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By E. Tonning

By theorising the assumption of 'formative tensions' among cultural Modernism and Christianity, and via in-depth case reports of James Joyce, David Jones, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden, Samuel Beckett, the publication argues that no coherent account of Modernism can forget about the continued impression of Christianity.

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However, Griffin’s move towards the ‘archetypal’ also conceals the cultural specificity of the whole idea that humanly constructed meanings really are mere ‘projections’ onto a primordial ‘abyss of meaninglessness’. On this point, Griffin is prone to quoting Modernist writers (such as Samuel Beckett (Griffin 2007: 75–6)) in support of the idea of a ‘primordial angst of the void’ (75), even as that idea is being invoked to explain the motivation behind their writings. 23 While Beckett will be the subject of Chapter 4 of this book, our immediate task must be to sketch the theological backdrop to Western nihilism and subjective anomie.

And what value do they themselves possess? Have they helped or hindered the progress of mankind? Are they a sign of indigence, of impoverishment, of the degeneration of life? Or do they rather reveal the plenitude, the strength, the will of life, its courage, confidence, and future? (Nietzsche 2008: 5) Whereas for Nietzsche, ‘good and bad’ is a distinction that derives from the self-assertion of the noble masters who could affirm their own positive qualities (power, superiority, refinement), ‘good and evil’ derives from ‘slave morality’, famously mocked in the following terms: The miserable alone are good; the poor, the powerless, the low alone are the good.

In an important article, Finn Fordham has shown that the so-called ‘modernist controversy’ within the Catholic Church was anything but a marginal phenomenon in the public sphere: Between 1907 and 1930 there were over 350 references to the term in The Times: ninety per cent of these refer to the theological context of modernism; the remainder feature in articles on architecture, music, or CATHOLIC MODERNISMS: JAMES JOYCE AND DAVID JONES literature. The word ‘modernism’ in this period could hardly be used without some echo of this other sense.

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