The Modernist Review #22

4 August 2020

As we all settle down to the new abnormal, what are the things that are giving you warm fuzzy feelings? For us here at the Modernist Review, it’s the sense of community. It looks a little bit different this year, with our PGR training days and networking afternoons all being rescheduled; instead we’re finding it through our screens, with the sharing of PDFs and archive photographs that we can’t get our hands on in person, and with every buzz of twitter notification that pops up on our phones. Our weekly #ModWrite allows us a small glimpse of people’s to-do lists, opening up a space to share thoughts, ask questions, and post pictures of #ModBake biscuits and cakes. We hosted our very first #ModZoom last week, a Pomodoro-style virtual writing session, and it was wonderful to see the faces of modernists working literally across the globe and tap into some collective brain power. We’ll be here every Wednesday 3-4:30pm, so email us at info@bams.ac.ukif you’d like to join in! Continue reading “The Modernist Review #22”

Reading English-Language Literature in Interwar Paris: A Conversation with Joshua Kotin and Rebecca Sutton Koeser About the Shakespeare and Company Project

Sylvia Beach (right) and Stephen Vincent Benét (center) at Shakespeare and Company, circa 1920 [Princeton University Library Special Collections]

4 August 2020

Camey VanSant, Princeton University

What was Gertrude Stein reading in the 1920s? And who was reading Gertrude Stein?

These are the kinds of questions addressed by the Shakespeare and Company Project, a web application that brings to life the world of Shakespeare and Company, a bookshop and lending library in interwar Paris. Founded in 1919 by American expatriate Sylvia Beach (1887–1962), Shakespeare and Company counted among its members Stein, James Joyce, Aimé Césaire, Ernest Hemingway, Simone de Beauvoir, and other prominent artists and intellectuals. Shakespeare and Company is also famous as a publisher; when no one else dared, Beach published Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) under the Shakespeare and Company imprint. Although Beach’s business closed in 1941, during the Nazi occupation of Paris, she continued to lend books to friends and acquaintances for the rest of her life. Continue reading “Reading English-Language Literature in Interwar Paris: A Conversation with Joshua Kotin and Rebecca Sutton Koeser About the Shakespeare and Company Project”

Art’s Revenge upon Intellect: Reading Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood beside Susan Sontag’s ‘Against Interpretation’

4 August 2020

Nimaya Lemal, Keble College, Oxford, and Middlebury College

Despite its provocative title, Susan Sontag’s ‘Against Interpretation’ (1964) does not renounce artistic interpretation wholesale. The interpretation at fault, for Sontag, is that which ‘digs “behind”the text, to find a sub-text which is the true one’, excavating elements for application within an analytical theory.[1]This ‘curious project for transforming a text’, she writes, essentially ‘translate[s]’ the work, a process which undercuts the integrity of the work itself.[2]Sontag’s essay rejects ‘that a work of art is its content’, yet she does not necessarily prescribe formalism, despite what some readers have suggested.[3]Her critique lies specifically with interpretative approaches that bypass form because they are content-focused, and hence engage in translational (usurping) analysis.[4]Sontag does advocate for alternative critical action, however. Throughout the essay, Sontag speaks to a kind of interpretation that is, at its core, ‘sensual’, ‘erotic’, and/or ‘loving’ in appreciation of a work’s form and beyond.[5]She closes her essay with the line: ‘In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.’[6] Continue reading “Art’s Revenge upon Intellect: Reading Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood beside Susan Sontag’s ‘Against Interpretation’”

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”

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