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 Thus the idea of an exclusively ecocidal modernism has become outdated.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.

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