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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. 

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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.

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Book Review: Grotesque Visions: The Science of Berlin Dada

30 September 2021

Rachel Eames, Independent Scholar

Thomas O. Haakenson, Grotesque Visions: The Science of Berlin Dada, (Bloomsbury Academic, 2021)

Part of Bloomsbury’s New Directions in German Studies series, Grotesque Visions focuses on the interaction between ways of seeing in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century medical and anthropological sciences and the work of the Berlin Dadaists Salomo Friedlander (aka Mynona), Til Brugman, and Hannah Höch. Haakenson explores ‘the tenuous use of sensory knowledge in empirical scientific practice, and reveal[s] the ways in which hierarchies of vision’ (118) formed and were challenged by artists in early twentieth century Berlin. Haakenson relates strategies of scientific observation and typification to the development of the grotesque and frames his study around their opposition. Where scientists sought to teach a standardized and regulated form of vision, the Dada grotesque celebrated bodies that refused to conform to scientific type.

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Book Review: Killing the Buddha: Henry Miller’s Long Journey to Satori

1 September 2021

John Clegg, University of British Columbia

Jennifer Cowe, Killing the Buddha: Henry Miller’s Long Journey to Satori (Vancouver: Fairleigh Dickenson University Press, 2020)

Vancouver has become quite the centre for late modernist studies, the locus of which is the Fairleigh Dickinson University Press offices, headed by Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell scholar, James Gifford. Although it in many ways keeps with the general trajectory of late modernist studies, the latest work to emerge out of this milieu, Jennifer Cowe’s svelte Killing the Buddha: Henry Miller’s Long Journey to Satori (2020), attempts to pave a new spiritual path in reading, thinking and writing about Henry Miller. 

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Book Review: Ecological Poetics, or, Wallace Stevens’s Birds

1 September 2021

Sean SeegerUniversity of Essex

Cary Wolfe, Ecological Poetics, or, Wallace Stevens’s Birds (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020)

Cary Wolfe’s Ecological Poetics, or, Wallace Stevens’s Birds (2020) may be read as a continuation of the critical project he began in What is Posthumanism? (2010), one of the most widely cited texts on posthumanism to date. While familiarity with that earlier work isn’t a prerequisite for understanding Ecological Poetics, reading or rereading Posthumanism before beginning is certainly advantageous. Although Wolfe generally avoids the baroque excesses of some theory-heavy work in literary studies, his complex argument does presuppose a degree of familiarity with his theory of the posthuman in order to be fully appreciated. Continue reading “Book Review: Ecological Poetics, or, Wallace Stevens’s Birds”

Book Review: The Fictions of Arthur Cravan: Poetry, Boxing and Revolution

1 September 2021

Aaron Eames, Loughborough University 

Dafydd Jones, The Fictions of Arthur Cravan: Poetry, Boxing and Revolution (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019)

Arthur Cravan (1887-1918) was a sailor in the Pacific, muleteer, orange-picker in California, snake charmer, hotel thief, logger in the great forests, former French boxing champion, grandson to the Queen’s Chancellor, Berlin automobile chauffeur, gentleman thief, and much else besides – or so he claimed. Provocateur, poet and poser, we know for certain that Cravan mingled with the pre-war Parisian avantgarde, was knocked out in an exhibition match by Jack Johnson, and was the nephew of Oscar Wilde. He is, at first glance, a biographer’s dream but, when one considers all the misinformation, mystique, and mythology surrounding (and generated by) this remarkable man, he quickly becomes an impossible subject. In The Fictions of Arthur Cravan, Dafydd W. Jones manages to get to grips with this simultaneously effusive and elusive figure and place his impressive list of epithets in their proper context. Giving due acknowledgement to Maria Lluïsa Borràs’s Arthur Cravan: une stratégie du scandale (1996), this book provides anglophone audiences with the first comprehensive biographical study of this ‘twentieth century man of mystery’.[1]

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Book Review: London and the Modernist Bookshop

2 August 2021

Nick Hubble, Brunel University London

Matthew Chambers, London and the Modernist Bookshop (Cambridge University Press, 2020)

In British Writers of the Thirties (1988), Valentine Cunningham describes Parton Street, off Red Lion Square, as the epicentre of England’s literary and cultural life: 

And at No. 4, the centre – if such a metaphor is possible – of this epicentre, was the bookshop run by Old Wellingtonian David Archer, the home of the Parton Press (which issued Dylan Thomas’s 18 Poems, George Barker’s Thirty Preliminary Poems, David Gascoyne’s Man’s Life is this Meat), briefly the address for New Verse, from May 1935 the headquarters of Artists International, the mecca in fact of the radical artistic and poetic young. (109)

