Ezra Pound referred to 1922 as Year One of a new era. It was the year in which a skinny, shabby Irishman and a natty, quietly sinister American entered the cultural landscape, hell-bent on exploding everything that realistic fiction and Georgian poetry held dear. It was the year which began with the publication of Ulysses and ended with the publication of The Waste Land: the most influential English-language novel and poem of the century. Despite several revolutions in taste, these two works remain the twin towers at the beginning of modern literature; some would say, of modernity itself. And it was the generous, indefatigable, discerning Ezra Pound who played a significant part in the launch of both writers' careers.
Constellation of Genius puts the accomplishments of Eliot and Joyce in the context of the world in which their works appeared - a year of remarkable firsts, births, and foundations. The passing of an old world: the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the end of British Liberalism with the crushing defeat by the Conservatives at the General Election, the thwarting of Marcus Garvey's dreams for a new Africa. Dada was put to rest, Proust died and Hollywood transformed the nature of fame, making Charlie Chaplin the most recognisable man on the planet. Hitchcock directed his first feature, Kandinsky and Klee joined the Bauhaus and Louis Armstrong took the train from New Orleans to Chicago, heralding the beginning of modern jazz.
Gloriously entertaining, erudite and idiosyncratic, this is a biography of a year, a journey through the diaries of the anthropologists, actors, artists, dancers, designers, film-makers, philosophers, playwrights, politicians and scientists whose lives and works collided over twelve months, creating a frenzy of innovation which broke the world in two.
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Constellation of Genius is an insanely readable book about modernism. Indeed, I think it no disservice to Jackson to say that this is the primer the subject has been looking for: a way into its symbolic labyrinth for even the most literal-minded - Guardian
Drawing on diaries, letters and other snippets, Jackson composes a day-by-day account of his chosen year . . . Popular and high culture are equally celebrated in this Barnum’s Circus of a book. The volume is beautifully produced. - Sunday Telegraph
Open this marvellous diary of a single year at any page and you will be struck by some startling moment of import in a life of genius or an epoch-making event. - Sunday Herald
It’s not easy for us today to share the intense excitement generated by a handful of highbrow authors among their cultivated readership ninety years ago; for those keen to learn more Kevin Jackson’s lively guide to modernism's heyday comes as a welcome introduction. His book, pace Beckett, neatly identifies important episodes in a pivotal year, combining brief sketches of the talented protagonists with some shrewd evaluations . . . When the factual whirlwind subsides, Jackson (a serious film buff) reflects briefly on the careers of Buster Keaton, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang and Charlie Chaplin. These and many other digressions are deft, elegant and illuminating. - Literary Review
Jackson writes well, with a good sense of detail, and when he gets going he provides nuggets of tasty trivia even for those who know something about the subject already. - Sunday Times
Brilliantly erudite and very funny. - Sunday Express
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About the Author
Kevin Jackson has written thousands of articles, primarily on film, photography, modern art, literature and cultural history for, among others, The New Yorker, Granta, Prospect, Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph, Guardian, Evening Standard and Vogue. He has been a script editor and script consultant, lectured and taught at the National Film Theatre, the Royal College of Art and the Victoria and Albert Musuem, presented documentaries for Radio 3 and Radio 4, directed and produced films for television, written the book and lyrics for a rock opera, curated film seasons and a photography exhibition as well as authored and edited more than twenty books.