The Modernist Review #26

7 December 2020

It feels almost an impossible task to end 2020 with a reflective editorial about our year at the Modernist Review. The frequency with which we’ve used the word ‘unprecedented’ in 2020 could be plotted on an exponential curve (as could the amount of time we’ve all spent looking at exponential curves), but it has truly been an unprecedented year. The pandemic has changed the way we live and work; regular trips to the library seem like a footloose and fancy-free memory, and we have all become familiar with conducting classes and webinars via MS Teams and Zoom, waving for slightly too long as we wait for someone to click the ‘end meeting’ button. But by same token the ways in which we are sociable and collegiate have changed, and we at BAMS feel so grateful for the new ways that we have been able to interact. ModZoom has allowed us to meet colleagues from around the world; #ModWrite has occasionally morphed into a #ModBake or #ModCraft as expectations about writing have thankfully ebbed and flowed throughout the year. This week, we are meeting on Zoom for New Work in Modernist Studies 2020, and for the first time we can hear from fellow PhD researchers in different time zones and across oceans.

Looking back over the past year’s TMR issues we find 2020’s narrative sketched out in editorials and articles. As Australia’s fires burned, we began the year (though it seems like a decade ago) with the environment; in March, tentatively moving towards Zoom classes in their embryonic forms, we found ourselves in ‘a mess that we couldn’t anticipate when we started thinking about a themed issue around pedagogy’; our issue on staying at home struck a chord with those feeling most claustrophobic, as did our moving bodies issue. The recent Black Lives Matter issue spoke to the whiteness of higher education that modernist studies has been slow to respond to, with contributions on Black writers, artists, thinkers and scholars, and reflections on modernism and the BLM movement. We dwell again on Ijeoma Oluo’s words from 2018: ‘if you live in this system of white supremacy, you are either fighting the system or you are complicit. There is no neutrality to be had towards systems of injustice, it is not something you can just opt out of.’

We were thrilled to have Jade French as a guest editor earlier this year, for a special issue on modernism’s late temporalities. As the issue said, our concept of time has been skewed this year, but in Alexander Jonesreview of Modernism and Time Machines, time is even more complex than what has been to the 2020 mind. ‘Modernist texts aspire[d] to the condition of vehicles that move the reader through time, or that overlap chronologies over each other’, and Jones explores how Charles M. Tung understands modernism itself as a time machine, ‘as both object and approach’. If, a year ago, you had been given a time machine, when/where would you have gone to? Perhaps to watch human character change on or about December 1910 at Roger Fry’s Post-Impressionist Exhibition, or perhaps to a party in 1920s Harlem? This year, though, we’d be pretty content with using a time machine just to go back to a bustling restaurant in 2019. Speaking of such relics of the past, Rebekka Jolley’s article, Come Dine With Me, looks at two things we missed in 2020: theatre and eating with people. Jolley reads scenes of dining as a ‘ritualised performative act’ in Gertrude Stein’s early plays (White Wines Three Acts, Turkey and Bones and Eating and We Liked It A Play), looking at modes of performance in ‘the multiple roles of hosting and being an attendee’. She also reflects on her own 2019 production of White Wines which took an ‘immersive approach, in which the audience were invited to take part in dining with the actors as they poured wine and shared food.’ Those were the days.

Eilish Mulholland also rummages into the past, this time ‘in-between dusty library shelves’ in her review of The Passion Projects. ‘The prospect of tackling [an] unfinished, disorganised biography is the stuff of nightmares, but for Melanie Micir it is a critical and cultural treasure trove’, as her recent monograph recovers ‘forgotten histories of those who lived on the margins of society’. In the second of her three-part series on abolition feminism, Aija Oksman explores American Argument, a text made to examine the meaning of the margins of society. Continuing from last month’s piece on Sojourner Truth, Oksman highlights the legacy of Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robson, who, together with ‘contemporary Black radical women…advocated for a new intersectional, inclusive feminism’ decades before the term was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. 

Legacy is at the centre of James Baxter’s article on Lydia Davis’s response to Samuel Beckett. Baxter reads Davis (failing to) read Beckett’s ‘Worstward Ho’, finding that her writing shows a ‘profound investment in Beckett’s production’ both playing with his legacy and ‘gently critiquing the (occasionally ponderous) weight of modernist legacies’. And finally, Matthew Chambers reviews Threshold Modernism, in which Elizabeth F. Evans ‘situates new public women in three different spaces’: shops, streets, and women’s clubs. To Chambers, there is a fascination to considering ‘verisimilitude when structuring a novel: its setting, its action, and significantly, the cultural and geographic locatedness and mobility of its female characters.’

We are excited to announce that nominations are now open for BAMS’ new Postgraduate Representatives. Two positions (for a term of two years each) are open to registered PhD students in the first or second year of their degree. In a new dialogue, Josh and Bryony reflect on their experiences so far, from applying to the highlights of the job itself. Their Twitter DMs, or our inbox at tmr@bams.ac.uk, are always open for anyone to reach out to for help with their application (please see the dialogue for details on how to apply!). Of course, this does mean that we are waving goodbye to Polly and Cécile, who (Josh and Bryony want to add) will go down in BAMS history as absolute PG Rep legends. We raise a glass of mulled wine to them and everything they have done during their terms.

With a Santa hat on and a hot chocolate in hand, we’re determined to embrace the quiet over this Christmas period: to read books for fun, to watch old movies, and to start to learn knitting and abandon a section of a wobbly scarf by January 5th. Which modernists are on your ‘for fun’ shelf this Christmas? For Bryony, it’s Rosamond Lehmann, for Josh it’s Square Haunting by Francesca Wade, and for Polly it’s Zora Neale Hurston’s Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick. With that cosy image in mind, we want to thank you for another wonderful year at the Modernist Review, and we hope that you will enjoy our 26th issue.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

Polly, Cécile, Bryony and Josh


Image credit: Roger Fry, ‘River with Poplars’ (c.1912), The Tate Gallery <https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/fry-river-with-poplars-t01779&gt;

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