This time last year, many of us had enjoyed a summer zooming (no, not that kind of zoom) around the UK and further afield, attending and presenting at conferences, symposiums and seminars. Thinking back to last October, many of us had just returned home from the Modernist Studies Association (MSA) Conference 2019 in Toronto. This year, along with many other conferences and events, MSA has been moved online – we were able to watch the roundtable of authors celebrating MSA’s First Book Prize from the comfort of our own homes. This inspiring and insightful event is also available to watch if you missed it live, meaning online events like these are widely accessible and largely open-access. Academia has had to adapt this year, suddenly finding itself unable to hop on a train or flight to attend conferences, meet people and engage with new research.
2 October 2020
Guy Webster, Pembroke College, University of Cambridge
A morning meal appears in the opening pages of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (1931). Mrs. Constable, we hear, is scraping ‘the fish-scales with a jagged knife on to a chopping board’ for breakfast. All the while, the novel’s key characters are playing outside. Louis, Bernard, Neville, Jinny, Susan and Rhoda are exploring the English countryside beneath the scent of sizzling fish in ‘ripples above the chimney’.It is not long after this that Susan, having seen Jinny kiss Louis, prepares a meal of her own. ‘I shall eat grass’, she says, ‘and die in a ditch in the brown water where dead leaves have rotted’.A few pages later and Neville overhears the cook speak of a man ‘found with his throat cut’; ‘death among the apple trees’, Neville calls it. Suddenly, the knife wielded by Mrs. Constable at the beginning of the novel is imbued with a macabre relevance. As it were, Neville tells us that the dead man’s ‘jowl was white as a dead codfish’, perhaps not too dissimilar to the fish Mrs. Constable is scraping scales off in those opening pages? Continue reading “Monstrous Rot: Fearing Food in Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Waves’”
2 October 2020
Catherine Dent, Durham University
When we consume meat, we enact what Erin E. Edwards (Miami University) calls ‘the eating encounter between humans and animals’.1 During this ‘encounter’, the nonhuman body is assimilated – piecemeal – within the bounded human form. So often overlooked at the point of incorporation via ingestion, however, are the violent processes by which animals are killed for human consumption. Continue reading “Beneath the Semblance of the Thing: Meat-Eating and the Absent Referent in Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and ‘The Waves’”
2 October 2020
Zoë Miller, University of Manchester
Content Warning: Sexual Violence, Femicide, Cannibalism
Food features prominently in T.S. Eliot’s poetry: the typist lays out her ‘food in tins’; Fresca ‘caress[es]’ an ‘egg’s well-rounded dome’; and Sweeney wants to ‘gobble up’ his female companion in a ‘stew’.On closer inspection, however, these images of food appear to be more images of consumption, whether of convenience food, indulgent breakfast-in-bed, or, perversely, other people. As Jeff Wallace explains, the early twentieth century saw a significant shift from ‘production to consumption’, with a growing commodity culture fanned by advertising that encouraged consumerist desires.I suggest that images of consumption in Eliot’s poetry reflect this burgeoning consumerism and explore the thorny interstices between food, culture, and sex. Continue reading “‘I’ll Gobble You Up’: Gender and Consumption in T. S. Eliot’s poetry”
2 October 2020
Alessandra Occhiolini, The Graduate Center (CUNY)
What is the character of the modernist stomach, and how does it digest history? Unlike its hyper-functional nineteenth-century predecessor, the stomach of the twentieth century is metaphorically retentive, denatured into retention and distension by the virus that is violence.The work of Walter Benjamin is a particularly clear example of a modernist methodology of historical retention and disorder: Arcades Project (1927-1940) does not pretend to know that the subject can parse the commodity profusion of the past and present that accumulates into history; that the individual is capable of digesting what is useful in a prompt or straightforward manner.Instead, the reading experience is one in which we are forced to retain all without knowing what we will keep of the catalog before us, or if it all is in fact made to waste. Continue reading “What Will They Keep of Me, and What Will Be Waste: Walter Benjamin and The Stomach of Modernism”
2nd October 2020
Jennifer Cameron, University of Hertfordshire
Jean Rhys is not an author who immediately springs to mind when discussing food – alcohol maybe, but not food. However, her protagonists are often portrayed as lacking in food and this is a key factor in Rhys’ depiction of the fashionable, ‘chic’ modern woman. The 1920s were a period of significant technological and social change and in such a fast-paced, visual culture the concept of being fashionable and ‘of the moment’ was highly desirable. Fashion evolved as rapidly as society itself with a new sporty, modern silhouette which was slim-hipped, flat-chested and androgynous, and to achieve this fashionable shape without a corset, a culture of dieting arose. The 1920s saw the birth of many new diet and exercise regimes; the American Tobacco Company ran a campaign for its cigarettes, Lucky Strikes, suggesting ‘Reach for a Lucky instead of a Sweet’; and Dr Lulu Hunt Peters’ diet book, Diet and Health: With Key to the Calories (1918)was a bestselling success with over two million copies sold by 1939 in more than fifty-five editions. Continue reading “The Fashionable Lack of Nourishment in Jean Rhys’ The Left Bank Short Stories.”
