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History of a ShiverThe Sublime Impudence of Modernism$
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Jed Rasula

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780199396290

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199396290.001.0001

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Drawing a Blank

Drawing a Blank

Symbolist Retraction

Chapter:
(p.115) 4 Drawing a Blank
Source:
History of a Shiver
Author(s):

Jed Rasula

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199396290.003.0005

Symbolism was initially understood (in Edmund Wilson’s influential 1931 book Axel’s Castle) as the precondition and charter of modernism. That perspective, having long languished, is revisited here in a broad survey of symbolism in art, theater, and literature. Across media and genres we find common themes: empty interiors, eyes closed in concentrated inwardness, and postures of renunciation or distancing from worldly concerns. The basic contention is that beneath the smokescreen of decadence and other fin de siècle maladies with which it is often associated, symbolism may be best understood as a preparatory clearing of the ground, making way for modernism by means of its pragmatic and idealizing gestures of returning art to the basics, however conceived.

Keywords:   Edmund Wilson, symbolism, art, theater, music

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