This issue of the Modernist Review is all about the creative power of contradictions. Many critics have discussed the tensions within modernism, what Jeff Wallace helpfully describes as a ‘push and pull, attraction and repulsion’. New Work in Modernist Studies has witnessed a renewed and profound interest in the productivity and play between seemingly opposed paradoxes; the points of departure, the nodes of connection and the manifold relationship between these that can illuminate new ideas and histories. This impulse for a multifaceted, open-ended enquiry runs through the five pieces of this issue.
Aoiffe Walsh’s article on Surrealist discourses illuminates the ways in which Herbert Read’s Surrealism (1936) accentuates the tensions between the French and British strands of Surrealism, particularly when it comes to theories of artistic inspiration. Her article offers a glimpse into the complexities of the avant-garde impulses that propelled the movement, and poses the question of Surrealism’s relationship to the aesthetic traditions of the past.
Robert Brazeau’s very enthusiastic review of Sascha Bru’s The European Avant-Gardes, 1905 – 1935: A Portable Guide praises Bru’s own ‘dialectic approach, […] that relates all parts to each other and to the whole’. Bru looks at the avant-gardes as ‘a phenomenon in the history of the arts’, but also as ‘an important counterforce in cultural history’, only to overcome this apparent contradiction by suggesting that the avant-gardes, because they challenge traditional understandings of history, are able to transcend their own temporal context. Robert Brazeau concludes by stressing two crucial aspects of avant-garde studies: the questioning of the canon, and the embeddedness of art history within the materiality of mass publication.
This concern with material history is the keystone of Lise Jaillant’s edited collection of essays, Publishing Modernist Fiction and Poetry, which Josh Phillips reviews for this issue of TMR. The book’s contributors discuss the ‘inescapable material and commercial dimension’ of Anglo-American modernism, with an original focus on publishing houses. Josh praises its highlighting of publishing as a ‘crucial lens’ through which to view the haptics and economics of modernism, although he notes that he would like to see the discussion of individual Anglo-American publishers integrated within broader transnational and transcontinental dynamics.
A similar scholarly interest with the treatment of histories and legacies is present in Flann O’Brien: Contesting Legacies, a collection of essays edited by Ruben Borg, Paul Fagan and Werner Huber. Laura Ryan’s review of this collection praises the wide-ranging and expansive approach that illuminates the multivalent, multivocal and open-ended legacy that contests crystallisation or pigeon-holing.
Finally, TMR editor Cécile Varry’s discussion of Jewel Spears Brooker’s T. S. Eliot’s Dialectical Imagination rejoices in Brooker’s valuable contribution to the new directions of T. S. Eliot studies. Brooker’s book focuses on the importance of acknowledging seemingly irreconcilable contradictions, better to transcend them and contain them into new poetic images. Cécile weaves in her own experience as a French scholar and training in dialectics, citing Hegel’s flowering ‘bud, blossom and fruit’ analogy in conversation with Brooker’s reading of the flaming rose image in Little Gidding.
We hope you enjoy the buds, blossoms and bloom(ing) spaces of dialectical reflection in this latest issue. As ever, we thank our readers and contributors for their support of TMR and warmly invite new contributions, thoughts and ideas. Please email us for more information.
Polly, Cécile, Gareth and Séan