What is modernist studies today? This question has doggedly plagued the field since the ‘New Modernist Studies’ announced itself in PMLA over a decade ago. And yet the answer might no longer be found bound within journals – instead, the accurate response may be the number of bodies squashed into a room at the Modernist Studies Association in Toronto. These attendants gathered to hear a roundtable on precarity, a subject matter that has become the watchword for not just modernism, but all fields of literary study. As the professoriate, like a perennial pop star, seeks to continually radicalise their object of discussion, an ever-growing chasm is apparent: there is no point in reinventing the wheel if you do not have a car to drive. This point was underscored by the roundtable organiser, Alix Beeston (Cardiff University), noting that modernist studies is not currently a hiring field: ‘What does it mean to speak of the future of modernist studies in a year where there are no TT [tenure track] jobs in modernist studies?’
Kevin Neuroth (Humboldt University of Berlin)
Kate Hext and Alex Murray (eds.), Decadence in the Age of Modernism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019)
Over the past decade, decadence studies have been newly revitalised. In 2017, the Decadence Research Unit, which encompasses the British Association for Decadence Studies as well as the online journal Volupté, was founded. Decadence and Literature, an extensive essay collection edited by Jane Desmarais (Goldsmiths, University of London) and David Weir (Cooper Union) was published by Cambridge University Press this August.
Christopher J. Adamson, University of Southern California
‘To impose upon my passion the mask of discretion […] this is a strictly heroic value,’ Roland Barthes writes in A Lover’s Discourse. ‘Yet to hide a passion totally (or even to hide, more simply, its excess) is inconceivable: not because the human subject is too weak, but because passion is in essence made to be seen: the hiding must be seen: I want you to know that I am hiding something from you […] I advance pointing to my mask: I set a mask upon my passion, but with a discreet (and wily) finger I designate this mask. Every passion, ultimately, has its spectator.’
Jon Churchill, Duke University
Nathan Waddell, Moonlighting: Beethoven and Literary Modernism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019)
Beethoven is inevitable. His symphonies sell Kit Kats in television commercials, and wisps of the early sonatas float among bookstores’ shelves and coffee shops’ tables—anywhere erudition is implied. Meanwhile, his likeness adorns countless pianos and desks, always offering a steely appraisal of its surroundings. Schroeder felt this gaze while practicing in the Peanuts comic strip, as have the countless students who glanced at their music room’s posters.
Upheaval & Reconstruction: The Modernist Studies Association (MSA) 2019 Annual Conference, 17-20 October, Ryerson University, Toronto
Aoiffe Walsh, Yan (Amy) Tang, Farah Nada, and Sean A. McPhail
With 7 pre- and post-conference workshops, 26 seminars, 22 roundtable discussions, parallel sessions boasting an incredible 96 panels, museum and gallery tours, 2 plenaries, performances, film screenings, book launches and awards and a poetry evening, the Modernist Studies Association (MSA) 2019 Conference was a jam-packed 4 days, to say the very least. Below, 4 PhD students report on their experience of the conference, providing you with different threads of thoughts and highlights to reflect on what’s been at stake.
Traveling to Cambridge for the first time as an undergraduate in 1922, the photographer Cecil Beaton had things other than his studies on his mind. Watching a stranger in a café, he wrote in his diary that although the man was ‘ugly… he looked as though he had grit; for some reason, that was what I wanted’. Legendarily flamboyant, it is not a sentence one expects of Beaton. ‘Could I, in the event of another war, possibly go in the trenches and fight as others had done before me?’, he agonised- ‘I wanted to ride bikes and fight. I often despise people who do these things, but I wanted to be able to do them’. These anxieties arguably shaped not just Beaton’s psyche but that of many young men of his generation, and saw his early work collide with both deeply felt social concerns and the utopianism of concomitant modernisms.