Book Review: Threshold Modernism

7 December 2020

Matthew Chambers, University of Warsaw

Elizabeth F. Evans, Threshold Modernism: New Public Women and the Literary Spaces of Imperial London (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019)

I was researching a small organization which briefly existed in early 1930’s London and I became curious as to how they ended up in the neighborhood where they would regularly hold meetings. After a little digging around I learned that a half dozen of the organizers lived within a 3-block radius of the square they would frequent. This is hardly a surprising discovery (Francesca Wade’s Square Haunting (2020) is worth reading) but it is an example among many of how location matters in the formation of modernist texts, institutions, and networks. For example, James Joyce famously worked out the timing of ‘Wandering Rocks’ using a stopwatch and map of Dublin, and he was not the only modernist writer, as Elizabeth F. Evans has shown, to have considered verisimilitude when structuring a novel: its setting, its action, and significantly, the cultural and geographic locatedness and mobility of its female characters. Continue reading “Book Review: Threshold Modernism”

Book Review: Modernism and Time Machines

7 December 2020

Alexander Jones, Trinity College Dublin

Charles M. Tung, Modernism and Time Machines (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019)

Time is undoubtedly a central aspect of modernist literature’s depiction of life. Certain modernist texts aspire to the condition of vehicles that move the reader through time, or that overlap chronologies over each other: the backward leaps of involuntary memory in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (1913-1927), say, or Ezra Pound’s statement of historical simultaneity:‘[a]ll ages are contemporaneous.’[1] These implications run through Charles M. Tung’s new study, Modernism and Time Machines: ‘Modernism was itself, in many hitherto-unconsidered senses of the phrase, a time machine.’ (p. 2) What he means by this is that ‘the modernist aesthetic called attention to itself not only as a vehicle for experiencing and moving in time, but also as a technique for rethinking that experience and movement.’ (pp. 1-2) The book explores this dynamic by theorising new ways of understanding the ‘time machine’ as both object and approach. Continue reading “Book Review: Modernism and Time Machines”

Book Review: The Passion Projects: Modernist Women, Intimate Archives, Unfinished Lives

7 December 2020

Eilish Mulholland, The Queen’s University of Belfast

Melanie Micir, The Passion Projects: Modernist Women, Intimate Archives, Unfinished Lives (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019)

The history of Anglo-American modernism can feel monolithic in definition. Ranging from a plethora of guides, anthologies, curricula and collections to commemorative tea towels, mugs, tote bags and tell-all biographies, the understanding seems to be that modernism was formed by a group of definitive writers such as Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, D.H. Lawrence, Ernest Hemmingway, James Joyce, W.H. Auden and Wallace Stevens. The history of modernism appears to be firmly settled in the form of articles, novels and critical commentary in which we come to know writers intimately. We know of their friends, family and lovers. We know from journals and letters every intimate detail about their lives. We know even where they visited and even what they ate and drank. These snippets of life and style are at first unassuming. Amid reading, writing and researching, amongst the frenzy of collating and connecting we fall into an assumption, an assumption that when it comes to a writer’s biography,we always assume that the information we desire will simply be there. Continue reading “Book Review: The Passion Projects: Modernist Women, Intimate Archives, Unfinished Lives”

queer archival tactics and ‘the stories we tell’

9 November 2020

Molly C Farrell, Glasgow University

Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2020).

Shola von Reinhold, LOTE (London: Jacaranda Books, 2020). 

‘[N]arrative may be the only available form of redress for the monumental crime that was the transatlantic slave trade and the terror of enslavement and racism’, says Saidiya Hartman (Columbia University) in a 2018 interview.[1] ‘That’s a long way of saying that the stories we tell or the songs we sing or the wealth of immaterial resources are all that we can count on’.[2] The colonial economy, slavery and its afterlife, and the historical continuation of racism are the roots upon which our modernity was built, from which our modernisms were created and recorded, and which have lent to the creation of archives used in modernist studies today. This review considers two texts that examine the specific challenges in practice of isolating queer black subjects within the archives of modernist research: Hartman’s book from 2019, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, and Shola von Reinhold’s debut novel, LOTE, published in the first half of 2020. It considers the value of experimental ‘archival tactics’ in recent cross-genre attempts to re-/construct the queer black subjects of modernism, using the vocabulary of queer archival practice. 

Continue reading “queer archival tactics and ‘the stories we tell’”

Book Review: Modernism and Food Studies: Politics, Aesthetics, and the Avant-Garde

2 October 2020

Eilish Mulholland, The Queen’s University of Belfast

(eds) Jessica Martell, Adam Fajardo and Philip Keel Geheber, Modernism and Food Studies: Politics, Aesthetics, and the Avant-Garde (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2019)

Within literary studies, the topic of foodways and narrative subjects has been largely confined to culinary moments within texts. Often relating to specific foodstuffs or instances of culinary metaphors, this narrative is not beyond the realms of modernist thought. Works such as Cather’s Kitchens: Foodways in Literature and Life (2002)  by Roger and Linda K. Welsch, Tasting Modernism: An Introduction (2015) by J. Michelle Coghlan and most recently the collected volume Gastro-modernism: Food, Literature, Culture (2019) have shown a shifting attitude to contemplating modernism and its relationship with food as something more than an exercise in passive consumption. Continue reading “Book Review: Modernism and Food Studies: Politics, Aesthetics, and the Avant-Garde”

Book Review: Form and Meaning in Avant-Garde Collage and Montage

1st September 2020

Alexandra Chiriac, Met Museum

Magda Dragu, Form and Meaning in Avant-Garde Collage and Montage (New York: Routledge, 2020)

