The Modernist Review #29

29 April 2021

Have you felt self-conscious lately? How very modernist of you. Perhaps it’s because (in the U.K. at least) we are beginning, very slowly, to adjust to a relaxing of the pandemic rules, and remind ourselves how to behave in social interactions, or wear something that isn’t loungewear. Or perhaps it’s because we are more self-aware of ourselves within our working space. No longer is ‘a room of one’s own’ a private domain but open to frequent outside scrutiny on Zoom or Teams. People we may not even know gaze into our homes and wonder at the wallpaper or the chaos or the occasional glimpse of a dog’s tail passing by, and few of us can or want to move to a new abode as often as Elizabeth von Arnim to find a tranquil personal space. The ubiquity of Zoom meetings forces us to look at ourselves within our working space, a dystopian parody of Ilse Bing’s photographic self-portrait – though we’re sure there are plenty of modernists who would have loved the memes about looking at oneself on Zoom, not to mention the solemnity of that yellow halo surrounding the speaker’s box.

Just while our own halo is lit, we should mention BAMS’ most recent Pedagogy Training Day, which we hope all the attendees found to be an invigorating and heartening insight into teaching in times shadowed by the pandemic and ever-shifting classroom landscapes. We Postgrad Reps loved having a chance to meet you in breakout rooms, and read all the chimes of agreement and recognition with the plenary speakers in the chat box, and we just can’t wait until we can be together in a real room again. As was pointed out in a recent meeting of the Exec Committee, the last BAMS event held in person was New Work in Modernist Studies 2019 at the University of Liverpool, and it won’t come as a surprise that the bi-annual Conference will be replaced this year with something virtual and different. As was announced on Twitter, watch this space for online events for the month following Bloomsday, 16 June.

As the troupe of virtual realities marches on, we find strength in re-positionings, re-imaginings and re-centrings, a note that resonates throughout this edition of the Modernist Review. Isabelle Coy-Dibley opens with a review of one of TMR’s favourite works of contemporary literature: Shola von Reinhold’s ‘fabulously queer, decadent, decolonial, and complex’ novel, LOTE. Going on this journey with the protagonist, Mathilda, Coy-Dibley finds in this novel ‘the ultimate fight for visibly representing queer identities that do not conform, nor should conform, when to do so would extinguish the iridescence of the present “Bright Young People”’. We were honoured to publish an interview with the author last year, in which they told us about the feeling of ‘having to divide yourself, partition half of yourself off, when reading certain kinds of fiction. Though, as they say, it’s early days, we can’t wait to see what von Reinhold writes next.

Speaking of interviews with authors, we are delighted this month to publish Jonathan McAllister’s interview with Steven Matthews and Matthew Feldman, the editors of the much-anticipated edition of Samuel Beckett’s Philosophy Notes. Beckett students and scholars alike can expect to find strikingly ‘meticulous’ notes, and all in beautiful typed print thanks to Matthews and Feldman’s legwork of wading through Beckett’s handwriting. In fact, ‘there are probably now only about three or four words out of the 109,000 words that we would admit we don’t actually have.’ Consider that fact a TMR exclusive.

You can’t talk about handwritten modernist notebooks for long without running into Woolf, and next up in this issue, Ellie Mitchell provides a fascinating new interpretation of Woolf’s diaries in her article on the diaries as rehearsal spaces. In this year in which theatre doors have been closed, Mitchell returns us to the stage with her argument that ‘Woolf’s compositional processes, as documented by the diary, are as theatrical as they are literary.’ For Mitchell, this process is truly embodied: ‘the hand can physically be trained to write well in the same way that it can be trained to draw a picture or bat a ball or play a piano or guide a horse well.’ In her review of Affective Materialities (edited by Kara Watts, Molly Volanth Hall and Robin Hackett), Isabelle Jenkinson also turns to embodiment in finding that the book ‘demonstrates how modernist imaginings of bodies remain relevant to our word today.’ The body in this book exists ‘in its material relation to ecologies and as a subject experiencing affect’, and I think this is something to which we can all attest after a year of evolving our relationship with the world around us. Finally, Rachel Eames also contends with the ‘multi-sensory’ in her review of Cara L. Lewis’ Dynamic Form. This is a book that moves ‘beyond the visual to consider the aural and tactile aspects’ of ‘a diverse range of artistic media and literature’, to explore ‘the affordances of intermedial form’. We can only wait until we can enter a museum or gallery again soon and have our senses awakened. 

If, like us, you’ve been missing opportunities to showcase your work in the last year, or you have a piece of work looking for a home, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at tmr@bams.ac.uk to pitch a 1,000 word article on modernist literature, art or culture. Or, do you see a new book in modernist studies that you want to review? Tell us about it! We look forward to hearing from you. For contributors seasoned and new, we are also pleased to introduce our new TMR Code of Conduct, which can be found on our submission page. We hope that working with and reading TMR continues to be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience for everyone.

With that, we sign off and say that we hope you enjoy this month’s edition of TMR. We also add, with excitement, that this is our first edition signing off with our brand new, five person, PG Rep team!

So, for the first time, very best wishes,

Bryony, Josh, Gill, Jennifer & Emily


Cover image: Paul Gaguin, Self-Portrait (1889), National Gallery of Art

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