The Degenerate Muse: American Nature, Modernist Poetry, and the Problem of Cultural Hygiene

Hardcover | September 13, 2013

byRobin G. Schulze

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This book offers an important reconsideration of the cultural impulses that drove American literary modernism. America's modernist poets came of age in a nation struggling to redefine its relationship with poetry and with nature. In the early twentieth century, Darwinian science dictated thatas countries became more civilized, as their citizens dwelt increasingly in the realms of artifice they created, they ceased to engage in the invigorating struggles against nature that kept them fit. Civilization led to the medical condition known as degeneration, the morbid deviation of men from anidentifiable "normal type." Eager to save America from the fate of a degenerate Europe, Progressive Era reformers prescribed the invigorating contact with American nature as a means to keep the American race clean and healthy. In order for nature to serve as an antidote for degeneration, however, it needed to remain a realm ofhard facts and unremitting forces, a delusion-free place free of art that cleansed the mind rather than clouded it. Drawing on a wide range of primary and archival sources, this book argues that the widespread American turn back to nature in the early twentieth century had profound consequences for America's modernist poets. Like other Americans of their day, Harriet Monroe, Ezra Pound, and Marianne Moore heededthe widespread American call to head back to nature for the sake of the nation's health, but they faced a difficult challenge. Turning to American nature as a means to combat the threat of American degeneration in their literary work, they needed to create a form of American poetry that would be acure for degeneration rather than a cause. My work reveals the ways in which Monroe's, Pound's, and Moore's struggles to create and publish poems that could resist degeneration by keeping faith with American nature influenced ideas about what American poetry should be and do in the twentiethcentury.

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This book offers an important reconsideration of the cultural impulses that drove American literary modernism. America's modernist poets came of age in a nation struggling to redefine its relationship with poetry and with nature. In the early twentieth century, Darwinian science dictated thatas countries became more civilized, as their...

Robin Schulze is Professor of English at the University of Delaware. Her specialties include Modernist American Poetry, Textual Scholarship and Editorial Theory, and Modernist Literature and Culture. She is the author of The Web of Friendship: Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens (1995), and the editor of Becoming Marianne Moore: The ...

other books by Robin G. Schulze

Format:HardcoverDimensions:312 pages, 9.25 × 6.12 × 0.98 inPublished:September 13, 2013Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:019992032X

ISBN - 13:9780199920327

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Toward a Modern Nature1. Nature Study, Degeneration, and the Problem of Poetry2. Harriet Monroe's Pioneer Modernism3. Ezra Pound and the Poetics of Hygiene4. Marianne Moore, Degeneration, and Domestication5. Marianne Moore, Nature, and National HealthConclusionBibliography