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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: Modern Writers, Transnational Literatures: Rabindranath Tagore and W. B. Yeats

4 April 2022

Jinan Ashraf, Dublin City University

Ragini Mohite, Modern Writers, Transnational Literatures: Rabindranath Tagore and W. B. Yeats (Liverpool: Clemson University Press, 2021)

There appears to be no end of critical and interpretive studies on Rabindranath Tagore and W. B. Yeats. This is in part due to their distinct positions as predecessors of modernisms, the availability of cross-referenced studies on their literary and cross-cultural collaborations, their thematic formulations of aesthetic modernisms, and ideations of the home and the hearth across a range of literary forms borrowing from European, Asiatic and Eastern literary traditions. Readers of Modern Writers, Transnational Literatures: Rabindranath Tagore and W.B. Yeats would appreciate Ragini Mohite’s timely and nuanced study of the fraught relationship between Yeats and Tagore both for its modernist perspective and transnational discourse. Mohite is sensitive to Yeats’ and Tagore’s complex positions as contemporaneous intertextualists in attending to the ‘complementarity, tensions, and thematic echoes’ (p. 4) in such texts as Tagore’s Gora, The Home and the World, Red Oleanders, and The Post Office and Yeats’ Cathleen ni Houlihan and Purgatory besides others. Mohite’s useful tracing of paternalist tropes in colonial and gendered spaces allows readers to locate thematic and formal resonances in the works of Yeats and Tagore while making these writers quite apparent subjects for a study of the broad networks and borders of transnational currents in literary studies in the twenty-first century.  Continue reading “Book Review: Modern Writers, Transnational Literatures: Rabindranath Tagore and W. B. Yeats”

Book Review: Historical Modernisms: Time, History and Modernist Aesthetics

4 April 2022

Katie Jones, Swansea University

Jean-Michel Rabaté and Angeliki Spiropoulou (eds.). Historical Modernisms: Time, History and Modernist Aesthetics (London, New York, New Delhi, Sydney: Bloomsbury Academic, 2022)

Marking the centenary of modernism’s year of miracles, Historical Modernisms makes a timely addition to scholarship – but not only for this reason. The eleven chapters, including an interview with Hayden White, explore and undo modernism’s associations with ahistoricity, as supposedly exemplified by the avant-gardes, by reading modernist arts in context. Jean-Michel Rabaté and Angeliki Spiropoulou expertly introduce the book; they ‘remain sceptical about the idea of transhistorical modernism, as do all the contributors to [Historical Modernisms]’ (5).  While we might locate modernity across time, as a reterospectively given term, modernism– unlike “dada” or similar self-defined movements – implies the critical urge to delineate, thereby restricting its usefulness to describe works of other eras. Continue reading “Book Review: Historical Modernisms: Time, History and Modernist Aesthetics”

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: 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: Psychomotor Aesthetics: Movement and Affect in Modern Literature and Film

6 December 2021

Alex Braslavsky, Harvard University

Ana Hedberg Olenina, Psychomotor Aesthetics: Movement and Affect in Modern Literature and Film (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020)

In her recent book Psychomotor Aesthetics, Ana Hedberg Olenina asks a critical question: what role does physical experience take in the appreciation of art? Throughout her impeccably researched book, Olenina pores over the relevance of psychomotor aesthetics in the realms of literary composition, oral performance, cinema acting, and the experience of film viewing at a time when, in her words, “Art forms were now viewed as matrix, or blueprints for eliciting sensations” (xiv).  Continue reading “Book Review: Psychomotor Aesthetics: Movement and Affect in Modern Literature and Film”

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”

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