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The Modernist Review #39

4 April 2022

In the UK over the last couple weeks there has been a noticeable uptick of sunshine, birdsong, and lamb sightings – we’ve crunched the numbers and can only conclude that Spring is finally here. Our issue this month is ripe with reviews, as our authors have emerged like hibernating animals from a winter spent hunkered by the fire reading their critical works of choice. Their thoughtful reflections of the newest contributions to the modernist marketplace of ideas are nicely rounded out by our lone article this month, an investigation of Mina Loy’s playful reconstruction of poetic form, culminating in her design of a build-it-yourself alphabet. If the weather holds – or maybe you permanently live somewhere sunnier than we do! – we recommend reading outside (though pack a jacket… and maybe a scarf, still).

Our first review comes from our own Jinan Ashraf, who makes a case for Ragini Mohite’s Modern Writers, Transnational Literatures: Rabindranath Tagore and W.B. Yeats. Ashraf’s review examines the methods and motives of Mohite’s study against the broader currents and debates in transnational methodologies and world literatures, investigating the existing critical scaffolding of Indo-Irish scholarship on Tagore and Yeats, with a special focus on their place in the broader transnational turn in modernist studies. Ashraf’s reading of Mohite points out these two figures as long-held critical favourites for examining modernist enactments of their respective national identities. 

So returns, so renewals: the contents of this month’s TMR reflect this critical oscillation between these pillar concepts. In the case of Katie Jonesreview of Historical Modernisms: Time, History and Modernist Aesthetics, return and renewal are in the form of history as a modernist, aesthetic concern. According to Jones, the aim of the book is to “undo modernism’s associations with ahistoricity, as supposedly exemplified by the avant-gardes, by reading modernist arts in context”. As she guides us through the chapters, considering the engagement of modernist authors with the 19th century, the expansion of the canon through “global little magazine culture” and  the understanding of time through the concepts of Kairos and “future-orientations and potentiality”, as well as the approach of the avant-gardes to history, society and politics, Jones captures the key arguments of a collection of diverse essays which, in her words, “emphasise[s] a concept of history as in the (re)making”.

Shifting this idea of (re)making to a poetic strategy, Bowen Wang’s article ‘Mina Loy, Logopoeia, and the Alphabet that Builds Itself’ pays homage to the personal tradition of Mina Loy by teasing out the various textual processes underpinning audio-visual emotion in Loy’s revolutionary poems. He foregrounds some of Loy’s formal concerns with the physicality of language and the racial, sensual and political energies informing such an approach to aesthetic modernism. His article poses interesting questions on tactility, verbal imagery, and the formal and textual concerns of modernism and the avant-garde. In critically engaging with Loy’s plastically constructed segmental letters, Wang illuminates a fascinating theory of poetic language which could be conceived as ‘kinetic, geometric, recombinant, and open to mutation’. 

The final contributor to this month’s issue, Buxi Duan, considers another kind of protean modernism through the “various literary personae” of D. H. Lawrence. In his review of Annalise Grice’s D. H. Lawrence and the Literary Marketplace: The Early Writings, Duan delves into the subject of Lawrence’s active engagement with his literary circle and the modernist marketplace. In his view, this volume offers interesting insights into an often neglected side of the author, often perceived “as a peripheral figure” and an isolated writer within the modernist period. Discussing the evidence provided in the case studies from the book, Duan supports the author’s understanding of Lawrence as a complex figure with “many faces as a novelist, poet, letter-writer, dramatist, literary reviewer, and arguably essayist and journalist”. Many individual instances, according to the reviewer, offer a more detailed, although not yet comprehensive account of Lawrence’s first steps in the literary world, and unveil his active efforts to form “an authorial identity”, connect to mentors and influential networks, and make an impact on the literary marketplace.

The cluster of writings here assembled for this issue all speak to a productive instability – an eschewing of the systems, mandates and manifestos that precede our ideas of modernism. These pieces, touching on assorted approaches and aspects of modernism suggest that despite attempts at self-definition, modernism is not pre-formed but performed, in old and new contexts alike. We hope you enjoy sampling these few fruits of fresh thinking, and that they might sow a few seeds in turn. 

Best wishes,

Emily, Jennifer, Hannah, Elena & Jinan

Image credit: Vincent Van Gogh, Undergrowth with Two Figures, c. 1890, oil on canvas, Cincinnati Art Museum. Public domain.


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