Goat and Adding-Machine Rituals: Cultic Mockery in Modernism

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Modernist texts often work by mocking others. Beginning with texts that mock cultic activity and what David Trotter has labelled ‘neurotic ritual’, this essay examines the grounding of mockery, and the uncertain standing of satire which attempts to place itself outside collective life – whether in John Rodker's falling away from all group activity, Bryher's humour directed at Hollywood and constipation regimes, Waugh's mockery of syncretic religion, Nathanael West's savage attack on mass culture, or Ralph Ellison's take on communism. For Wyndham Lewis, cult life is fundamental to modernity and indeed modernism – ‘We are all the patients of a great cult’ – but also productive of a dangerous negation, of a fall into bathos in which joining or not joining are equally problematic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-22
Number of pages15
JournalCritical Quarterly
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 13 Feb 2020


  • Modernism
  • Cults
  • mockery
  • Bryher
  • Nathanael West
  • Wyndham Lewis
  • Aldous Huxley
  • John Rodker
  • Ralph Ellison

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