Book Review: Modernists and the Theatre

2 June 2022

Annie Williams, Trinity College Dublin

James Moran, Modernists and the Theatre: The Drama of W.B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf (London: Bloomsbury, 2022)

Yeats, Pound, Lawrence, Joyce, Eliot, and Woolf: often amassed as the ‘1922 core’ (p. 1) of Anglo-American and Irish literary modernism, these six writers are regularly credited with having defined the aesthetics of the period. However, scholarship on modernism’s six ‘obvious suspects’ (p. 1) tends to spotlight their poetry and their prose rather than their plays. James Moran’s Modernists and the Theatre (2022) seeks to redress this critical neglect by framing this central group as six writers who actively engaged with theatre throughout their lives. The result is an informative study in which Moran persuasively challenges the critical assumption that these writers’ engagement with the dramatic form was ever fleeting, insignificant, or non-existent. Continue reading Book Review: Modernists and the Theatre

Book Review: D. H. Lawrence and the Literary Marketplace: The Early Writings

4 April 2022

Buxi Duan, University of Birmingham

Annalise Grice, D. H. Lawrence and the Literary Marketplace: The Early Writings (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021)

It is safe to say that D. H. Lawrence is a controversial figure in modernist criticism. Unlike his contemporaries, such as Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce, Lawrence is often treated as a peripheral figure even though he was closely connected to English modernism. It is difficult to put labels on Lawrence because of his various literary personae. In 1913, when he was only 27 and had only just established his name in the literary marketplace, Lawrence wrote that ‘I seem to have had several lives, when I think back. This is all so different from anything I have known therefore. And now I feel a different person. […] Life unsaddles one so often’.[1] Indeed, Lawrence has many faces as a novelist, poet, letter-writer, dramatist, literary reviewer, and arguably essayist and journalist. Despite the popularity of his risqué romantic novels, such as Sons and Lovers (1913) and Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928), criticism on how Lawrence became Lawrence has largely followed existing biographical research and portrayed his entering in the literary marketplace as a typical story of a working-class man ‘getting on’. Annalise Grice’s monograph D. H. Lawrence and the Literary Marketplace: The Early Writings is a timely work that fills the gap of criticism on Lawrence’s early engagement with the literary marketplace, providing a new perspective on his formative years through detailed case studies. For readers interested in D. H. Lawrence and the development of his literary reputation and persona(e) on both sides of the Atlantic, this book is a must-read. Continue reading “Book Review: D. H. Lawrence and the Literary Marketplace: The Early Writings”

Book Review: Historicizing Modernists: Approaches to ‘Archivalism’

28 February 2022

Emily Bell, University of Antwerp

Historicizing Modernists: Approaches to ‘Archivalism’, edited by Matthew Feldman, Anna Svendsen and Erik Tonning (London: Bloomsbury, 2021)

This study of new turns in modernist archives in all their guises represents an admirable effort to bring together research with a central paradox: the implied emphasis on (literary or creative) process in the analysis of archives requires a destabilization of such process. This collection of essays overcomes this, however, casting its net far, wide and deep into the possibilities furnished by archival documents and the potentialities within ongoing archive formation. In this way, the study is not afraid to expose the vulnerability of the discipline. The archivist’s desire for comprehensiveness is confronted by the concomitant inevitability that such comprehensiveness renders the archive ever more diverse, disparate and unwieldy. This is all useful, however, for affirming the contextualising matrices that surround an author and their work, as endorsed by the new modernist studies.  Continue reading “Book Review: Historicizing Modernists: Approaches to ‘Archivalism’”

Book Review: Eliot and Beckett’s Low Modernism: Humility and Humiliation

28 February 2022

Rory Hutchings, University of Kent

Rick De Villiers, Eliot and Beckett’s Low Modernism: Humility and Humiliation (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021)

