Modernist Literary and Musical Collaboration

Terry, Sarah N. Modernist Literary and Musical Collaboration. 2011. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

"Modernist Literary and Musical Collaboration" traces the adoption of literary forms of expression and musical techniques by Anglo-American authors, and argues for the significant relationship literary modernism has to music in the twentieth century. Further, the dissertation makes a claim for the importance of collaborative texts and does so by examining a particular set of collaborative ventures: specifically four types, which I have termed "speculation," "instruction," "exchange," and "communication." The dissertation's case studies establish music as a significant aesthetic context for the work of novelists and poets including Aldous Huxley, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and W. H. Auden—each of whom entered into collaborative projects with composers such as George Antheil, Virgil Thomson, and Benjamin Britten—and demonstrate that the act of collaboration enabled each type of artist to explore new literary forms of expression. Despite recent calls for interdisciplinarity, these modernist collaborations—and collaboration in general—remain overlooked in accounts of each individual author's canon as well as in broader narratives of twentieth-century literature.

Our understanding of the development of various modernist literary forms has been hindered by accusations of musical incompetence on the part of the authors involved. For example, both Huxley's theory of "the musicalization of fiction" and Auden's first opera have frequently been dismissed as marginal to both modernist literature and modernist music, in part because they represent an author or composer's first attempt at musico-literary collaboration. "Modernist Literary and Musical Collaboration" uses these case studies to reveal the limitations of current literary and musical analyses that approach collaborations as either works of literature or works of music, and aims to bring an evenhanded discussion of both words and music to the field of modernist studies. Just as the recent turn to periodical studies emphasizes the interdisciplinary and cooperative nature of cultural production, "Modernist Literary and Musical Collaboration" opens lines of inquiry that parallel this turn toward cultural and aesthetic analysis in both the new modernist studies and new musicology. By moving musico-literary collaborations in particular from the periphery to the center of modernist studies, I argue for the significant role of such collaborations in our understanding of twentieth-century literature.

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