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The Modernist Review #27

8 February 2021

At the start of each new year, E.M. Forster used to write a reflection on the year gone by in his diary. We can only empathise with him as he tried to write about 1920, beginning with the sentence: ‘I may shrink from summarising this sinister year’. This is, as the kids say, a big mood. A century on from Forster’s diary entry, it feels kind of like 2021 hasn’t yet started, and 2020 is still dragging its feet and refusing to exit. After all, it’s a new year but the same pandemic. Forster is onto something, though, in using his writing as a way of processing memories of time gone by, and as our contributors show us in this issue, memory and modernism were of course closely intertwined. Forster might have begun 1921 shrinking away from a sinister year, but it was a great year for modernist writing and art. This year, we celebrate one hundred years since Edith Wharton winning the Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence, Proust publishing The Guermantes Way (if you start now, you might finish it by 2022 in time for the next Temps Perdu centenary), Langston Hughes writing ‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’, Mondrian straightening up lines on his iconic Composition in Red Blue and Yellow, and Picasso painting his Three Musicians. Maybe you’ve been able to spend some indoor time during this pandemic trying to hash out your own modernist-type masterpiece – whether a seven volume novel or a haiku – for people to celebrate in 2121. 

Luckily, there are more avenues to share your writing with other people without a clandestine sharing of space with them. Ingenious online events have made it easier to bridge the seemingly insurmountable gap between us and, well, other people, making it easier to be together while we’re apart. The latest in our series of Online Events dialogues is written by Roula-Maria Dib, who offers an antidote to isolation in the form of digital poetry eventsorganised as a part of Indelible Evenings. “With ‘dig-lit’,” she writes, “there may be no physical stage and no shared physical space, but we still have the poet(s), the audience, and the feeling of each other’s energy.” 

With such huge modernist centenaries come questions of memory and memorialisation. Two of the pieces in this month’s Modernist Review are about how the First World War came to be memorialised. Iro Filippaki reviews Alice Kelly’s Commemorative Modernisms: Women Writers, Death and the First World War. Filippaki writes about Commemorative Modernisms’s close engagement not just with the canonical women writers of modernism – Kelly discusses Katherine Mansfield, H.D., and Virginia Woolf, among others – but the ‘literary first-aid’ of those ‘women who were tasked with finding what to do with the body: nurse it, mourn it, survive it, represent it, and bring it to life all over again’. Meanwhile, Edel Hanley interviews Connie Ruzich about her new anthology, International Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology of Lost Voices. The anthology does not just include poetry from soldiers but also from noncombatant men and women; including these voices helps to ‘problematise the very notion of war’ and ‘force us to re-examine the question of what constitutes war writing’. In doing so, Ruzich’s anthology ‘helps us to recover a broader picture of the experience of total war and a more nuanced understanding of what it meant to live through such a war.’ Both Filippaki’s review and Hanley’s interview remind us that traumatic events in the past live on well after the event itself has finished, and that literature forms a crucial part of an event’s afterlife.

Staying with the First World War, Sonaksha Srivastava writes about the politics of salt in Mulk Raj Anand’s Across the Black Waters (1939). In an article that spans from ancient Mesopotamian salt to Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha, Srivastava tracks the ‘salty gastrocentric metaphors and imageries’ Anand employs to ‘pronounce brimming tensions, and ideas of servitude between the soldiers,’ colonial subjects from India who are brought to France to fight on the Western Front, ‘and the Sarkar, their (English) master.’ Moving away from the First World War, Marie Allègre writes about Lacanian readings of Virginia Woolf’s fiction. She demonstrates that, contrary to a tradition of Woolf criticism rooted in Lacanian psychoanalysis, Woolf’s writing does not ‘anticipate the Lacanian real’ and that the complex but ultimately dualistic readings of Woolf by Lacanian critics ‘reduce Woolf’s explorations to conceptual skeletons’. Instead, Allègre writes, Woolf writes into being a complex play of agency that anticipates Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter and ‘what new materialism speaks of as entangled phenomena’.

It’s an exciting time in the world of the BAMS committee, as we are right in the middle of electing new members to the executive committee, including two new PG Reps. If you want to have your say on who writes these TMR editorials and represents postgrads on the BAMS executive committee, remember to cast your vote! You have to be a member to vote, so if you’re not yet and you’d like a say in how BAMS runs, a subscription to the incredible Modernist Cultures journal, discounted access to conferences and events and more perks, take a look at this link

All best wishes to you, and we hope you’re keeping safe,

Bryony & Josh

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