The adoption of the “low” into critical theory is at once an alluring and complicated prospect. In the introduction to Eliot and Beckett’s Low Modernism: Humility and Humiliation (2021), Rick De Villiers raises two central difficulties with the development of “low modernism”. The first is the danger of overdetermination. De Villiers observes how ‘scholarship’s recent swerve towards the low and the weak follows a methodological injunction to cast off modernism’s vaunted associations with the high and the strong.’[1] This refiguration seeks to define a prevailing character of modernism, which in reality constitutes what De Villiers aptly describes as ‘a provisional marker by which to grab a protean bundle of works, writers and interests.’ (4) The second is the paradox inherent in the critical study of the “low”: ‘we can stomach and even turn extreme degradation […] into an object of analysis, while also maintaining that humiliation, by definition, is something that most people do not desire.’ (4) This tension speaks to the often dubious deployment of the “low” and the danger that humiliation, degradation, and their accompanying forms of violence are becoming little more than critical spectacles. De Villiers avoids these trappings, balancing a clear-eyed view of Eliot and Beckett’s troubling elements with an acknowledgement of the recurrent power of humiliation in the modern imagination (5). This fascination with humility and humiliation attests to De Villiers’ contention that ‘Eliot and Beckett have shaped our modern minds in a particularly unmodern way’ (2), writing against a humanist mode of humility, instead grappling with a theological tradition wherein humiliation might birth humility. Continue reading “Book Review: Eliot and Beckett’s Low Modernism: Humility and Humiliation”

Book Review: Modernism and the Choreographic Imagination: Salome’s Dance After 1890

31 January 2022

Frankie Dytor, University of Cambridge

Megan Girdwood, Modernism and the Choreographic Imagination: Salome’s Dance After 1890 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021).

In a series of fictitious letters written in Florence around 1900, two friends pondered the existence of a nymph-like young woman they had spotted running through the frame of a fifteenth-century fresco. Enamoured, as if in love, they marvel that they have found her everywhere in art, from antiquity to the renaissance and beyond. She is, they describe,

A fantastic figure – should I call her a servant girl, or rather a classical nymph? [. . .] Sometimes she was Salome dancing with her death-dealing charm in front of the licentious Tetrarch; sometimes she was Judith carrying proudly and triumphantly with a gay step the head of the murdered commander (Gombrich, 2017, 107) 

The correspondence, written by Aby Warburg and André Jolles, has become a well-known example of Warburg’s burgeoning theory of the afterlife of forms. This theory, which the art historian would continue to develop and refine throughout his life, argues that certain emotively charged gestures (which he termed ‘Pathosformeln’) recur throughout the art of the Western world. These gestures could be mapped, providing ‘a genealogy of resemblances’ linking an antique image of a nymph to a photograph of a modern-day woman.  Continue reading “Book Review: Modernism and the Choreographic Imagination: Salome’s Dance After 1890”

Book Review: The New Wallace Stevens Studies

6 December 2021

Domonique Davies, University of Reading

The New Wallace Stevens Studies, Edited by Bart Eeckhout and Gül Bilge Han, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021).

Wallace Stevens’s well-known adage, ‘It Must Change’, has been continually reflected on through critical discussions of his work.[1]  Over the last twenty years, socio-political movements have been echoed in literary criticism, with the development and expansion of ecocritical studies, queer studies, and re-evaluations of imperialism and colonialism. The New Studies in Wallace Stevens signals that it is time to effect change in Stevens studies and reevaluate his works and thought. As Bart Eeckhout comments in his chapter on Stevens and Queer Studies, ‘there may be some value in attempting to redraw a number of circles around Stevens’ (p. 178). Even so, while a paradigm of fresh perspectives is set out in this text, it is not without remembrance of how Stevens criticism has evolved, and a particular strength of the contributions is the acknowledgement of key work by Helen Vendler, J. Hillis Miller, Frank Lentricchia, and Alan Filreis, helping to situate the development of Stevens studies over the years.

Continue reading “Book Review: The New Wallace Stevens Studies”

Book Review: The Making of Samuel Beckett’s Company/Compagnie

6 December 2021

Jonathan McAllister, University of Cambridge

Georgina Nugent-Folan, The Making of Samuel Beckett’s Company / Compagnie (Brussels: University of Antwerp Press, 2019).

