Hart Crane’s Queer Modernist Aesthetic by Niall Munro (auth.)

By Niall Munro (auth.)

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By examining the juvenilia seriously, a number of important concerns can be discerned that reappear later in Crane’s career, such as an affirmation of Otherness and the place of the queer subject in the world. Although it is clear from the letter to Kling that Crane appreciated Wilde’s example, it is also true, I suggest, that he was critical of Wilde’s submission to normative authority, and he offered a critique of Wilde’s actions in his poem “C33” (1916/1916). At this point in his writing career, critics generally assume that Crane shook off the languor of Decadence, but it continued to be a prominent shaper of Crane’s style 16 American Decadence and a Queer Modernist Aesthetic 17 and content, and he sought to blend together the kind of masculine language that he was absorbing from Ezra Pound and Imagism with a style of Impressionism drawn from Wilde’s poetry.

Indeed, in asserting that to be queer is “modern,” Crane seeks to ensure its place in the twentieth-century American world, rather than relegating it to the classical periods with which it had been associated, or restricting it to a short chapter in the latter part of the previous century. Crane’s Wilde and “song of minor, broken strain” Wilde himself occupied a problematic position of affirmation/relegation for Crane. Ever since his trial (and, as Alan Sinfield has shown, prior to and during it),14 Wilde had been pitied in different ways.

Cummings, and John Dos Passos amongst them) risk undermining the hard work of recent American authors by relying upon what he sees as acutely outmoded (“still earlier”) foreign influences. It might seem that such a conflict dramatizes modernism’s consistently difficult relationship with its own literary heritage, but Untermeyer’s nervousness about artifice and his worry about the “strangeness” of writing like Crane’s indicates that he is tapping into the language used to describe and warn against an Otherness in writing.

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