The Modernist Review #41: Hopeful Modernisms

5 August 2022

After a short and sweaty hiatus, we’re back with another issue of The Modernist Review. Thanks to our readers and contributors for their (your) patience; we have taken a little time to re-focus our vision for TMR and to relieve some of the editorial pressure. You might hear from us a little less frequently, but we will continue to produce regular issues, to be released now every other month. That being said, we are as keen as ever to publish your work and continue on a platform for emerging ideas, so please continue to submit to us as you would normally. TMR is nothing without its contributors!

Continue reading “The Modernist Review #41: Hopeful Modernisms”

‘The Eye & The Ear’: Phonic Modernism and Central Eastern Europe

5 August 2022
Juliette Bretan, University of Cambridge

By his own admission, Polish avant-garde artist and filmmaker Stefan Themerson was fascinated by ‘the sight-and-sound problem’.[1] The relationship – and, often, mismatch – between the optic and the sonic is everywhere in the works he created alongside his wife, Franciszka, in the twentieth century: their interest in audio-visual technology to improve communication; the musical metaphors used to describe ‘Semantic poetry’; and especially their cinematic projects, which fused visual, auditory and linguistic media.[2] One of their most famous was the 1944/5 film ‘The Eye & the Ear’, a transposition of four songs by composer Karol Szymanowski, to poetry by Julian Tuwim, into four ‘different methods of cinematographic interpretation.’[3] Natural, abstract and geometric figures, solarised and surreal, flare across the screen, bearing various degrees of resemblance to the songs, which are rendered in shrill warble-sound. Curious, that such a plucky experiment with music, image and language was produced just after the couple had worked on a more directly informative propaganda film, ‘Calling Mr Smith’, for the war effort.

Continue reading “‘The Eye & The Ear’: Phonic Modernism and Central Eastern Europe”

Double Dealing in the Magazines: The Case of the Coucou Hoax

5 August 2022
Siân Round, University of Cambridge

The Double Dealer (1921-26) was a literary magazine founded in 1921 in New Orleans in response to H. L. Mencken’s now famous proclamation that the South was a ‘Sahara of the Bozart’, a Southern pronunciation of ‘Beaux-Arts’.[1] Describing itself as ‘A National Magazine from the South’, the magazine actively emulated transatlantic little magazines like The Little Review and Blast and published many authors who would come to be associated with modernism, including Djuna Barnes, H.D., and Hart Crane. Its design included an art-nouveau style typeface and drawings which resembled those of English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley.

Continue reading “Double Dealing in the Magazines: The Case of the Coucou Hoax”

Thinking with Hélène Cixous: Enchanted Modernities and Anti-Oedipal Modernism

5 August 2022
Eret Talviste, University of Tartu

The paper I presented at the Hopeful Modernisms conference was based on the theoretical frame of my PhD thesis that I am now turning into a monograph entitled Affect, Embodiment, and Materiality in Virginia Woolf and Jean Rhys: Exploring Strange Intimacies. I’m interested in what I call ‘strange intimacies’ –  affective, sensorial, and bodily moments when a close relationship with an unexpected or unlikely character, thing, or place emerges. My general claim is that in order to notice strange intimacies in modernity and modernism more broadly, we need to view modernist fiction as anti-Oedipal. Below, I offer an extract from my work where I move towards thinking with Hélène Cixous in order to see modernism in a hopeful way. Continue reading “Thinking with Hélène Cixous: Enchanted Modernities and Anti-Oedipal Modernism”

Opening up and reaching out, my hopes for the future of modernist studies: the case of David Bomberg, the Ben Uri Gallery, and the Sarah Rose Collections

5 August 2022
Nicola Baird

What follows is an excerpt, or rather the opening set of paragraphs, from a paper given at the BAMS 2022 Hopeful Modernisms conference entitled ‘Opening up and reaching out, my hopes for the future of modernist studies: the case of David Bomberg, the Ben Uri Gallery, and the Sarah Rose Collections’.

David Bomberg (1890-1957) was a painter and draughtsman born to Polish-Jewish parents in Birmingham and raised in Whitechapel, in London’s East End. Initially apprenticed as a chromolithographer, Bomberg attended classes at City and Guilds, Westminster Technical School, and the Slade School of Fine Art, from which he was expelled in 1913. Studies of his life and work, generally chronological, biographical, and formalist, consider his work characterised by three distinct phases—Vorticist-inspired geometrical abstraction, topographical landscape painting, looser, expressionistic landscapes and searching self-portraits. Such accounts also consider his legacy as a teacher at the Borough Polytechnic (now London South Bank University) whose idiosyncratic pedagogical approach proved influential, resulting in 1946 in the formation of the Borough Group and subsequently, in 1953, the Borough Bottega. Bomberg’s early, experimental work is undoubtedly canonised and placed neatly within the context of pre-war native avant-gardism, while his mid-career and late work is seen as an apparent disavowal of the modern. It is arguably apparent, however, that such logic has been exhausted, and that it is in fact a project of the modern to judge Bomberg’s work in such terms, as having run counter to the modernist trajectory, for the moderns ‘consider everything that does not march in step with progress archaic, irrational or conservative’.[i] Established art historical approaches to Bomberg then have not only proved fragmentary, but also endlessly repetitive, resulting in unreflexive practice, the reproduction of which acts as a barrier to change, growth and understanding. Continue reading “Opening up and reaching out, my hopes for the future of modernist studies: the case of David Bomberg, the Ben Uri Gallery, and the Sarah Rose Collections”

