Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Being Against Innovation, I was very interested in Jed Rasula's article in the most recent M/m, which showed up on my porch the other day.

One of the best things about articles in your field is that they draw your attention to passages that you've either never seen or never paid much attention to.

The course I'm currently teaching is partly on modernism's fascination with childhood, so this section stood out:
William Carlos Williams observed, with obstetric care, the inaugural moment:
They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter
Williams's medical expertise lends particular weight to his observational acuity, with the implied corollary that any historical nativity must also encounter its new world as cold naked fact: disarming, "the stark dignity of/ entrance." Hugo Ball experienced a comparable reverence for the surprising turn of events at Cabaret Voltaire in 1916: "There is a gnostic sect whose initiates were so stunned by the image of the childhood of Jesus," he wrote in his diary, "that they lay down in a cradle and let themselves be suckled by women and swaddled. The dadaists are similar babes-in-arms of a new age." [...] A cautionary respect for the paroxysmal delivery of a new order--exemplified by Williams and Ball--should be borne in mind when reviewing that euphoric insistence, make it new, in any of its prodigious versions.

So, first of all, say what? They "let themselves be suckled by women." The agents in that sentence are the women, as if women just went around trying to "suckle" everything in sight, as if grown people could passively "let themselves be suckled" by various and sundry women (who??) without making any kind of effort to get this to happen. Thank you, Jed Rasula, for bringing that truly bizarre quotation to my attention.

Second, yes, that's some "obstetric care" indeed! We say, equally, that a doctor delivers babies and that a mother delivers babies. Who's delivering this baby, baby modernism, baby makeitnew? Women are curiously absent from this scene of birth.

Rasula, Jed. "Make It New." Modernism/modernity 17. 4 (November 2010) 713-733. Web. Project Muse. 2 March 2011.

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