Art’s Revenge upon Intellect: Reading Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood beside Susan Sontag’s ‘Against Interpretation’

4 August 2020

Nimaya Lemal, Keble College, Oxford, and Middlebury College

Despite its provocative title, Susan Sontag’s ‘Against Interpretation’ (1964) does not renounce artistic interpretation wholesale. The interpretation at fault, for Sontag, is that which ‘digs “behind”the text, to find a sub-text which is the true one’, excavating elements for application within an analytical theory.[1]This ‘curious project for transforming a text’, she writes, essentially ‘translate[s]’ the work, a process which undercuts the integrity of the work itself.[2]Sontag’s essay rejects ‘that a work of art is its content’, yet she does not necessarily prescribe formalism, despite what some readers have suggested.[3]Her critique lies specifically with interpretative approaches that bypass form because they are content-focused, and hence engage in translational (usurping) analysis.[4]Sontag does advocate for alternative critical action, however. Throughout the essay, Sontag speaks to a kind of interpretation that is, at its core, ‘sensual’, ‘erotic’, and/or ‘loving’ in appreciation of a work’s form and beyond.[5]She closes her essay with the line: ‘In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.’[6] Continue reading “Art’s Revenge upon Intellect: Reading Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood beside Susan Sontag’s ‘Against Interpretation’”

Ageing Anxieties in George Orwell’s ‘The Clergyman’s Daughter’

3rd July 2020

Carrie Kancilia, University of Southern Maine

Content Warning: Sexual Assault

George Orwell’s least-studied novel, The Clergyman’s Daughter (1935), centres Dorothy Hare, a woman of twenty-eight, whose worries about spinsterhood are exacerbated by constant exposure to aged companions. This novel offers many still-current clichés about aging people, and multiple examples of the undesirable aspects of aging. This experimental late-modernist novel has disparate thematic components, but Orwell’s attention to age persists throughout. The senior characters act as an inescapable chorus of the challenges of growing older. Continue reading “Ageing Anxieties in George Orwell’s ‘The Clergyman’s Daughter’”

Beatrice Wood: Of Pots and People

3rd July 2020

Caroline Knighton, Independent

A scientist once said there is no such thing as time. So perhaps we do not exist in time as we know it. We cannot hold on to the past or grab onto the future, and the present is ever gone.[1]

– Beatrice Wood

In the acknowledgments of her aptly titled memoir I Shock Myself (1985), the celebrated ‘Mamma of Dada’ and internationally renowned ceramist Beatrice Wood (1893-1998) draws a compelling comparison between the forms and functions of autobiography and the processes of pottery, both of which she embarked on later in life, and remained preoccupied by until her death at 105. While the substance of ceramics is ‘clay and chemicals’, she muses that the ‘stuff of life is most certainly people’, the autobiographic document reimaged as ‘a big pot, shaped, designed, and filled by the people one has known and loved’.[2] Pushing Wood’s analogy further than functionality, we can see that both practices also involve the crafting of raw material into recognisable forms, and the compression of complex temporalities. Continue reading “Beatrice Wood: Of Pots and People”

Post-Millennial Modernism? Late Style and Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

3rd July 2020

Liam Harrison, University of Birmingham

Content Note: Violence, Sexual Assault

‘I’m screaming in the blackness. Scream until I’m done my body. Full of nothing. Full of dirt the. I am’.[1]

This burst of sound and fury marks the beginning of the end of Eimear McBride’s visceral tale of trauma, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing (2013). McBride’s debut novel has been discussed in terms of its modernist inheritance possibly more than any other novel in the twenty-first century.[2]  The discussions of A Girl’s modernist debts across book reviews and academic criticism have focused on its formally disjointed style, while the novel’s intertextuality has been praised as a sign of McBride’s modernist credentials. Instead of reading A Girl as ‘modernism’s return of the repressed’,[3] or describing it through Joycean and Beckettian superlatives,  I suggest we might turn to the notion of ‘late style’ as an alternative means of navigating McBride’s engagement with modernist legacies.

Continue reading “Post-Millennial Modernism? Late Style and Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing”

The ‘Late’ Modernism of Claude McKay’s Romance in Marseille

3rd July 2020

Laura Ryan, University of Manchester

Claude McKay once said of his 1928 novel Home to Harlem – the first American best-seller by a black author and a key text of the Harlem Renaissance – that it would take ‘another thirty or forty years’ for his readers to see it ‘in its true light – to appreciate it in the spirit in which [he] wrote it’.[1]  Yet McKay could surely never have predicted that more than nine decades later another of his novels – Romance in Marseille – would be published for the first time to critical fanfare. 