However, for all this (epi)centrality, there has been no systematic history of Archer’s bookshop – despite mentions in memoirs and interviews from Barker, Gascoyne, Esmond Romilly and Philip Toynbee among others – until Matthew Chambers’s decision to write about it as a case study in his London and the Modernist Bookshop. This is an instalment in the Cambridge University Press series, ‘Elements in Publishing and Book Culture’, which, like all Cambridge Elements, collects short (20-30,000 word) peer-reviewed books into thematically-linked ‘gatherings’ such as, in this case, ‘Bookshops and Bookselling’. The idea is that these publications provide an initial port of call for easily accessible, quality research-based texts on topics such as, in this case, the role of bookshops in establishing and maintaining literary networks. Hence, the focus here is on the history of a particular bookshop and the literary scene which developed around it in central London. As Chambers argues, even if ‘Archer’s’ is only ‘one example of what Huw Osbourne has termed the “modernist bookshop,” the shop’s relationship to Lawrence & Wishart publishers next door and Meg’s Cafe [later The Arts Cafe] across the way presents an opportunity to consider how modernist bookshops existed as part of the world of literary publishing and socializing’ (1).  Continue reading “Book Review: London and the Modernist Bookshop”

Book Review: The Modern Short Story and Magazine Culture

2 August 2021

Yen-Chi Wu, Academia Sinica

Elke D’hoker and Chris Mourant, eds. The Modern Short Story and Magazine Culture, 1880-1950. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021)

In their seminal essay that charts out the agenda of the New Modernist Studies, Douglas Mao and Rebecca L. Walkowitz highlight the idea of expansion. To conceive of a new understanding of modernism, they contend, we need to expand the conventional narratives surrounding modernism in three dimensions: temporal, spatial, and cultural latitude. Expanding the cultural latitude of modernism invites us to revisit ‘the battle of the brows’, which sparked lively debates on literary tastes, artistic styles, and social class in the early twentieth century. During this period, little magazines that championed avant-garde arts vied for attention with middlebrow and illustrated popular magazines. To that end, periodical studies proves to be a vibrant field in which to examine the complex and dynamic exchange between modernist writing, commercial interest, and popular literature. A growing scholarship has emerged in this field; Elke D’hoker and Chris Mourant’s edited collection, The Modern Short Story and Magazine Culture, 1880-1950, is the latest addition. The collection’s unique contribution lies in its focus on the short story form in the periodical context. The book teases out the complex ways in which editorial philosophies, evolving gender politics, the two world wars, and debates on literary tastes influenced the thematic concerns and artistic expressions of the short story form.  Continue reading “Book Review: The Modern Short Story and Magazine Culture”

Book Review: Modernist Objects

1 July 2021

Dazheng Gao, Durham University

Noëlle Cuny and Xavier Kalck, Modernist Objects (Clemson: Clemson University Press, 2020)

This eclectic collection of essays places objects at the heart of modernism. Or, to put it in another way, it attempts to establish the field of object study as underpinned by a modernist frame of meaning and, by doing so, manage a unified view of objects while retaining the capaciousness of the term ‘modernism’. One encounters the phrase ‘modernist objects’ with a certain trepidation as either halves of the term has gathered a degree of conceptual density that only becomes more elusive with every act of definition. The addition of every strand of new, valid significance is essentially a well-ventilated instance of alienation from its own airtight self-referentiality. On this occasion, it is the acknowledgement of the insecurity of the subject as the pre-eminent source of epistemological productivity, which is poised on two problems: the problem of the real (the contestation of the rigid categorization of objects that distinguishes between commodity and symbol, between ‘goods and gods’ (2); the recognition of deceitful perceptions, unstable surfaces of things) and the problem of the human (the object that is human body, whose meaning resists cancellation when the validity of all else is questioned; object experiments that ultimately are ‘human-oriented operations (10)’).

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Book Review: Modernism and Still Life: Artists, Writers, Dancers

1 July 2021

Jack Quin, University of Birmingham

Claudia Tobin, Modernism and Still Life: Artists, Writers, Dancers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020)

In Ciaran Carson’s posthumously published poetry collection, Still Life (2019), the Belfast writer contemplates a range of still life paintings by Cézanne, Monet, Velázquez and Canaletto, as well as contemporary Irish artists. One such ekphrastic poem, ‘Angela Hackett, Lemons on a Moorish Plate, 2013’, considers a painting of three lemons hanging in his bedroom. Each lemon exhibits subtle variations in colour and hue, from pale to darker yellows to an almost orange and green tinge, which Carson and his wife, Deirdre Shannon, interpret as variations of ripeness and decay. Carson meanders between recollections of youth in his long, sprawling lines of verse. The lemons remind the couple of a bar of lemon soap he or she received as a birthday present one year, of oversized school uniforms bought to be grown into, of the poet’s mother in the 1960s and the difficulty he had buying her a present. They wonder if the colours in Angela Hackett’s painting really do reflect the lifecycle of lemons.  Continue reading “Book Review: Modernism and Still Life: Artists, Writers, Dancers”

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