The Modernist Review #22

4 August 2020

As we all settle down to the new abnormal, what are the things that are giving you warm fuzzy feelings? For us here at the Modernist Review, it’s the sense of community. It looks a little bit different this year, with our PGR training days and networking afternoons all being rescheduled; instead we’re finding it through our screens, with the sharing of PDFs and archive photographs that we can’t get our hands on in person, and with every buzz of twitter notification that pops up on our phones. Our weekly #ModWrite allows us a small glimpse of people’s to-do lists, opening up a space to share thoughts, ask questions, and post pictures of #ModBake biscuits and cakes. We hosted our very first #ModZoom last week, a Pomodoro-style virtual writing session, and it was wonderful to see the faces of modernists working literally across the globe and tap into some collective brain power. We’ll be here every Wednesday 3-4:30pm, so email us at info@bams.ac.ukif you’d like to join in!

Of course, the pandemic has not been the only part of 2020 that has alerted the world to the vital significance of community. The Black Lives Matter protests that have spread across the world have highlighted the racial injustices that Black activists have spent decades campaigning against, and have proven that a collective voice has the power to affect change. Protestors in San Francisco stopped traffic by kneeling on the Golden Gate Bridge, each two metres apart; citizens of Bristol came together to remove the statue of Edward Colston, which will now stands in a museum with the spray paint and ropes that helped tear the statue down and push it into the docks in tact; and petitions calling for justice continue to circulate.[1]In every area of society, more needs to be done. Our own community manifests and contributes to an existing structure that makes academia an unsustainable place for people of colour. If you haven’t yet read BAMS’ statement on Black Lives Matter, we would like to reiterate that ‘we at BAMS recognise that more needs to be done to counter the whiteness of academia and of modernism studies…and we urge our colleagues – particularly white colleagues -’ to do more. Please watch this space for resources, articles and calls for papers.

With the ever-changing updates to isolation requirements and shielding advice, it’s likely that many of us have had the experience of living in confinement for some period of time, relying on digital forms of community more than ever before. Working from home, we imagine everyone’s become very accustomed to their view from their work space. In James Little’s Samuel Beckett in Confinement, we learn that Samuel Beckett’s study window in his Paris apartment opened up to a view of the Santé Prison. Jonathan McAllister (University of Cambridge) reviews Little’s study, which looks at Beckett’s  politics and ethics through the caged lens of his textual and theatrical  closed spaces.

Since we are all too familiar with closed spaces in 2020, the publication of Little’s book could not be more timely… Although, we admit, time seems to be moving in odd ways. Surely we can’t be the only ones who feel that time resembles something akin to one of Salvador Dalí’s dripping clock faces at the moment? In British Literature and Culture in Second World Wartime (2020), Beryl Pong explores the various ways in which time was experienced differently in wartime Britain, identifying a ‘late modernist chronophobia’. Kevin Neuroth (Humboldt University Berlin and King’s College London) reviews Pong’s study, which examines novels, autobiographies, poems, films, painting and photography from the 1930s and 1940s to ask similarly timely questions about open-endedness, and why a fear of time came to define this period. Neuroth comments on the non-canonical reach of Pong’s study, wondering ‘whether one of the reasons for the relative neglect of late modernism’ is that scholars have focused on that modernist community that might be dubbed the established canon, ‘many of whose output diminished somewhat in the 1930s’.

When we think of modernist communities and meeting places, we might think of salons, coteries and cafes. Perhaps it’s Bloomsbury, in the tearoom of the British Museum where H.D., Ezra Pound and Richard Aldington are said to have sat in 1912, or maybe decadent parties at Gatsby’s house in West Egg come to mind. Andrew Thacker writes that it was in the ‘modern bookshop that “the public” found modernism, and modernism found its public’ and, indeed, it would be impossible not to mention the English language bookshop Shakespeare and Company in Paris, opened in 1919 by Sylvia Beach. Famed as a rendezvous for the ‘Lost Generation’ expatriate writers, and for publishing the first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses, it represents its own pocket of the modernist community. TMR is delighted to publish an interview about the Shakespeare and Company Project by Camey VanSant, in conversation with Joshua Kotin and Rebecca Sutton Koeser. The digital project brings to life the famous bookshop and lending library, drawing from the Beach Papers held by Princeton University archives. The website allows you to trace rippling points of connection through archival materials, allowing you to see whether or not someone was a member of Shakespeare and Company, their activity and reading habits, along with which books were in circulation.

There is something wonderfully intimate about peeking into the records of someone’s reading habits: seeing which books people borrowed, the date they checked the copy out, the titles scribbled down on Beach’s yellowing membership cards and wondering what the person may have thought of it whilst reading. Why, for instance, did Gertrude Stein borrow This Side Of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald twice (once in January 1921 and again in February 1922)?! Tiny slices of modernist history beckon and we’re sure, like us, that you will be excited to peruse the Shakespeare and Company Project website – whether it’s to ponder Stein’s borrowing habits or in pursuit of information about one of the bookshop’s most illustrious regulars, Djuna Barnes. Perhaps her most famous novel, set in the very streets of Paris roamed by Shakespeare and Company patrons, is of course Nightwood (1936). In an article which reads Nightwood alongside Susan Sontag’s ‘Against Interpretation’ (1964), Nimaya Lemal weaves through the rich descriptions that make up this avant-garde masterpiece, asking whether, ‘if Nightwood may be considered in the context of the avant-garde art Sontag discusses, it could be seen as resisting content-based interpretation in part by its lack of emphasis on plot’.

It just remains to send you off with what we hope will be a sense of community (while, of course, still keeping a safe distance) while you read the pages of this month’s Modernist Review. To us, the different articles that make up our homepage all feel like a digital slice of those conferences and networking days that await our return in the future,  full of new ideas and new work in modernist studies. We are very grateful to our BAMS community for allowing us this sense of this research culture and conversation – even though we’re missing you in person (who would have thought we’d be yearning for those tiny cups of conference coffee so badly?). In the meantime, we’re here online for you. If you have a burning idea for us, don’t keep it to yourself! We encourage you to send us pitches for special issues, book reviews and articles, and this encouragement is particularly extended to BAME members of our community. We always look forward to hearing about your work during #ModWrite on Mondays, and can’t wait to see some of you at #ModZoom on Wednesdays!

With all best wishes, and we hope you are staying safe,

Polly, Cécile, Bryony, and Josh


[1]There is a new petition calling for justice for Breonna Taylor, calling for the arrests of John Mattingly, Brett Hankison, Joshua Kaynes and Myles Cosgrove: Sign here. TMR writer Ameya Tripathi has been campaigning for the removal of the statue of Robert Clive – you can sign the petition here. You can sign here to support the call for Sandra Bland’s case to be reopened. If you are a UK school educator, you can pledge here to teach black histories. For a list of resources to support anti-racist work with links to more petitions, click here.

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