James Clifford tells us that modernism has become a “traveling culture” because it reflects the “discrepant cosmopolitanism” of the twentieth century — that is, a world in which people are paradoxically migratory yet rooted, international yet local. Perhaps modernism has traveled so well because it has been transformed by its journey; this is the suggestion Charles Pollard makes in New World Modernisms, a fascinating first step in mapping the migration of modernism.
Pollard looks to recent Caribbean poetry as a means of reassessing modernism’s cosmopolitanism; in particular, his book redefines the cosmopolitan influence of T. S. Eliot’s modernism by examining how his ideas have been transformed by the two leading Anglophone Caribbean poets, Derek Walcott and Kamau Brathwaite. Pollard concentrates on three of Eliot’s modernist principles: tradition, poetry’s relation to speech, and poetry’s social function. He then traces Walcott and Brathwaite’s transformations of these ideas in their use of diverse cultural fragments to construct alternative Caribbean traditions, in their revitalization of poetic language with the rhythms and diction of Caribbean speech, and in their rearticulation of the poet’s public role in a Caribbean context.
By examining these formative postcolonial expressions of modernism, Pollard challenges the prevailing critical approach that sets postcolonialism in opposition to modernism, an approach that assumes that a modernist aesthetic necessarily advances a colonial ideology.
New World Modernisms reinvigorates Eliot scholarship by tracing his international influence while providing the most comprehensive evaluation to date of the complementary contributions of Walcott and Brathwaite to the development of a New World modernist aesthetic.
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