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 firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at us @modernistudies!
Séan, Gareth, Cécile & Polly