Modernist Non-Events: Disappearing Modernisms in New York and Singapore

Author:David Kellogg Time:2020-07-06 Click:

Abstract: A 1942 meeting of T.S. Eliot in a BBC recording studio with George Orwell, alongside several Caribbean and British Indian writers of color, suggests a multicultural vision of high modernism that never quite happened. The exemplary modernism of Eliot’s The Waste Land prompted a number of imitations, extensions, and experiments, only some of which made it into subsequent literary history. This paper concerns two modernist non-happenings, Epistle to Prometheus by Babette Deutsch and F.M.S.R. by Francis P. Ng. Epistle to Prometheus, a book-length poem combining Eliotic modernist ambition and broadly left politics, was suppressed by the author almost immediately after publication for reasons that remain obscure. F.M.S.R., a long poem in the Eliot tradition addressing a train journey between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, was completely lost until recently discovered and the author (Teo Poh Leng) identified. The diversity of approaches in these poems shows how, in the postwar years, modernism was retroactively unified, and how many approaches, including some taking Eliot’s influences in unusual directions, have been lost to history.

Keywords: modernism, Singapore, Babette Deutsch, Francis P. Ng, T.S. Eliot, minor literature


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