us think more imaginatively about how to frame such relations.” One might ask, then, what “imaginative” links could be made between the “modernist” attributes of Bloomsbury the place and, say, Virginia Woolf’s personal literary style.

“With rare exceptions, Woolf writes little about the texture of Bloomsbury […] spaces, institutions, and local histories,” submits Blair, adding that Woolf does in fact “richly register and exploit a larger fact of Bloomsbury already suggested in Black’s and Baedeker’s maps: its function not merely as a marginal space or a site of uneven alterities but simultaneously also as a lived form of […] the non-lieu, or non-place.” If the non-place is represented in Woolf’s work, and if the non-place is “a space of transition, anticipation, and fluid movement,” then we might view her novel Jacob’s Room as a series of transitional, liminal, or unfixed settings—as a sketchy composite of Jacob that is something like an impressionistic painting. This reading would be consistent with Blair’s idea that Bloomsbury functions “to organize psychic and social relations to other more immediately functional spaces.” If one were to read Jacob’s Room as a sequence of kaleidoscopic settings or spaces, organized chronologically but never quite fixed in place and time, then one might see something of the dislocating characteristics of Bloomsbury the place throughout the novel. It is in this context that one can claim Woolf’s style as itself a signifier of “Bloomsbury.” As Blair puts it, “Woolf’s own evocative narratology […] can be read as a response to both the ambient facts of Bloomsbury’s heterogeneity and its status as a non-place alike.”

Can we link the dreamlike fluidity of Jacob’s Room with the distinct fluidity of Bloomsbury culture as described by Blair. Should we even try? Blair seems to believe that we not only can, but should: “While a more systematic reading of the relations between Bloomsbury as a site of social experience and cultural generation and the work of ‘Bloomsbury,’ particularly Woolf’s, is called for, it remains beyond my scope here.” A good challenge for students is to consider how they can expand Blair’s scope and to debate whether they would be “overreading” Jacob’s Room (or any novel by Woolf and the Bloomsbury crowd) by trying to locate it in the larger modernist context of “Bloomsbury” (both the space and the movement).

See Sara Blair, “Local Modernity, Global Modernism.” ELH, Vol. 71, No. 3 (Fall 2004), pp. 813-838.


Henry Hazlitt, Literary Critic

In American History, Arts & Letters, Austrian Economics, Book Reviews, Creative Writing, Creativity, Economics, Essays, Ethics, Fiction, History, Humane Economy, Humanities, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Philosophy, Politics, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy, Writing on March 20, 2012 at 9:05 am

Allen Mendenhall

The following appeared here at Prometheus Unbound and here at

Remembered mostly for his contributions to economics, including his pithy and still-timely classic Economics in One Lesson (1946), Henry Hazlitt was a man who wore many hats. He was a public intellectual and the author or editor of some 28 books, one of which was a novel, The Great Idea (1961) — published in Britain and later republished in the United States as Time Will Run Back (1966) — and another of which, The Anatomy of Criticism (1933), was a trialogue on literary criticism. (Hazlitt’s book came out 24 years before Northrop Frye published a book of criticism under the same title.) Great-great-grandnephew to British essayist William Hazlitt, the boy Henry wanted to become like the eminent pragmatist and philosopher-psychologist William James, who was known for his charming turns of phrase and literary sparkle. Relative poverty would prevent Hazlitt’s becoming the next James. But the man Hazlitt forged his own path, one that established his reputation as an influential man of letters.

In part because of his longstanding support for free-market economics, scholars of literature have overlooked Hazlitt’s literary criticism; and Austrian economists — perhaps for lack of interest, perhaps for other reasons — have done little to restore Hazlitt’s place among the pantheon of 20th century literary critics. Yet Hazlitt deserves that honor.

He may not have been a Viktor Shklovsky, Roman Jakobson, Cleanth Brooks, William K. Wimsatt, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Lionel Trilling, Dwight Macdonald, or Kenneth Burke, but Hazlitt’s criticism is valuable in negative terms: he offers a corrective to much that is wrong with literary criticism, both then and now. His positive contributions to literary criticism seem slight when compared to those of the figures named in the previous sentence. But Hazlitt is striking in his ability to anticipate problems with contemporary criticism, especially the tendency to judge authors by their identity. Hazlitt’s contributions to literary criticism were not many, but they were entertaining and erudite, rivaling as they did the literary fashions of the day and packing as much material into a few works as other critics packed into their entire oeuvres. Read the rest of this entry »

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