A recent blog post for the New Modernisms books series (Bloomsbury) drew attention to a comment made by Gayle Rodgers, who said that in contemporary modernist studies, ‘no one could claim to know even half of the field at this point, much less a plausible totality’. For a review like this one, the idea that no one person can comprehensively trace the full contours of our protean discipline is both sobering and affirming. For while it suggests that there are real limits to the scope of its inclusivity and coverage, it also confirms the importance of publications that allow frequent bursts of visible scholarship to emerge from the desks of researchers, winking into life onto the screen of a phone or computer. This has a dual effect: in giving regular space to the sporadic green shoots of new approaches and methods employed by developing researchers, the obscure, often marginalised and forgotten subjects of their enquiry are also exposed. In this way a review might become a prosthesis for academics to more brightly illuminate the recently unearthed forgotten people, places and things that have hidden in our collective past.
This issue of The Modernist Review features three such examples of this unearthing. Gaby Fletcher’s fascinating example of the cartoon ‘Fluffy Ruffles’ shows that the illustrated character played a surprisingly important role in the developing iconography of ‘The New Woman’ between 1907-1909. In particular, Fluffy represented pictorially many of the challenges women faced when entering male-dominated workspaces, and was popular and widespread enough to enjoy a widespread afterlife through references in fiction and poetry. Likewise, William Carroll’s work on innovative photographer Ben Shahn captured the ‘inhospitable dustbowls’ and ‘forlorn families’ of the Depression-era United States. Shahn was unconventional in both choice of subject and technique, as evidenced by archived images of dirt roads foregrounded by spaces of suburban residences filled with the crouching figures of large, working class families.
Harrington Weihl’s article on the peculiar cultural project FLOMM is focused on the much more recent medium of video games, and highlights how concepts of modernism are still potent enough to be re-purposed for contemporary consumption. Leaning on inherited modernist tropes of collage and cultural insurrection, THE BATTLE FOR MODeRN 1923 was a short-lived mobile game that uncritically revelled in de-historicised dada and modernist nostalgia. Weihl’s subject is intriguing when compared to the first two articles, as FLOMM’s adoption of simplified modernist aesthetics is exactly the kind of exemplary cultural peeking out from within longer socio-historical trends which, with older examples, scholars go to such lengths to discover in disparate archives.
Included along with these articles in Issue #2 is something quite different: a chance for us to discover something about ourselves. As the field of modernist scholarship grows, so too do its practitioners, and little hard evidence is available as to their demographics. A new survey, building off one launched in previous years for BAMS postgraduate members, attempts to remedy this. Designed by the editorial team (with most of the credit due to Séan Richardson), we would be extremely grateful if postgraduate and post-PhD readers could fill in the survey and share it as widely as possible with colleagues in the field. A full report on the results will be published in a future issue.
Finally we would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to all those who attended the BAMS Networking Event on 12th October at the University of Birmingham, and to the colleagues who presented on careers, networks, and the challenges that face international students. Will Bateman, who attended the event, has kindly contributed a write-up of the proceedings for those who couldn’t attend or who wish to reach out to some of the panellists.
We hope that you enjoy this month’s articles, and as always, we warmly welcome your future participation.