Come Dine With Me: Gertrude Stein and the Performative Act of Dining

7 December 2020

Rebekka Jolley, Liverpool Hope University

Richard Schechner unpacks the often-overcomplicated term ‘performative’. He clarifies that performative as an adjective ‘inflects what it modifies with performance-like qualities’.[1]In this article, performative will be used as an adjective to demonstrate how Gertrude Stein unveils dining as a ritualised performative act within her early plays: White Wines Three Acts (1913) and Turkey and Bones and Eating and We Liked It A Play (1916). This piece is interdisciplinary and draws on a close reading of the texts to establish the performative acts that are unveiled through the dialogue, as well as an enquiry into the staging of these pieces and the inclusion of the audience as part of the performative act. Continue reading “Come Dine With Me: Gertrude Stein and the Performative Act of Dining”

‘Further confusing such already confusing words’: Lydia Davis’ footnotes to Beckett

7 December 2020

James Baxter, Independent Scholar

This article will consider Lydia Davis’ (1947-) response to the work of Samuel Beckett, revealing her indebtedness to twentieth-century formal innovations, while gently critiquing the (occasionally ponderous) weight of modernist legacies. Deceptively little sustained criticism exists on Davis’ writing; prior to the 2009 release of The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (a critically acclaimed compendium of Davis’ short fiction that would go on to be awarded the 2013 Man Booker International Prize), Davis’ reputation as a translator would arguably supersede the attention devoted to her highly singular body of creative work.[1] Continue reading “‘Further confusing such already confusing words’: Lydia Davis’ footnotes to Beckett”

Abolitionist Feminism Then and Now #2: Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robeson

7 December 2020

Aija Oksman, University of Edinburgh

Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robeson (1896-1965) was an inspirational Black woman; she was a writer, an anthropologist, and an activist for women’s and civil rights, as well as a successful business woman. Goode strongly favoured Black women’s radical feminism over the type of white women’s more mainstream feminism, the latter of which advocated for the rights of women without paying heed to what we would now term ‘intersectionality’.[1] This she considered obverse to the Woman Question, and believed that mainstream feminism was sowing seeds of disunity by excluding women of all classes and races. Goode and her contemporary Black radical women advocated for a new intersectional, inclusive feminism – though ‘intersectionality’ would not be coined as such until 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw.[2] Continue reading “Abolitionist Feminism Then and Now #2: Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robeson”

Prizes and Prejudice: Institutional Support for Windrush Modernists

10 November 2020

Bret Johnson, Loughborough University

George Lamming, who is originally from Barbados, established himself in Britain during the 1950s as a successful author, intellectual, and public figure who frequently appeared on TV and radio programmes.[1] Lamming’s public appearances came despite the hostility towards Caribbean immigrants, known as the Windrush Generation, who came to the United Kingdom following the British Nationality Act 1948. In an interview in 1960 for the BBC program Monitor, Lamming described the ordeal of the Windrush Generation, remarking upon ‘the terror of not knowing and of not even daring to call upon a single soul among the hundred who surround him,’ stating that, ‘this is the initial experience of the West Indian arriving […] he is alone.’[2] Along with other Caribbean authors of this generation, such as Sam Selvon and Edgar Mittelhölzer, Lamming experienced uncertainty, segregation and prejudice when he moved to London in 1950. Many viewed the move to London as a necessity: Arthur Calder-Marshall, a close acquaintance of Lamming, described London as ‘the cultural centre for Caribbean writers.’[3] Many writers from the Caribbean knew that London offered a cultural infrastructure which included the British Empire’s publishing industry, art institutions and an audience who were receptive to the experimental prose that would become associated with this generation of Caribbean authors.

Continue reading “Prizes and Prejudice: Institutional Support for Windrush Modernists”

‘Let America Be America Again’: The Harlem Renaissance in the Age of Black Lives Matter

9 November 2020

Laura Ryan, Independent Scholar

In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and the worldwide protests that followed, a CBS News item featured a 17-year-old African American poet reciting a portion of Langston Hughes’ 1936 poem “Let America Be America Again”. This was set against a collage of images of Black Lives Matter demonstrations and memorials to Floyd alongside black and white photographs showing the scarred bodies of slaves, downtrodden immigrants and Native American families.  At the end of the two-minute piece, the earnest newscaster concluded: ‘The words of Langston Hughes, still very relevant today.’

