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The Modernist Review Issue #5: Modernism Beyond the Literary

Lilly Markaki is a PhD researcher at the Department of Media Arts, Royal Holloway. This month, she joins BAMS representatives and Modernist Review editors Gareth Mills and Sean Richardson as a guest editor for an issue examining modernism beyond the literary.

A case-study, two book reviews, a conference summary, and an interview. In line with the publication’s mission-statement, the five articles featured in this special issue of the Modernist Review all capture different facets of our activity within the field of modernist studies. The true significance of the contributions included in this month’s issue lies, however, in something else – a variety, that is, of a different kind. Discussing images, objects, and technologies – including those involved in the production of the self – the selected writings published here capture something of the complexity of the very category of modernism, the elusiveness of which continues to perplex us today. As intimated by the issue’s subtitle, Modernism Beyond the Literary, my initial goal involved finding a way to move beyond a preoccupation with the literary, and which I feel often dominates the field of modernist studies. It may, then, seem unusual that a number of canonical literary figures still appear throughout the articles featured here. When this happens, however, the goal is to highlight the significance, for modernist writers, of fields outside of the text, pointing to an interplay of media often overlooked. In this sense, and while literature is partly their subject, it can be said that these works still expand the literary, moving past its boundaries and beyond the tradition of formalism which we have hoped to escape. Indeed, all of the work showcased here shows modernism to be a category weaved out of multiple threads, and a sensibility that ends up absorbing all that it finds in life.

In Eileen Agar’s Science, Christy Heflin (Royal Holloway) draws our attention to what she compellingly argues is an unexplored dimension of the artist’s work, namely her engagement with the fields of chemistry, biology, and physics. Surreality, Christy tells us, meets here the rational, leading Agar to suggest that, ‘we are nothing more than the result of a worm’s mistaken mutation.’

Likewise, in her thorough review of Alix Beeston’s (University of Cardiff) first book-length publication, In and Out of Sight: Modernist Writing and the Photographic Unseen (2018) – which discusses the interrelatedness of writing and photography in the work of Gertude Stein, Jean Toomer, John Dos Passos, and F. Scott Fitzgerald – Kari Sund (University of Glasgow) shows Beeston’s work to be one that truly embraces an interdisciplinary approach, presenting us all with the challenge of revisiting our subjects and of thinking, as Kari puts it, ‘outside the walls of ourtheir own discipline’.

In a similar vein, Helen Saunders’s animated review of Celia Marshik’s (Stony Brook University) At the Mercy of Their Clothes: Modernism, The Middlebrow, and British Garment Culture (2016) allows us to discover something of the author’s ‘rich, expansive and thoroughly enjoyable’ work on the intersection between ‘texts and textiles’ wherein clothing acquires the power, in Helen’s words, to ‘threaten, undermine or humiliate the wearer, or, more positively, offer the possibility of a new conception of selfhood beyond the confines of one’s usual existence.’

If in Saunders’s discussion of Marshik the self is made and unmade by clothing, in Hailey Maxwell’s (University of Glasgow) recounting of the Virus of Hate: Responses to Fascism in Psychoanalysis, Surrealism and Modernism conference – produced through a partnership between the De La Warr and the Centre for Modernist Studies and Centre for Life History at the University of Sussex – subjectivity meets itself in psychoanalysis, but is also confronted by and made to respond to the destructive powers of hate and fascism; a problem which, Hailey rightly notes, ‘we as modernist scholars inherit from our objects of study, as well as one we must continue to try and answer.’

Not forgetting the future common to us all as postgraduates, this month’s issue also includes an interview with art historian Freya Gowrley (University of Edinburgh) who kindly shares her journey following the PhD, offering important advice and, with it, a glimmer of hope that we may still successfully pursue our goals in what seems to be an increasingly marketised academic environment.

Before closing, it is worth noting that, like a number of those to follow, this issue of the Modernist Review can be understood as part of an attempt to ‘trouble’ modernism in the manner that this year’s BAMS conference, Troublesome Modernisms, urges us to do. The new deadline for both panels and individuals proposals is now the 28th of February so remember to send in your application and to trouble modernism.

Thank you to our readers and contributors, and a big thank you from me to the editors, Gareth and Sean (and Ruth, who at the time was still holding her position as postgraduate representative), for allowing inviting me to collaborate with them on this special issue of the Modernist Review,

Lilly. 

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