Publishing the Archive: Samuel Beckett’s Philosophy Notes. An Interview with Steven Matthews and Matthew Feldman.

29 April 2021

Jonathan McAllister, University of Cambridge

Steven Matthews and Matthew Feldman ed., Samuel Beckett’s ‘Philosophy Notes’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020)

 

Old Greek: I can’t find my notes on the pre-Socratics. The arguments of the Heap and the Bald Head (which hair falling produces baldness) were used by the Sophists and I think have been variously attributed to one or the other. They disprove the reality of mass in the same way and by means of the same fallacy as the arguments of the Arrow and Achilles and the Tortoise, invented a century earlier by Zeno the Eleatic, disprove the reality of movement. The leading Sophist, against whom Plato wrote his dialogue, was Protagoras and he is probably the “old Greek” whose name Hamm can’t remember.

 

– Letter from Samuel Beckett to Alan Schneider, 21 November 1957.[1]

When asked in 1961 whether he was influenced by philosophical writing, Samuel Beckett said that he neither read nor understood philosophers. In the early 2000s, however, a corpus of reading notes, taken by Beckett between 1932 and 1938, came to the attention of scholars working on Beckett’s oeuvre. These notes cover the history of western philosophy, from the sixth century BCE to the late nineteenth century CE, and consist of roughly five hundred sides of handwritten and typed loose notebook pages. In the last two decades, these notes have been the source of much discussion and debate within Beckett studies, contributing to the questions concerning Beckett’s relationship with philosophy that have animated critics since the 1960s. Many scholars have sought to elaborate these notes’ significance to and place within the Beckett canon, sensitive to the ambiguities and paradoxes involved in philosophical readings of his texts. Peter Fifield, for example, has written that Beckett’s ‘texts are never a neutral ground to which we may bring an objective method; rather, philosophy is already present and at work in them’.[2] How then might we use these notes to enrich our understanding of the philosophy at work in the texture of Beckett’s prose and theatre? In late 2020, Oxford University Press published their much anticipated edition of Beckett’s ‘Philosophy Notes’ edited by Steven Matthews and Matthew Feldman, opening the debate to a wider audience of researchers and students than previously possible. This edition contains a thorough introduction and extensive footnotes written by two scholars who have spent much of their career reading and thinking about Beckett’s oeuvre, making it an invaluable addition to the shelves of any library. I asked Steven and Matthew to share their experiences of working with these notes over the last two decades and their insights into the significance of these notes to Beckett’s work for this interview with The Modernist Review.

Continue reading “Publishing the Archive: Samuel Beckett’s Philosophy Notes. An Interview with Steven Matthews and Matthew Feldman.”

Toni Roberts interviews Jesse Ataide of @queer_modernisms

26 February 2021

Toni Roberts

When did you become interested in Modernism and queerness? What was it that resonated with you and how did you come to create the @queer_modernisms Instagram account?

My interest in modernism and queerness is the culmination of a lot of different factors. I come from a conservative, rural, religious background, and until I left for college my exposure to contemporary pop culture was very limited—no television or secular music, and a select group of movies. As an artistically-inclined, socially awkward little boy I found an escape in reading, as well as the visual arts, and, later, classic Hollywood films. 

Continue reading “Toni Roberts interviews Jesse Ataide of @queer_modernisms”

International Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology of Lost Voices: An Interview with Connie Ruzich

8 February 2020

Connie Ruzich is a professor of English at Robert Morris University; her Ph.D. is from the University of Pennsylvania. Ruzich was a 2014-2015 Fulbright Scholar at the University of Exeter, where she researched the use of poetry in British centenary commemorations of the First World War. She is the editor of International Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology of Lost Voices (Bloomsbury, 2020), and she runs the popular blog Behind Their Lines, which discusses poetry of the Great War. Her essay “Distanced, disembodied, and detached: Women’s poetry of the First World War” appears in An International Rediscovery of World War One: Distant Fronts (Routledge, 2020), and she contributed “Language and Identity: Introduction,” to be published in Multilingual Environments in the Great War (Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2021). You can follow her on Twitter @wherrypilgrim.

This interview was conducted by Edel Hanley (University College Cork).

Continue reading “International Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology of Lost Voices: An Interview with Connie Ruzich”

Jim Crow and the Birth of Modernism

9 November 2020

Adam McKee, Elizabeth City State University

James Smethurst, The African American Roots of Modernism: From Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011)

            James Smethurst’s argument in The African American Roots of Modernism: From Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance (2011) establishes the African American experience in Jim Crow as essential to the birth of what might be called an American modernist experience. Modernism as a field has often dealt with issues of racism, sexism, and anti-semitism. However, now in the midst of a sort of reckoning in America about our racist history, institutions, and ideologies, arguments like Smethurst’s seek to explode the concept of American modernism and the cultural institutions behind its development. This essay is a reassessment of Smethurst’s work in light of the particular moment in American literary studies and how the book has been received over the last decade. In place of the Armory Show and contact with the European avant-garde as precursors and initiators of modernist themes and tropes, Smethurst finds the experience of African Americans in the Jim Crow Era a central marker in the birth of American modernism. Early in the text Smethurst writes that “a crucial objective of this book is to suggest how African American literature first raised many of the concerns, stances, and tropes associated with U.S. modernism” (3). The text sets out, on a near granular level, to document the development of authors such as Paul Laurence Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson, Fenton Johnson and many others “not to prove that black literature at the turn of the century is worth reading because it is “modernist”…but to rethink the relationship of black literature during the early Jim Crow era, North and South, to a broad sense of “American” artistic modernity as well to the development of significant “American” artistic avant gardes or countercultures anchored territorially or geographically” (25). In his detailed analysis, Smethurst thoroughly documents how writers of the “Nadir” worked to develop concepts central to modernism. In “nadir,” Smethurst adopts the term originated by Rayford Logan to refer to the lowest point for African Americans in the United States in his work The Negro in American Life and Thought: The Nadir, 1877-1901 (1954).[1] In the current racial climate in the United States, Smethurst’s claim that “In general, white authors in the United States have long been reluctant to acknowledge being influenced by black writers” (3) warrants further review as black writers have long been devalued or neglected as literary forefathers in American writing, which Smethurst notes is not the same for fields such as American music.