John Cage’s Avant-Garde Piano Theatre of the Early 1950s

2 June 2022

Alexandra Huang-Kokina, The University of Edinburgh

The musical avant-garde is more than a style of difficult and complex music in the twentieth century. Its potency in reconstructing our modes of perception in the modern world has been increasingly underscored[1]. At the mid-point of the twentieth century, the musical avant-garde finds its foremost expression in John Cage’s experimental pianism. From the dramaturgical overtones of Music of Changes (1951) to the “theatre piece” Water Music (1952), Cage’s experimentation with the modern grand piano indicates a profound interlinking with Modernist theatre. This article argues that Cage’s mid-century pianism epitomises an avant-garde “piano theatre” par excellence through his ingenious use of rhythm and contingency. Rather than explicitly using the piano in defined theatre events, Cage’s two piano works embody the corporeality of Modernist theatre practices within the perimeter of live pianistic performance. Continue reading “John Cage’s Avant-Garde Piano Theatre of the Early 1950s”

Book Review: Modernists and the Theatre

2 June 2022

Annie Williams, Trinity College Dublin

James Moran, Modernists and the Theatre: The Drama of W.B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf (London: Bloomsbury, 2022)

Yeats, Pound, Lawrence, Joyce, Eliot, and Woolf: often amassed as the ‘1922 core’ (p. 1) of Anglo-American and Irish literary modernism, these six writers are regularly credited with having defined the aesthetics of the period. However, scholarship on modernism’s six ‘obvious suspects’ (p. 1) tends to spotlight their poetry and their prose rather than their plays. James Moran’s Modernists and the Theatre (2022) seeks to redress this critical neglect by framing this central group as six writers who actively engaged with theatre throughout their lives. The result is an informative study in which Moran persuasively challenges the critical assumption that these writers’ engagement with the dramatic form was ever fleeting, insignificant, or non-existent. Continue reading Book Review: Modernists and the Theatre

Putting Performance Centre-Stage: Theoretical Tools for an Inclusive Modernism

2 June 2022
Alexandra Chiriac, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Modernism and performance have a famously fraught relationship. Scholars working on modernist and avant-garde performance have pondered the existence of this ‘antiperformative bias’ encountered in existing art historical and literary methodologies, often pinning the blame on well-known theorists of modernism such as Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried.[1] For Greenberg, each art form had to strive for purity, reflecting the uniqueness of its medium, while for Fried artworks that rejected the condition of autonomy were at risk of becoming theatrical, exhibiting ‘a kind of stage presence’ and seeking audience approval.[2] Although both Greenberg and Fried’s pronouncements were construed in very particular contexts, their broader implications still permeate the construction of modernist narratives. They conceive the modernist artwork as a self-referential, self-sufficient product that rejects the relationship to the beholder and to the world outside its boundaries. But performance cannot employ a single unique medium, nor can it flourish in an empty, unconnected space, centering instead values such as collaboration, repetition, and engagement. In recent decades, scholars have become increasingly preoccupied with dislodging or expanding the narratives of modernist and avant-garde artistic production, so if theatricality constitutes a dangerous attack on the ‘high art’ of the canon, perhaps the time has come to embrace its disruptive critical potential. Can performance become a tool for challenging entrenched narratives, recovering marginalized voices and experiences?

Continue reading “Putting Performance Centre-Stage: Theoretical Tools for an Inclusive Modernism”

Articulating Movement on the Beckettian Stage

2 June 2022

Jonathan McAllister, University of Cambridge

A way of walking is no less a refrain
than a song or a little coloured vision.

– Gilles Deleuze.[1]

In this short essay, I will articulate several meanings that reside in the performing body of Samuel Beckett’s play Footfalls (1976).[2] The aim of such an exercise is to sketch a few distinctive significations and practices that pertain to the Beckettian body. Continue reading “Articulating Movement on the Beckettian Stage”

The Modernist Review #40: Modernist and Avant-Garde Performance

2 June 2022

In Modernism and Performance (2007), Olga Taxidou observed that ‘the concept of performance [has] remained stubbornly connected to the critical legacies of the historical avant-garde and stubbornly ignored in canonical readings of literary Modernism’ (8). Indeed the concept of ‘performance’ still presents significant challenges to the theorization, categorization, and periodization of modernist artworks. Yet this provides us with a fertile opportunity to critically reflect upon the ways in which artists and theorists responded to modernity in the early twentieth century, revising our theoretical understanding of the culture and politics of this period by deploying the concept of ‘performance’. The debate concerning how a performative aesthetics or theory accords with or troubles our understanding of the relations between modernism and the avant-garde is thus a question that still warrants critical scrutiny. This is a provocation that animates the short articles published in this issue, with four writers responding in their own way to this question.  Continue reading “The Modernist Review #40: Modernist and Avant-Garde Performance”

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