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Book Review: Pow! Right in the Eye!: Thirty Years Behind the Scenes of Modern French Painting

30 January 2023

Henry Martin, National College of Art and Design (NCAD), Ireland

Weill, Berthe, William Rodarmor, Lynn Gumpert, Marianne Le Morvan, and Julie Saul. Pow! Right in the Eye!: Thirty Years Behind the Scenes of Modern French Painting (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2022)

‘I’m stiff-necked, forbidding, and I have a difficult personality’, writes the art dealer Berthe Weill (1865–1951) in her 1933 memoir, published in English this year for the first time in a translation by William Rodarmor for Chicago University Press. [1] Weill’s bark may be worse than her bite, however, for this spritely chronicle also reveals someone sensitive, humble, generous-to-a-fault and humorous. Like the Cubist portraits Weill hoped to sell, this art dealer had many sides and layers. Continue reading “Book Review: Pow! Right in the Eye!: Thirty Years Behind the Scenes of Modern French Painting”

Exhibition Review: Making Modernism

30 January 2023

Alyson Lai, University of York

Making Modernism: Paula Modersohn-Becker, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Marianne Werefkin, curated by Dorothy Price and Sarah Lea; Royal Academy of Arts, London, 12 November – 12 February 2022

Making Modernism was inaugurated at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in November 2022. For the first time, the exhibition brought to the British public the work of four women modernists working in early 1900s Germany: Paula Modersohn-Becker, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Marianne Werefkin, alongside key pictures by their contemporaries, Erma Bossi, Ottilie Reylaender, and Jacoba van Heemskerck. The exhibition is the latest iteration in a chain of efforts to “rediscover” women artists; it goes hand in hand with Katy Hessel’s highly successful The Story of Art Without Men, published not long before the exhibition opened. Sixty-eight works in three rooms are organised around themes of intimacy, city life, still life, childhood, and identity. Continue reading “Exhibition Review: Making Modernism”

Book Review: Hope, Form, and Future in the Work of James Joyce

30 September 2022

Anna Dijkstra

David P. Rando, Hope, Form, and Future in the Work of James Joyce (London: Bloomsbury, 2022)

100 years after the first publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), David P. Rando provides an analysis of Joyce’s oeuvre centring on a theme that has not just for a long time remained mostly neglected in Joyce scholarship, but even stands starkly at odds with its general tendency: the theme of hope. By providing innovative analyses of Joyce’s major works, Rando traces the various paths that hope takes in order to present a future-oriented understanding of Joyce that is grounded in ‘socioeconomic material conditions,’ significantly characterising hope by ‘restlessness’ and ‘dissatisfaction’ (p. 1). As such, Rando complements and recontextualises, rather than fully rejects, analyses focusing on hopelessness and pessimism, proposing a dialectical relationship between a capacity for change, and material conditions, in a way that understands Joyce’s work as one large project aimed at the conceptual development and eventual expression of hope. This angle results in a convincing argument for the relevance of hope both to interpreting Joyce, as well as to understanding the act of reading Joyce itself, conceptualising reading communities’ utopian impulses as responses to those seen within Joyce’s work. Continue reading “Book Review: Hope, Form, and Future in the Work of James Joyce”

Book Review: Making Liberalism New

30 September 2022

Aidan Watson-Morris, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Afflerbach, Ian. Making Liberalism New: American Intellectuals, Modern Literature, and
the Rewriting of a Political Tradition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021).

When, and what, was liberalism? The question begets another: Which liberalism? Ian Afflerbach’s (University of North Georgia) study documents a midcentury interchange between modernist writers and liberal intellectuals, asking us to parse the genealogy of a modern—or even modernist—liberalism against its classical and neo- variants. If liberalism often plays the role of Big Other to both the academic Left and hegemonic Right as ‘the organizing political grammar of modernity’ (p. 1), an overlooked characteristic of liberal thought is its ‘self-critical intellectual enterprise’ (p. 17). To study this enterprise in its particularity, Afflerbach provides an intellectual history, bracketing the political institutions which put liberal ideas into practice. Continue reading “Book Review: Making Liberalism New”

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”

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