Interdisciplinarity is increasingly an academic buzzword, yet successful attempts to master it are still infrequent. Magda Dragu tackles this issue by slicing up a cross-section of modernist production and investigating its every layer, journeying through art, music, film, and literature in an attempt to classify and differentiate the techniques of collage and montage. Continue reading “Book Review: Form and Meaning in Avant-Garde Collage and Montage”

Book Review: Modernism and Its Environments

1st September 2020

Jack Dice, The University of Kent

Michael Rubenstein and Justin Neuman, Modernism and Its Environments (London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2020)

Within cultural criticism, modernism has in the past been thought of as an artistic movement with a singular and concretely defined set of principles that were either indifferent to, or in some cases deliberately adverse to, an environmentalist conception of nature.[1] From Ezra Pound’s 1934 assertion to ‘Make it new!’ to the machine-cult of the Futurists, modernists were chronicling and at times championing the industrial revolution, urban expansion, and generally what we now think of as the early stages of the climate emergency. However, since the rise of New Modernist Studies and the foundation of the Modernist Studies Association (MSA) in 1998, modernism’s boundaries have been expanded beyond any singular vision and now include more than just the ‘high modernist’ thinkers. Thus the idea of an exclusively ecocidal modernism has become outdated. New modernism’s broader definition of modernism coincided with the arrival of environmentalist cultural criticism, or ecocriticism, in 1992 with the foundation of the American Society for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE). By exploring the connection between these two watershed moments in cultural criticism, Rubenstein and Neuman’s Modernism and Its Environments contributes to a growing movement that seeks to explicitly read these two disciplines into each other, exposing how the traditional view that the two are incompatible could not be further from the truth.

Continue reading “Book Review: Modernism and Its Environments”

Book Review: Modern Sentimentalism

1st September 2020

Jun Qiang, University of York

Lisa Mendelman, Modern Sentimentalism: Affect, Irony, and Female Authorship in Interwar America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019) 

Sentimentalism has always been considered the antithesis of modern womanhood. Observing that American female novelists reconfigured sentimentalism in the modernist period, Lisa Mendelman offers a new understanding of this literary mode by defining it as ‘an evolving mode that transforms along with its cultural moment’ (p. 9). Mendelman, departing from a long tradition of sentimental fiction criticism in which cultural dynamics are obsessed over and artistic qualities are ignored, examines the aesthetic transformations and irony of the sentimental mode. Her book synthesises the sentimentalist subfield of modernist studies with affect studies, an emerging and thriving field. Its hybrid approach of integrating historical and theoretical inquiry, as well as reexamining the relationship between emotion and aesthetics, will be valuable to future scholars in affect studies.

Continue reading “Book Review: Modern Sentimentalism”

Book Review: The Sensuous Pedagogies of Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence

1st September 2020

Michael Black, University of Glasgow

Benjamin Hagen, The Sensuous Pedagogies of Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence (Clemson: Clemson University Press, 2020)

Benjamin Hagen’s study, that shows us what, as teachers, critics, and students, we can learn from ‘sensuous pedagogies’ in the writing of Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence, is supplemented by assignments, the first of which immediately catches attention with its stimulating questions: ‘How do your favourite writers teach? How do they read? How do they love?’(14). Hagen’s argument in favour of a definition of pedagogy that partakes of ‘sensation, emotion, intensity, the body, as well as attachment and relation’ (8) adopts a theoretical approach supported by Deleuze, Eve Kosofky Sedgwick, and Sara Ahmed, to name a few. However, Hagen’s own questions and the open, supple approach taken to the practice of learning and teaching, may also suggest intellectual kinship with Sister Corita Kent and John Cage’s ‘Some rules for students and teachers’ (1967), a text that is both disciplined and accepting. Kent and Cage insist that education is personal and creative, since there is no ‘mistake’ or sense in which we ‘win’ or ‘fail’, but instead only the imperative to ‘make.’[1] Acceptance of personal limitations must be balanced with discipline: ‘The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something.’[2] My own first thoughts and desires, in response to Hagen’s first assignment, led me to go and look again at Corita Kent’s and Cage’s instructions. Hagen wants the ‘sensuous pedagogy’ outlined to be of value ‘beyond modernism’(7). Yet we would do well to remember that the modernist pedagogical instruction par excellence might come from Samuel Beckett: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’[3]

Continue reading “Book Review: The Sensuous Pedagogies of Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence”

Book Review: Samuel Beckett in Confinement

4 August 2020

Jonathan McAllister, University of Cambridge

James Little, Samuel Beckett in Confinement: The Politics of Closed Space (London: Bloomsbury, 2020)

In October 1960, Samuel Beckett began his move into an apartment on the Boulevard Saint-Jacques in Paris. From his new study window, he had a view of the sinister building of the Santé Prison. He wrote to his close friend Thomas MacGreevy of this detail prior to the move: ‘the view of the Santé Prison from the den I’ll have is beginning to upset me in prospect. I’ll learn to raise the eyes to Val de Grâce, Panthéon and the glimpse of Notre-Dame’.[1]But over the following years Beckett found his eyes drawn time and again to the prison blocks and exercise yards opposite his window, even on occasion attempting to communicate with inmates through hand gestures and a mirror. It is said that he came to know the panoptic layout of the prison extremely well.[2]This gestures towards Beckett’s abiding interest in confined spaces and his sympathy for the incarcerated, though, as James Little shows, he also remained acutely aware of his own distance from such experiences of suffering.[3]As early as his 1931 essay Proust, Beckett had written of the complications in speaking with or for the other: ‘Either we speak and act for ourselves – in which case speech and action are distorted and emptied of their meaning by an intelligence that is not ours, or else we speak and act for others – in which case we speak and act a lie’.[4]Looking and gesturing towards the prison across the Rue Jean-Dolent from his window, this gulf between self and other must have seemed vast. Continue reading “Book Review: Samuel Beckett in Confinement”

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