Continue reading “Jim Crow and the Birth of Modernism”

Reading English-Language Literature in Interwar Paris: A Conversation with Joshua Kotin and Rebecca Sutton Koeser About the Shakespeare and Company Project

Sylvia Beach (right) and Stephen Vincent Benét (center) at Shakespeare and Company, circa 1920 [Princeton University Library Special Collections]

4 August 2020

Camey VanSant, Princeton University

What was Gertrude Stein reading in the 1920s? And who was reading Gertrude Stein?

These are the kinds of questions addressed by the Shakespeare and Company Project, a web application that brings to life the world of Shakespeare and Company, a bookshop and lending library in interwar Paris. Founded in 1919 by American expatriate Sylvia Beach (1887–1962), Shakespeare and Company counted among its members Stein, James Joyce, Aimé Césaire, Ernest Hemingway, Simone de Beauvoir, and other prominent artists and intellectuals. Shakespeare and Company is also famous as a publisher; when no one else dared, Beach published Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) under the Shakespeare and Company imprint. Although Beach’s business closed in 1941, during the Nazi occupation of Paris, she continued to lend books to friends and acquaintances for the rest of her life. Continue reading “Reading English-Language Literature in Interwar Paris: A Conversation with Joshua Kotin and Rebecca Sutton Koeser About the Shakespeare and Company Project”

I’m Afraid That’s All We’ve Got Time For: An Interview with Jen Calleja


3rd July 2020

Jen Calleja is the author of I’m Afraid That’s All We’ve Got Time For (Prototype, 2020) and the Man Booker International Prize-shortlisted translator of Marion Poschmann’s The Pine Islands (Serpent’s Tail, 2019). She was recently shortlisted for the Short Fiction/University of Essex Prize 2020 and longlisted for the Ivan Juritz Prize for Creative Experiment in Text 2020. Her translations have appeared in The New Yorker, The White Review and Granta, and she writes a column on translation for the Brixton Review of Books. She is researching and writing for a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of East Anglia.

Continue reading “I’m Afraid That’s All We’ve Got Time For: An Interview with Jen Calleja”

Interview: Shola von Reinhold

3rd July 2020

Shola von Reinhold is a Scottish socialite and writer. Shola has been published in the Cambridge Literary Review, The Stockholm Review, was Cove Park’s Scottish Emerging Writer 2018 and recently won a Dewar Award for Literature. Their debut novel LOTE (2020) ‘immerses readers in the pursuit of aesthetics and beauty, while interrogating the removal and obscurement of Black figures from history’. The story follows Mathilda as she traces the path of ‘forgotten’ Black modernist Hermia Druitt from archive to visions to parties to artist residency where secrets and secret societies take her to the depths of a lotus-eating proto-luxury communist cults…

Continue reading “Interview: Shola von Reinhold”

From PhD to Postdoc: An Interview with Freya Gowrley

Dr Freya Gowrley is a Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art Postdoctoral Fellow and a Visiting Lecturer in the University of Edinburgh’s History of Art department. Her research focuses on visual and material culture in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain and North America. Her monograph, Domestic Space in Britain, c.1750-1840: Materiality, Sociability & Emotion is forthcoming from Bloomsbury Academic, and she has had articles published in Eighteenth-Century Fiction and Journal 18. She has held fellowships at Yale Centre for British Art, the Winterthur Museum, the Huntington Library, and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. We recently interviewed her to find out more about her journey after completing the PhD. Continue reading “From PhD to Postdoc: An Interview with Freya Gowrley”

BAMS Postgraduate Survey 2018

Following our 2017 findings, in October 2018 we launched an in-depth survey to gather feedback from PhD students working across the broad field of modernist studies throughout the UK. This survey has allowed us to develop our understanding of the general postgraduate community, as well as continue planning to better the support we offer as an association. We present the findings here.

We are exceptionally grateful to all those who filled out the survey and are taking the time to reflect on these results. Initially, what we have found cheering about is that – though there are undeniable systemic issues in academia – respondents feel valued by BAMS and are enjoying the events that we are organising as postgraduate representatives.

Outside of this survey, we have been listening to the feedback given to us at BAMS events and on Twitter. Responding to this, in the New Year we have a trio of special issues planned under the auspices of three excellent guest editors: Lilly Markaki will be editing an issue on Modernism Beyond the Literary, Will Carroll will be editing an issue on Modernism and Visual Culture, and Alana Sayers will be editing an issue on Decolonising Modernism. We are excited to be working alongside them. As ever, should you want to write for one of these issues, please email us.

If you would like to get involved with supporting PhDs across the country, the BAMS elections will soon be opening, and we have two Postgraduate Representative positions opening. Follow us on Twitter to keep up with all current news. 

GarethRuth, and Séan

The Editors

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