I agree completely with Alan Jacobs on the singularity of Joyce’s achievement. And the anti-bourgeois, anti-liberal (whether rightist or leftist) cast of most modernism, and the importance of Joyce as an exception to that characterization, has been noted often before, by Lionel Trilling among others.

But I want to put a brief word in for other modernisms that complicate a Joyce-versus-Bloomsbury dichotomy. You can tell a very good story about the aristocratic nature of literary modernism if by modernism you mean Pound and Eliot and Woolf and Lawrence. But does Stevens really fit that story? Or Faulker? Or Dos Passos? Or Beckett?

So I take issue with much of Fussell’s characterization. A modernist is, in my view, an artist from a particular period in history, primarily dedicated to pursuing a certain kind of formal experimentation. He (or she) need not have “declared war” on anything, certainly not against the bourgeois or the democratic – nor even on “the received” if that means the artistic past (many of the modernists were powerfully classical in their affinities).

As for sentimentality, it is not the enemy of modernism but of great art as such. But sentimentality is not to be identified with sympathy, or with a broad compassion – indeed, they may well be opposed, inasmuch as a sentimental understanding of the other depends on a failure to understand the other from the inside. But you cannot transcend sentimentality by making war upon it. That’s what Hemingway did, and Carver after him, and all they wound up doing was pushing their sentimentalism deeper down, and cutting off the development of a genuine sympathy.

That’s my view, anyway.