2nd October 2020
Nanette O’Brien, Independent Scholar
One of the most celebrated French gourmands and scholars of gastronomy, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826), provides a surprising foundation for modernist thinking about taste, sensation, and culture. Brillat-Savarin describes the sensations of taste and muses on the cultural and social powers of food in his Physiologie du gout, or in English: The Physiology of Taste (1825). Two writers associated with modernism – Ford Madox Ford and Gertrude Stein – both spent periods of their lives living in France and had an interest in Brillat-Savarin and in French cookery. In this short essay, I briefly outline Ford and Stein’s relationships to Brillat-Savarin and how he is connected to their interest in French food and culture and to Ford’s Impressionism and Stein’s abstract style. Though this essay is by no means exhaustive, I argue that in looking backwards to an idealised past inhabited by Brillat-Savarin, Stein and Ford formulated their ideas about modern food and culture.
2nd October 2020
Mairi Power, University of Glasgow
‘relationships are described not as people joined by blood, but those who feed one another’Shirin Edwin 
In the short novels Our Sister Killjoy (1977) and Changes (1991), food is used as a metaphor through which author Ama Ata Aidoo communicates the health of relationships and the cultural differences between her characters . Aidoo is an accomplished Ghanaian writer as well as an academic and political activist; she also held the role of Ghanaian Minister of Education for 18 months from 1982-83. Aidoo’s writing is an excellent example of the tension between African and European modernism, drawing heavily upon cultural difference and the lasting legacy of colonialism within the power structures of West African societies. Bringing Aidoo’s fiction into academic conversations aids in opposing a singular understanding of modernity and pushes for a less euro-centric presentation of modernist studies. Continue reading “Food, Femaleness and Friendship in Ama Ata Aidoo’s Fiction”
Rafael Hernandez, Oklahoma State University
2 October 2020
A 1911 full-page advertisement for Eugen Sandow’s Health and Strength Cocoa features a unique take on the modernist manifesto:
The most serious problem which confronts the world to-day is that of Food. Almost imperceptively the stress of modern life has increased to such an extent that ordinary food-stuffs have ceased to be equal to the demand of body, brain, and nerve for adequate nourishment. This demand can only be satisfied by the production of foods containing a higher percentage of easily-digestible nourishment; and that nourishment must be of the highest possible efficiency. Work has become a science. Feeding must become a science too.
15 September 2020
In 2019, the Modernist Review published a dialogue on the state of Modernist Studies in several instalments, taking as its namesake the title of BAMS’ own conference: Troublesome Modernisms. It began (as so many things do) with a series of tweets in 2018 from Luke Seaber (UCL) who conjectured that ‘current Modernist Studies has something of an academic Ponzi scheme about it’. This sparked a dialogue between he and an independent researcher, Michael Shallcross, about the ‘New Modernist Studies’ and the professional demands of the modern academy. We published responses to this dialogue by Nick Hubble (Brunel University), who believed that ‘it’s time to move…to more democratic conceptions of modernity that lie beyond modernism’, and Emma West (University of Birmingham), whose own encounters with troublesome modernism found her ‘draw[ing] up a pros and cons list for including the word “modernist” in the title of [her] first monograph’. Naomi Milthorpe, Robbie Moore and Eliza Murphy intervened with their own reflections on being Modernism-Adjacent at the University of Tasmania, where ‘the spatial politics of the New Modernist Studies are particularly acute’. Luke and Michael reflected on both of these thoughtful interventions in their own final responses.