The Modernist Review #23

3rd September 2020

The word ‘review’ seems to pop up everywhere in academic life – it surfaces in official emails, looms annually on the horizon, rests at the start of writing projects in literature reviews, is accompanied by edits with peer-reviews and comes alive in reviews of new books, conferences and exhibitions. In modernist studies, we might associate the word with periodicals, and think back to Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap’s The Little Review. The Modernist Review describes itself as a review of the month in modernism. Reviews can act as surveys, assessments, appraisals, reconsiderations and reflections. At the end of a very surreal summer, many of us are reviewing and readying ourselves for what looks to be a challenging term ahead, and uncertainty surrounding online and face-to-face teaching hangs in the balance as we review the ongoing impact that COVID-19 has on our lives and work.

This year, we have had to review traditional academic processes and protocols. The BAMS PGR Networking Day has been temporarily replaced by our weekly #ModZoom every Wednesday for researchers to meet and work together. Our virtual #ModWrite session is becoming increasingly important to us as a method of hearing about fellow researchers’ work (and their pets). Conferences are being held online: registration desks now look like zoom URLs; cups of conference filter coffee are being swapped for familiar mugs of tea; our conference commutes don’t involve train or plane rides this summer, but rather, a few clicks of a computer mouse. Whilst we miss the chance to meet in person, this shift towards online conferences has many benefits. Gareth Mills wrote about Nearly Carbon Neutral conferences and the imperative for academia to address its carbon footprint as part of TMR’s Online Teaching Dialogue. NCN also means that researchers who may not have the time or means to travel to conferences can attend these events, making them open-access, often free, and documented for future researchers to explore. The Pandemic, Crisis, and Modern Studies Conference took place on Twitter in June, and was organised by the committee members of Countervoices, the PG Forum of the University of York’s Centre for Modern Studies. They have generously compiled a guide to successfully organising conferences on Twitter for anyone interested in planning online events, which can be viewed as part of TMR’s Community Resources Pack. Their conference guide adds to our array of crowd-sourced community resources, and the papers and keynote speeches can be viewed on Twitter here

The word ‘review’ also has an underlying and important impetus for critique and change. Modernist studies is under review: the institutional racism and whiteness embedded within the academy and our curriculum must change and reform, to decolonise, to diversify, to include. As our statement on Black Lives Matter states, we recognise there is much work to be done. We are organising an issue of TMR on Black Lives Matter and modernist studies, to highlight the imperative to decolonise the modernist curriculum and to explore the works of Black writers, thinkers, artists and scholars in the making of modernism. You can read our full Call for Papers here. Please share widely. 

Bringing that word ‘review’ to life, within this month’s issue of TMR you’ll find a lot of book reviews; an exciting testament to the amazing work being done in modernist studies around the world. In a review of Modernism and its Environments, Jack Dice highlights that ‘the idea of an exclusively ecocidal modernism has become outdated’. In our first editorial of 2020, while Australia’s bushfires blazed and COVID-19 had not yet been named, we took a moment to dwell on the words becoming so prevalent in our research lexicon: ‘“anthropocene”, “plantationocene”, “capitalocene”, “ecocide”, “petroculture”’. Dice discusses how Michael Rubenstein and Justin Neuman expound another impetus for critique and change as they ask the question: ‘[w]hat would it mean to present a cultural history of modernism under the banner of environmentalism?’

Taking another critical buzzword, Alexandra Chiriac looks at interdisciplinarity, reviewing Magda Dragu’s Form and Meaning in Avant-Garde Collage and Montage. Dragu looks at techniques of montage and collage by exploring modernist production in art, music, film, and literature to ask questions about layering, concept and meaning. Michael Black also takes hold of experimental practices in modernism in his review of The Sensuous Pedagogies of Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence. Looking at Benjamin Hagen’s fresh study of two of modernism’s most well-known proponents, Black highlights Hagen’s insight that ‘experimental practice as a writer becomes a means of teaching oneself to articulate a philosophy, and to teach oneself how to write’. 

Rebecca Loxton’s article ‘“Too depressing for words”: The Failure of Communication in ‘The Thimble’ and ‘Two Tuppeny Ones, Please’ also looks at Lawrence alongside Katherine Mansfield, but this time examines what happens when one cannot articulate oneself. In the article, she reviews the impact of war on civilian life, examining the language in two short stories by Lawrence and Mansfield. Loxton considers how the presence of war ‘infiltrates the characters’ dialogue in both stories, and ultimately reveals the failure of language to encapsulate the reality of war and trauma’. Not to draw too many parallels between a modernist crisis of representation and our contemporary pandemic, but Loxton’s keen observations about meaning-making and dialogue have definite resonances for us, reviewing the ways we communicate with each other today. 

In another of our reviews this month, Jun Qiang also assesses forms of meaning-making in Lisa Mendelman’s Modern Sentimentalism as it relates to ‘the incompatibility of sentiment with modern selfhood in the protagonists of five female American authors’. By looking at how Mendelman synthesises the sentimental undercurrents of modernism with affect studies, Qiang captures the essence of ‘review’ in her finding that ‘Modern Sentimentalism encourages its readers to reconsider the value and influence of pre-modernist conventions and practices’ – sentimentalism, as she tells us, has previously been thought of as the ‘antithesis’ of the modern, and especially of ‘modern womanhood’.

Now we’ve reviewed what you can expect for this current issue, let’s talk about future reviews.  If you would like to review a book, write an article or edit a special issue of the Modernist Review, please get in touch with us by emailing We are always looking for submissions and welcome ideas or abstracts. We particularly extend this ongoing and open invitation to BAME members of our community. 

One last little thing about reviews. Apparently, the word ‘review’ comes from the Middle English reveue, which is derived from the Middle French word revoir, meaning: to see again. This seems optimistic and strangely comforting – the idea of coming back to something, the chance to reconsider, perhaps with a fresh perspective, and the capacity for change, renewal or reform this offers. With the accompanying promise, we would like to sign off this month’s Modernist Review with an au revoir – we’ll see you again soon. Whether it’s on Twitter, Zoom, in our email inbox or – hopefully, in the not too distant future – in person. 

See you again – 
Bryony, Polly, Josh & Cécile

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