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The Modernist Review #41: Hopeful Modernisms

5 August 2022

After a short and sweaty hiatus, we’re back with another issue of The Modernist Review. Thanks to our readers and contributors for their (your) patience; we have taken a little time to re-focus our vision for TMR and to relieve some of the editorial pressure. You might hear from us a little less frequently, but we will continue to produce regular issues, to be released now every other month. That being said, we are as keen as ever to publish your work and continue on a platform for emerging ideas, so please continue to submit to us as you would normally. TMR is nothing without its contributors!

June was a busy month for the modernists and it brought the first in-person conferences back for many of us, not least with BAMS’ ‘Hopeful Modernisms’ conference in Bristol. Two of this month’s articles are abbreviated forms of papers given at the conference, and we would also like to share some reflections on the wonderful few days spent reconvening with hopeful outlooks on modernist studies.

One of the central threads that emerged from the panels and discussions was the framing of hope as a fulcrum for progress: progress as conceived by modernists, and progress in the field of modernisms today. Many of the conversations at ‘Hopeful Modernisms’ offered perspectives on newness – how new methodologies and theoretical approaches can bring neglected authors and ideas into the mainstream, or present new and necessary views on canonical mainstays. Topics ranged from authors’ material belongings as archival objects, the single-author study as a feminist tool, developments in late modernism and metamodernism, and new considerations of sound, money, and national configuratitons within modernist studies. Urmila Seshagiri’s excellent keynote, ‘”Sure and Certain Knowledge”: Virginia Woolf’s Literary Lives’, reminded us all that these kinds of conversations were crucial to the recognition of Virginia Woolf as a central figure of modernist studies, and one capable of seeing uncertainty as an occasion for hope.

Overall, ‘Hopeful Modernisms’ was the injection of hope many of us felt we needed after two years apart, reminding us of the possibilities of collaboration, community, and conversation in academia and the future of the field we are all working together to build. In this June/July issue of TMR, we are happy to present four scholars who are part of that conversation.

Presenting excerpts from their conference papers are Eret Talviste and Nicola Baird. Talviste’s paper suggests a more hopeful, anti-Oedipal reading of modernist fiction, one that allows us to overcome the sense of ‘disenchantment’ felt after the Enlightenment. While early 20th-century writings often describe a meaningless and human-centered world, this view encourages a reading of modernism as influenced by a wider range of ‘strange intimacies’, described as ‘affective, sensorial, and bodily moments when a close relationship with an unexpected or unlikely character, thing, or place emerges’. In her paper, Talviste discusses how authors like Hélène Cixous attempt to ‘write a way out of Oedipal, disenchanted narratives by focusing on bodies, materiality, and the (non-human) other’, finding magic in Modernism without losing its human dimension.

In a similar vein, Baird’s excerpt takes issue with traditional interpretations of modernism by redefining the extent of its ‘agency within art history’ and by refusing its conventional association with progress as a restrictive label which fails to represent the ‘hybrid reality of the twenty-first century’. Discussing the work of emigré artist David Bomberg and his pupils, mostly preserved in London in the Ben Uri Gallery and in the Sarah Rose Collection at Borough Road Gallery, Baird shows how such pieces “challenge aesthetic modernism’s singular historic logic, its teleological intransigence and encourage thinking about the extent to which modernism has proven an exclusive and exclusionary category”. In her paper, she expresses her hope for a re-evaluation of Bomberg’s work within a larger, multicultural modernist framework and encourages a reaction against ‘the idea that modernism is about a common national inheritance, lineage and set of innate values; that it concerns a singular past, and that it derives from a universal aesthetics of taste and value’.

We are also very pleased to feature two excellent articles by Juliette Bretan and Siân Round. Bretan’s ‘“The Eye & The Ear”: Phonic Modernism and Central Eastern Europe’, the intersection of sight and sound in her discussion of phonics. This perhaps unfamiliar representation of the spoken word allows us to consider ‘different ways of reading modernism, and listening to modernism differently’. Bretan uses these ideas as a launching point to analyse what phonics can reveal about British attitudes towards Central Eastern Europe, exploring transcriptions of misunderstanding and ambiguity.

In ‘Double Dealing in the Magazines: The Case of the Coucou Hoax’, Round presents the curious case of the Double Dealer, a little magazine that both sought to prove the American South’s ability to contribute to literary modernism and satirize the foibles of modernism as a movement. Round explores these perhaps contradictory aims in her discussion of ‘Coucou’, a faux ‘ism’ invented by the magazine to rival and mock other modernist ‘isms’, such as Dada. However, as Round writes, through Coucou, ‘the editors reveal their closeness to, and interest in, such movements’, suggesting an investment in modernism thwarted by their outsider status.

We want to thank our readers and authors as always for their support and for bearing with us over these hectic summer months! We hope you enjoy this issue over a glass of Pimms or lemonade and take it as a moment to look back over the conference past as well as to the hopeful future this new and exciting work represents.

Best wishes,

Emily, Hannah, Elena & Jinan

Image credit: Arthur G. Dove, Moon, 1928, oil on board, owned jointly by Fisk University and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Public domain.


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