Continue reading “‘Let America Be America Again’: The Harlem Renaissance in the Age of Black Lives Matter”

The Changing Horizons of Black Utopia: Political Potentials in Black Modernism

9 November 2020

Justin Smith, The Pennsylvania State University

Many factors culminated at the turn of the twentieth-century to usher a modernist style into African American literature. Geoffrey Jacques points to ‘social transition’ and the increasingly common urban interactions between Black and white Americans as a reason for this shift.[1]Houston A. Baker, focusing on aesthetics, argues that Black modernism’s defining feature is an African American ability to both perform a certain mastery of the formal elements of their white counterparts and embrace an ‘unabashed badness’ in intentionally deforming those same elements.[2]Baker also asserts that ‘Afro-Americans […] have little in common with Joycean or Eliotic projects’, an assertion that James Smethurst expands upon, arguing that Black modernism represented ‘a distinct modern “Negro” literature’ that engages an idea of the ‘black nation (or black international)’.[3]Moving beyond the origin stories that focus on how African Americans interacted with modernism, this essay interrogates the intersection of literary style, race, and politics to suggest that the Blackness of Black modernism has an inherently political meaning, and that modernism, more than an aesthetic shift, actually signals new ways for African American writers to represent the highest of their political aspirations: Black utopia. Continue reading “The Changing Horizons of Black Utopia: Political Potentials in Black Modernism”

Cruising the Harlem Renaissance with Richard Bruce Nugent

9 November 2020

Dylan Rowen, University of Melbourne

And the beauty of it pained him so,

The smile so doubled sexed and slow,

Faint fair breasts and pale torso,

Male into female seemed to flow—

—Richard Bruce Nugent, ‘Narcissus’.[1]

The avant-garde literary magazine FIRE!! — an envisioned modernist quarterly devoted to African American artists — premiered its first and only edition in November 1926, edited by Wallace Thurman, Richard Bruce (Nugent), Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Aaron Douglas, Gwendolyn Bennett, and John Davis. This queer modernist manifesto was a deliberate textual and visual provocation intended to shock the elder contingent of the Harlem Renaissance — typified by individuals such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Alain Locke — in an effort to critique the bourgeois assimilationist politics of the older generation.[2] Continue reading “Cruising the Harlem Renaissance with Richard Bruce Nugent”

Book Review: Race, Sexuality and Identity in Britain and Jamaica: The Biography of Patrick Nelson, 1916-1963

9th November 2020

Christopher Wells, University of Sheffield

Gemma Romain, Race, Sexuality and Identity in Britain and Jamaica: The Biography of Patrick Nelson, 1916-1963 (London: Bloomsbury, 2017)

Gemma Romain’s biography of Patrick Nelson, a queer Black migrant in interwar London, offers an extensive account of both Nelson’s childhood in Jamaica and the fascinating intersectional sites, spaces and subjectivities that Nelson experienced after his arrival into Britain in 1937. Romain’s archival research on letters, paintings, drawings and newspaper articles, including Nelson’s personal letters to his lifelong friend and lover Duncan Grant, sensitively portrays the fascinatingly intersectional experiences of Nelson in both Jamaica and Britain. Romain’s prodigious research is receptive to the multifaceted sites and spaces that Nelson inhabited: as an aristocrat’s valet in rural Wales, a Black queer man in 1930s London, an artist’s model, a law student, a recruit to the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps and as a Prisoner of War during the Second World War. These diverse experiences, particularly Nelson’s relationship with Bloomsbury artist Duncant Grant, offer a much-needed addition to known history of queer Black identities within both queer and global modernist studies. Romain’s attention to the various ‘queer and black social spaces’ (p. 77) that Nelson inhabited offers a refreshing study of same-sex intimacies because Nelson’s experiences capture those queer modernist histories undocumented by the medical institutions of sexology (the early twentieth-century study of human sexuality as a science). In doing so, Romain departs from an authorial inclination to frame homosexual histories in modernism within this sexological context, a critical framework deployed by other biographers such as Thomas Wirth. In his introduction to Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance (2002), an edited collection of the works of Richard Bruce Nugent, Wirth is limited by an over-reliance on the influence of sexual science on Nugent’s literary aesthetic. He makes various references to German psychiatrist Richard von-Krafft Ebing to examine Ebing’s sexological influences on Nugent. In contrast, Romain’s focus on the intersectionality of the everyday reminds us that complex and fractured experiences of queerness, immigration and class-based limitations are crucial components that comprise the universal themes of love, community and belonging. In this context, Romain offers a biography of Nelson that ‘does not attempt to recreate Patrick’s life in its minute and complete detail but instead it focuses on what the archive tells us and what it does not tell us about Patrick’s experiences of life in Britain and contextualizes Patrick’s life experiences within its broader historical context’ (p.55).

Continue reading “Book Review: Race, Sexuality and Identity in Britain and Jamaica: The Biography of Patrick Nelson, 1916-1963”

Good Trouble: How Protest and Rebelliousness Have Shaped the Twenty First Century

9 November 2020

Chyna N. Crawford, Elizabeth City State University

Content warning: racial slurs; police brutality

America is a country founded on independence, democracy and political rights. A form of free speech – the right to protest – is the first freedom underscored in the Constitution and has endured for two centuries since ratification. Protests have been widely criticised throughout the history of our country, despite this constitutional right. People have continued to take to the streets time after time, holding up signs, flags and fists. Thousands of demonstrators have faced numerous challenges over the years. Over frigid winters and warm summers, tear gas and water bombs, in search of a certain shared goal: equality. Modernism, like the American spirit, has evolved out of a very rebellious temperament and stance regarding social and political issues.

Continue reading “Good Trouble: How Protest and Rebelliousness Have Shaped the Twenty First Century”

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