The Modernist Review #38

28 February 2022

There is an obvious satisfaction in the precision of a four-week month, but the brevity of February is nonetheless surprising; modernist time warps abound. And here we are again to present another issue of The Modernist Review. With a rich offering of content this month, our contributors cycle through circadian rhythms, carve up abstract woodcuts, reflect on archiving archives, ruminate on the mouth of James Joyce’s fictional alter-ego and reconcile the anxieties and embarrassment of ageing modernist writers. Though we’ve racked our brains for a theme, the closest we’ve come is a sense of fragmentation, a churning through literary archaeology in order to break something new loose—as evidenced in our cover image this month, Cézanne’s ‘La Carrière de Bibémus’. This is your cue to settle in with a brew.

Continuing a conversation on a text featured in our last issue, Dominic Berry‘s article ‘Ecstatic Twilight and the Night-Day Polarity in D. H. Lawrence’s Twilight in Italy (1916)’ delves into a study of the conflict between the ‘negating, modern confusion of being’ with what one might call ‘the oscillating, or circadian, mode of becoming’. According to Berry, Lawrence’s  emphasis on the dynamic relationship between opposite poles allows the author to overcome the impasse of dualism.

A ‘modern confusion of being’ is brought into a new and different kind of order in the work of Wassily Kandinsky, Anne Regina Grasselli argues in ‘Wassily Kandinsky’s Woodcuts: Early Representations of Non-Objective Imagery’. The article explores the ‘new, non-objective pictorial language’ of Kandinsky’s prints which led him to the establishment of a fully abstract style in the first decades of the twentieth century. 

Rory Hutchings‘s review of Eliot and Beckett’s Low Modernism: Humility and Humiliation by Rick De Villiers maps the cultivation of low modernism in the works of T.S. Eliot and Samuel Beckett, demonstrating how each writer poses a challenge to a positivist modernism. According to Hutchings, the study offers ‘a new way to consider two of modernism’s enduring icons’. Remaining with the canonical but refreshing understandings of salivation and selfdom, Annie Williams‘s article is entitled ‘James Joyce and the Modernist Mouth’. Williams explores twentieth-century modernist literature and its cross-references with salivary diagnostics with a focus on oral dysfunctions in Joyce’s early texts. Williams notes how the characters’ “reluctance to speak, spit, or kiss” has deep implications, as it sheds light on their conflictual approach to “nationality, language, and religion” and often accompanies their “crises of selfhood”.

From crises of the individual to crises of the critical, Emily Bell reviews Historicizing Modernists: Approaches to ‘Archivalism’, edited by Matthew Feldman, Anna Svendsen and Erik Tonning. The oft-cited notion of an ‘archival turn’ in modernist studies is scrutinised in this text, as Bell highlights, elucidating the study’s questions of what we choose to preserve as ‘archive’ and the methods we use to do so, as well as pointing to alternative ways of conceptualising the idea of the archive. Bell reflects on the volume’s focus on the practice and production of modernist archives, examined through specific archives of major modernist figures and ‘new perspectives on how archives historicise modernism through various approaches – queer, transnational and feminist, for example’. 

In a few words of housekeeping, this issue is our first with our new postgraduate representatives, Jinan Ashraf, Elena Valli, and Hannah Voss. They are very excited to be joining the BAMS team and we are thrilled to have them; please extend a warm welcome and do feel free to reach out to them in their new capacity.

Finally, given the uncertainty of the last few weeks and days, especially within the academy but also globally, we are grateful to our authors for offering hope by pointing to the past, a reminder that it is through the benefit of hindsight that we are able to make ‘ordered sense of what might otherwise be seen as a fragmented cluster of shapes’ (Grasselli). Furthermore, we are grateful to our colleagues who continue to fight to create a viable future in academia for those like our contributors, and we postgraduate editors.

With best wishes,

Jennifer, Emily, Hannah, Elena & Jinan


Image credit: Paul Cézanne, La Carrière de Bibémus, c. 1895, oil on canvas, Museum Folkwang. Public domain.

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