'Hypertext and the Teaching of Modernist Difficulty'

McDonald, Gail. 2002. 'Hypertext and the Teaching of Modernist Difficulty'. Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture, 2(1), pp. 17-30. ISSN 1531-4200 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

T. S. Eliot (1963: 112), who famously declared in 1921 that "poets in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult," made difficulty a badge of modernist honor. The attitudes of academic criticism since then might be categorized according to their degree of acceptance or rejection of this premise. New Criticism, by and large, made a virtue of difficulty, measuring poetic achievement in terms of the poet's management of tension and paradox. Conversely, recent criticism has often looked askance at difficulty, suspecting that it may be a form of mystificatory elitism or an instance of dishonestly evasive impersonality. However one chooses to view the matter theoretically, difficulty is an inescapable dimension of modernist texts, especially those that exemplify high-modernist experimentation -- Eliot's The Waste Land, Pound's Cantos, Joyce's Ulysses, Barnes's Nightwood, Stein's Tender Buttons, Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, Toomer's Cane, Dos Passos's U.S.A. trilogy -- in short, many of the most frequently taught works in the curriculum of twentieth-century literature. This essay proposes that hypertext is a practical, though partial, solution to the nearly insuperable problems associated with reading and teaching the difficult modernist text. Because my students and I have created and studied with a hypertext of Pound's Canto 81, my examples are drawn primarily from that poem. The hypertextual version of this Canto provides access not only to the poem's "information" but to Pound's working methods, his aims in writing this "poem including history," and his presentation of the poem as covert and overt pedagogy.

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English and Comparative Literature



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08 Sep 2015 10:36

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2015 10:36

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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