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”

Book Review: British Literature and Culture in Second World Wartime

4 August 2020

Kevin Neuroth, Humboldt University of Berlin and King’s College London

Beryl Pong, British Literature and Culture in Second World Wartime (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020)

In our understanding of modernism – both as a cultural movement and as a historical process – the First World War occupies a central place. There is a broad consensus among scholars that the experiences of the years 1914-18 played a central role in the development of the high modernism of the 1920s, from the experience of shell shock represented in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (1925) to the mood of civilisational collapse pervading T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922). By comparison, the 1930s and 1940s remain under-researched. In her book Modernism and World War II (2007), Marina MacKay (University of Oxford) argues for the ‘historical and political’ importance of late modernism and wonders why so ‘little of the [Second World] war’s literature has ever fully registered on the critical field of vision’[1]. Continue reading “Book Review: British Literature and Culture in Second World Wartime”

Book Review: Mirrored in a Glowing Cover: Carl Rollyson’s The Last Days of Sylvia Plath

3rd July 2020

Aleksandra Majak, University of Oxford

Carl Rollyson, The Last Days of Sylvia Plath (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2020)

Content warning: violence

In his preface to The Last Days of Sylvia Plath, Carl Rollyson says that every biography is also an autobiography, expressing an implicit belief that something in the author’s own life qualifies them to speak to the life of another. As I read this line, I recalled my first encounter with Sylvia Plath, opening the blue Faber volume of her lyric on the ‘Morning Song’. The poem’s simultaneous seeking and rejecting of motherly love felt instantly familiar, yet also deeply uncomfortable. Later, I have come to believe that to write about Plath is not only to confront the public myths and tropes of her life, work, and suicidal death, but also one’s own psychobiographical motives. In other words, to ask: what is it that speaks to me personally about the author known as, in the words of American critic M.L. Rosenthal, a ‘confessional’ poet? Through trying to answer this question, the readers of biography could not only discover something new about the most well-known American female poet, but perhaps also about themselves.

Continue reading “Book Review: Mirrored in a Glowing Cover: Carl Rollyson’s The Last Days of Sylvia Plath”

Book Review: Lateness and Modernism: Untimely Ideas about Music, Literature and Politics in Interwar Britain

3rd July 2020

Nell Wasserstrom, Boston College

Sarah Collins, Lateness and Modernism: Untimely Ideas about Music, Literature and Politics in Interwar Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019)

Within literary studies, the growing body of critical work dedicated to “late modernism” has tended to define the term in more or less two ways: first, as the “cultural turn” of modernism in the 1930s, and second, as a late (1930s-50s) reflection on the (failed/flawed) project of so-called “high” modernism. These two discourses are by no means mutually exclusive, as the many studies over the past few decades have shown: Tyrus Miller’s seminal work, Late Modernism: Politics, Fiction, and the Arts between the World Wars (1999); Jed Esty’s A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England (2004); Marina Mackay’s Modernism and World War II (2006); and, more recently, Thomas S. Davis’s The Extinct Scene: Late Modernism and Everyday Life (2016). Despite differences in context, periodization, and choice of figures, texts, and method, these critical works attribute the late modernist “turn” to a specific historical event (the General Strike of 1926, for example, or the contraction of empire), and each event marks the particular way in which late modernism forms a “break” from modernism “proper.”

Continue reading “Book Review: Lateness and Modernism: Untimely Ideas about Music, Literature and Politics in Interwar Britain”

Book Review: Dance, Modernism, and Modernity

Róisín O’Brien 

1 June 2020

Ramsay Burt and Michael Huxley, Dance, Modernism and Modernity, (London: Routledge, 2019)

Ask someone what comes to mind when they hear the term ‘modern dance’, and you may get a vague answer relating to jazz, or that it’s ‘not ballet’. Ramsay Burt (De Montfort University) and Michael Huxley’s (De Montfort University) book Dance, Modernism and Modernity (2019) explores, amongst other things, how choreographies of ‘authenticity’, or the popular appeal of some productions, might not sit within but instead expand notions of modernism(s), alongside investigating how dance intersects with modernity. The authors aim to look at how ‘dancing developed and responded to, or came out of an ambivalence about, or a reaction against, the experience of living in modern times’ (p. 1). Continue reading “Book Review: Dance, Modernism, and Modernity”

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