Tried to get going again in English to see me through, say for company, but broke down. But must somehow.

Samuel Beckett to Ruby Cohn, 3 May 1977.[1]

One of the arguments often levelled against genetic criticism is the following: tracing the composition of an artwork tells us little about the significance of the work itself. The most concise formulation of this critique of which I know is given by the late Roger Scruton: ‘what a thing is and how it came to be are two different questions, and the answer to the second may not be the answer to the first’.[2] For this reason, one critic has unreasonably argued that ‘genetic criticism explains nothing, and never has’.[3] But Georgina Nugent-Folan shows that there are substantive intellectual reasons for pursuing a compositional analysis of Beckett’s work. Of relevance to my review is the processual nature of his prose, which foregrounds the pursuit and motive of reading and writing creative texts. What genetic criticism allows scholars to do is offer tentative answers to the questions of how and why we go about these strange activities. 

Continue reading “Book Review: The Making of Samuel Beckett’s Company/Compagnie”

Book Review: Ezra Pound’s Washington Cantos and the Struggle for Light

8 November 2021

Dmitri Akers, Independent Scholar

Alec Marsh, Ezra Pound’s Washington Cantos and the Struggle for Light (London: Bloomsbury, 2021)

Pound’s transnationalism and internationalism have been well-explored in scholarship on the poet and critic; the former succinctly covered by Jahan Ramazani’s A Transnational Poetics (2006) who formulates his ideas of ‘Pound’s eastward-detouring transnationalisms.’[1] Little, however, has been published that contextualises the poet’s reactionary, fascist, and racist nature with the pervasive, global aspect of The Cantos (1915-1962). The Historicising Modernism series published by Bloomsbury might have helped to fill this gap with Alec Marsh’s new book, Ezra Pound’s Washington Cantos and the Struggle for Light (2021). Continue reading “Book Review: Ezra Pound’s Washington Cantos and the Struggle for Light”

Book Review: Transatlantic Modernism and the US Lecture Tour

8th November 2021

Francesca Mancino, Case Western Reserve University

Robert Volpicelli, Transatlantic Modernism and the US Lecture Tour (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021)

In his study of the transatlantic lecture circuits of Oscar Wilde, W. B. Yeats, Rabindranath Tagore, Gertrude Stein, and W. H. Auden, Robert Volpicelli explores the difficulty of balancing one’s role as a writer with that of a lecturer. In spite of divergences in personalities and lecture topics, this juxtaposition is attributed to how one adjusts to their wavering sense of ‘personal dislocation’ (2). Volpicelli suggests that this sense of dislocation is particularly personal and spatial, seen in his description of Auden as a ‘poet-turned-projectile’ (2). Aside from the evident physical aspect of transatlantic travel, this ‘projectile’-like movement is applicable to self-dislocation and the transition from writer-to-lecturer. 

Continue reading “Book Review: Transatlantic Modernism and the US Lecture Tour”

Eduardo Paolozzi’s ‘ethnographic Surrealism’

30 September 2021

Michael Clegg, University of Birmingham

In the 1950s, Eduardo Paolozzi was a leading figure in the emergence of a distinctive, post-war British modernism in visual art, one characterised by the use of collage and the incorporation of motifs from popular culture. Later, he was to receive multiple public commissions and is known by many through his sculpture Newton (1995) in the British Library forecourt, a reworking of William Blake’s foundational image of Romantic anti-science. This essay looks at another of Paolozzi’s activities from his time as an established artist: his curation of an exhibition at the Museum of Mankind, then Britain’s national museum of ethnography, in 1985. The show, ‘Lost Magic Kingdoms and Six Paper Moons from Nahuatl’, was framed by the museum’s staff as a creative response to the inadequacies of their own discipline with its rational and analytic (implicitly scientific) approach to objects from non-European cultures. I argue here that Paolozzi’s curation failed, however, to provide a convincing alternative, its own weakness rooted in his fealty to his particular modernist heritage.

Continue reading “Eduardo Paolozzi’s ‘ethnographic Surrealism’”

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