In the first two decades of the twentieth century, a new phenomenon swept politics: the masses. Groups that had struggled as marginal parts of the political system - particularly workers and women - suddenly exploded into vast and seemingly unstoppable movements.
A whole subgenre of sociological-political treatises purporting to analyze the mass mind emerged all over Europe, particularly in England. All these texts drew heavily on the theories put forth in The Crowd, written in 1895 by the French writer Gustave Le Bon and translated into English in 1897. Le Bon developed the idea that when a crowd forms, a whole new kind of mentality, hovering on the borderline of unconsciousness, replaces the conscious personalities of individuals. His descriptions should seem uncanny to literary critics, because they sound as if he were describing modernist literary techniques, such as the focus on images and the "stream of consciousness." Equally important was Georges Sorel's Reflections on Violence (1906), which sought to turn Le Bon's theories into a methodology for producing mass movements by invoking the importance of myth to theories of the mass mind.
Examining in detail the surprising similarities between modernist literature and contemporary theories of the crowd, this work upsets many critical commonplaces concerning the character of literary modernism. Through careful reading of major works of the novelists Joyce and Woolf (traditionally viewed as politically leftist) and the poets Eliot and Yeats (traditionally viewed as politically to the right), it shows that many modernist literary forms in all these authors emerged out of efforts to write in the idiom of the crowd mind. Modernism was not a rejection of mass culture, but rather an effort to produce a mass culture, perhaps for the first time - to produce a culture distinctive to the twentieth century, which Le Bon called "The Era of the Crowd."
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Michael Tratner is Assistant Professor of English at Stanford University.
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Book Description Stanford Univ Pr, 1995. Book Condition: Very Good. 25th Edition. Ships from Reno, NV. Former Library book. Great condition for a used book! Minimal wear. Bookseller Inventory # GRP97544261