Between the muses and the mausoleum: museums, modernism, and modernity
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For both modernists and the museum establishment the museum functioned as a privileged site for the articulation of modernity. At one extreme, those like the futurist F. T. Marinetti, who experienced modernity as a rupture with the past—completed by a gesture of total forgetting—condemned the museum as a mausoleum devoid of contemporary relevance and called for its destruction. At the other extreme, those like the Director of the British Museum, Sir Frederic Kenyon, who located modernity in “an ordered progress based upon tradition” – facilitated by an act of selective remembering – defended the museum as a temple of the muses vital to the “soul” of the “nation” and promoted the spread of the “modern” exhibition gallery. While they differed in their methods, opponents and proponents of the museum shared a common goal, constructing modernity, and a common seat or scene, the (ruins of the) museum. If modernity was in part both product and prize of the battle over the museum, then the strategies modernists pursued in the course of this battle were crucial to the rise of modernism. The first two chapters of this dissertation analyze the critical and creative work of Ruskin, Marinetti, de Quincy, Nietzsche, Valéry, Adorno, Benjamin, Borges, and the first and second avant-gardes to reveal the range of strategies they used to construct modernity through, within, or against the museum. Modernism could not have arisen without these strategies. The next two chapters look at how Henry James, William Morris, and Virginia Woolf challenged the British Museum’s ability to fulfill its stated aim of “help[ing] the nation to save its soul.” Chapters five and six analyze James Joyce’s intervention in the discourses of Irish cultural and political nationalism in his satire of monuments’ and museums’ power as an instrument of cultural politics and identityformation in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Mining the intersections of museum, composition, and media studies, the final chapter proposes a paradigm for teaching multiliteracies through the museum.