Continue reading “The ‘Late’ Modernism of Claude McKay’s Romance in Marseille”

A Delay In Glass: Marcel Duchamp, the Possible, and the Aversion to Déjà Vu

3rd July 2020

Tyrus Miller, University of California, Irvine

In his Green Box (1934) of reproduced notes and images related to his uncompleted and shattered Large Glass, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1915-23), Marcel Duchamp famously characterized his meticulously assembled work not as a “picture” or “painting” but as a “delay in glass”:

Continue reading “A Delay In Glass: Marcel Duchamp, the Possible, and the Aversion to Déjà Vu”

David Jones: A Case Study in Modernist Belatedness

3rd July 2020

Ann Marie Jakubowski, Washington University in St. Louis

Reading David Jones within the context of this special issue’s focus on “belatedness” highlights the possibility that many of the thorniest elements of his poetic legacy are also the most compelling features of his work. Jones – a poet, painter, engraver, essayist, and World War I veteran – was much admired by his contemporaries, yet he has remained marginal in modernist studies until recently.[1] His literary reputation rests largely upon two book-length poems: In Parenthesis (1937) and The Anathemata (1952). The former recasts Jones’s memories of war but arrives nearly twenty years after the armistice; the latter dilates to encompass the history of Britain from its pre-Roman origins into modernity and is aptly described as a ‘glacial erratic in the landscape of modern poetry,’ in Paul Keegan’s memorable phrase.[2] I want to consider how this element of untimeliness is not incidental to Jones’s work but rather fundamental to it – that is, his belatedness is as much a defining element of his poetic imagination as it is the result of critical paradigms ill-suited to appreciating his work. Continue reading “David Jones: A Case Study in Modernist Belatedness”

The Eternal and Temporal in British Literary Modernism

Aoiffe Walsh, Royal Holloway, University of London

3rd July 2020

‘It was as if the filthy modern tide were wetting my heels as I scrambled to safety.’[1]

-Kathleen Raine

In 1932 Paul Nash questioned whether it was possible to ‘go modern’ and still ‘be British.’[2] As a painter of often abstract landscapes, inspired by his upbringing in rural Buckinghamshire, Nash contemplated the stability of British historical values in the face of modernity, claiming that ‘the battle lines [had] been drawn up: internationalism versus an indigenous culture; renovation versus conservatism; the industrial versus the pastoral; the function versus the futile.’ This sentiment gestured towards two types of Britishness: the identity sprung from British cultural history concerned with ‘traditional rural life’, and that which absorbs and welcomes the pace, products and advancements of modernity.[3] Continue reading “The Eternal and Temporal in British Literary Modernism”

Late Stylist: Gertrude Stein’s Affective Time

Hyunjung Kim, Texas A&M University

3rd July 2020

‘Art’s autonomy shows signs of blindness,’ writes Theodor W. Adorno.[1] In Invalid Modernism(2019), Michael Davidson observes that Adorno metaphorically links ‘blindness to willed unknowing’ to begin his theory of aesthetics ‘to represent art’s refusal of the mimetic, the familiar, the true.’[2] To rewrite these statements, perhaps a little more poetically, we might understand an Adornian sense of willful blindness as an effort in search of different modes of seeing, connecting, and living by pursuing an active negation of the existing relations we have with otherness. Evoking Gertrude Stein’s perhaps most quoted line, ‘Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,’ this willful blindness reads as a gesture to attune to rose differently, to acknowledge that we see rose differently, to sense blue in what has been so long associated with red, or to imagine a shape that does not necessarily take the form of rose at all. Or we might also say, with the first line of Tender Buttons(1914), ‘A Carafe, that is a Blind Glass’, Stein obscures the original shape and purpose of a glass, making it ‘blind’ and thus opaque, impermeable, and impermissible. Continue reading “Late Stylist: Gertrude Stein’s Affective Time”

Performing the Past: Alexander Sacharoff and the Modernist Body

Francesca Dytor, University of Cambridge

1 June 2020

The dancing body is a special kind of body. Taking centre stage, it invites criticism, demands praise, and at certain moments has functioned as a crucible for debate over the proper nature of the body. With the emergence of European modern dance at the beginning of the twentieth century, the dancing body was at the centre of discussions over the possible forms that knowledge could take.[1] Could knowledge be embodied in the dancing body? Was this knowledge a form of cultural memory or of scholarship? What relationship did the dancer in particular have with the past? This article outlines one way in which the past was performed in the 1910s, and the distinctions drawn by contemporary spectators between a reconstruction of the past, and the more problematic embodiment of it. Continue reading “Performing the Past: Alexander Sacharoff and the Modernist Body”

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