Séan Richardson: Hi all, so we are here to discuss the upcoming BAMS elections and why people should consider applying. Polly and Cécile, as you were elected just this year, do you want to talk about your experience running?
What is modernist studies today? This question has doggedly plagued the field since the ‘New Modernist Studies’ announced itself in PMLA over a decade ago. And yet the answer might no longer be found bound within journals – instead, the accurate response may be the number of bodies squashed into a room at the Modernist Studies Association in Toronto. These attendants gathered to hear a roundtable on precarity, a subject matter that has become the watchword for not just modernism, but all fields of literary study. As the professoriate, like a perennial pop star, seeks to continually radicalise their object of discussion, an ever-growing chasm is apparent: there is no point in reinventing the wheel if you do not have a car to drive. This point was underscored by the roundtable organiser, Alix Beeston (Cardiff University), noting that modernist studies is not currently a hiring field: ‘What does it mean to speak of the future of modernist studies in a year where there are no TT [tenure track] jobs in modernist studies?’
And yet, just as there is still modernism, there is still work to be done. The crop of articles that appear in the Modernist Review bear witness to the faithful, vital scholarship that continues to flourish in the face of structural adversity. Reviewing Decadence in the Age of Modernism (2019), Kevin Neuroth (University of Berlin) calls attention to the increasing importance of focusing on understudied figures who have been critically marginalised. At the same time, research is beating interesting new formal pathways. As Jon Churchill (Duke University) says of Nathan Waddell (University of Birmingham) and his study of modernism and Beethoven Moonlighting (2019), ‘Unlike many of its predecessors, Moonlighting eschews structural analogies between music and literature, thereby avoiding an avenue of inquiry complicated by Beethoven’s substantial challenges to form’.
Continuing modernist studies interest in new ventures, the Modernist Review is proud to include Samuel Love’s analysis of Cecil Beaton and his protest of the baroque, presenting the central thesis that Beaton’s ‘frivolous grin is the grin of the skull, rejecting both the importance of the recent past and the opportunity to build a cohesive future in favour of the instability and chaos that allowed men like Beaton to escape the weight of history’. Alongside this, we feature Christopher J. Adamson’s (University of Southern California) deft exploration of the poetics of the closet in the little-known collection Look, Stranger! (1936), also titled On this Island (1937). Returning to the theme of precarity, some of Auden’s words feel prescient even today: ‘You cannot tell people what to do, you can only tell them parables; and that is what art really is, particular stories of particular people and experiences’.
In all, it feels as if the twin themes of this issue are hope and transformation. As we continue to hope for a fuller, richer modernist studies, how might we also continue to transform our ways of working at all levels, allowing for further inclusion, practical support and material change? Picking up on these themes, we leave you with a quote from Aoiffe Walsh (Royal Holloway), Yan (Amy) Tang (University of Victoria), Sean A. McPhail (University of Toronto) and Farah Nada (University of Exeter) in their review of the Modernist Studies Association this year. This vital quote asks us to ‘call for real actions to fight for justice and equality in academia’.
We hope that you feel enthused and revitalised by this month’s selection. As always, we warmly welcome responses and contributions from our readers; feel free to email us at email@example.com or tweet at us @modernistudies!
Séan, Gareth, Cécile & Polly
Kevin Neuroth (Humboldt University of Berlin)
Kate Hext and Alex Murray (eds.), Decadence in the Age of Modernism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019)
Over the past decade, decadence studies have been newly revitalised. In 2017, the Decadence Research Unit, which encompasses the British Association for Decadence Studies as well as the online journal Volupté, was founded. Decadence and Literature, an extensive essay collection edited by Jane Desmarais (Goldsmiths, University of London) and David Weir (Cooper Union) was published by Cambridge University Press this August.
Christopher J. Adamson, University of Southern California
‘To impose upon my passion the mask of discretion […] this is a strictly heroic value,’ Roland Barthes writes in A Lover’s Discourse. ‘Yet to hide a passion totally (or even to hide, more simply, its excess) is inconceivable: not because the human subject is too weak, but because passion is in essence made to be seen: the hiding must be seen: I want you to know that I am hiding something from you […] I advance pointing to my mask: I set a mask upon my passion, but with a discreet (and wily) finger I designate this mask. Every passion, ultimately, has its spectator.’
Jon Churchill, Duke University
Nathan Waddell, Moonlighting: Beethoven and Literary Modernism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019)
Beethoven is inevitable. His symphonies sell Kit Kats in television commercials, and wisps of the early sonatas float among bookstores’ shelves and coffee shops’ tables—anywhere erudition is implied. Meanwhile, his likeness adorns countless pianos and desks, always offering a steely appraisal of its surroundings. Schroeder felt this gaze while practicing in the Peanuts comic strip, as have the countless students who glanced at their music room’s posters.
Upheaval & Reconstruction: The Modernist Studies Association (MSA) 2019 Annual Conference, 17-20 October, Ryerson University, Toronto
Aoiffe Walsh, Yan (Amy) Tang, Farah Nada, and Sean A. McPhail
With 7 pre- and post-conference workshops, 26 seminars, 22 roundtable discussions, parallel sessions boasting an incredible 96 panels, museum and gallery tours, 2 plenaries, performances, film screenings, book launches and awards and a poetry evening, the Modernist Studies Association (MSA) 2019 Conference was a jam-packed 4 days, to say the very least. Below, 4 PhD students report on their experience of the conference, providing you with different threads of thoughts and highlights to reflect on what’s been at stake.
Traveling to Cambridge for the first time as an undergraduate in 1922, the photographer Cecil Beaton had things other than his studies on his mind. Watching a stranger in a café, he wrote in his diary that although the man was ‘ugly… he looked as though he had grit; for some reason, that was what I wanted’. Legendarily flamboyant, it is not a sentence one expects of Beaton. ‘Could I, in the event of another war, possibly go in the trenches and fight as others had done before me?’, he agonised- ‘I wanted to ride bikes and fight. I often despise people who do these things, but I wanted to be able to do them’. These anxieties arguably shaped not just Beaton’s psyche but that of many young men of his generation, and saw his early work collide with both deeply felt social concerns and the utopianism of concomitant modernisms.
In 1998, two momentous events occurred that would profoundly change the nature of literary scholarship: the founding of the Modernist Studies Association and the UK launch of the KitKat Chunky.