James Joyce and the Modernist Mouth

28 February 2022

Annie Williams, Trinity College Dublin

Modernism was an experiment in what the mouth could do. Modernist literature, in particular, was invested in the creative potentialities of food, sex, and language. These experiments were accompanied, and indeed prompted, by pioneering scientific advancements in genetics and salivary diagnostics. This is a productive lens through which to read James Joyce’s perennial protagonist, Stephen Dedalus. Stephen is rarely very good with his mouth. In both A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Ulysses (1922), he flaunts a sporadic reluctance to speak, spit, or kiss. This can be attributed to his hydrophobia, and subsequent unease with bathing and bodily fluids, and his crises of selfhood, as he attempts to ‘fly by those nets’ of nationality, language, and religion.[1] It can also, however, be rooted in these scientific developments: developments that inform the pervasive link between saliva and Catholicism in Joyce’s oeuvre. In this sense, we can establish a link between Stephen’s crises of self-expression and his pathophysiological problems with saliva. Continue reading “James Joyce and the Modernist Mouth”

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: Eliot and Beckett’s Low Modernism: Humility and Humiliation

28 February 2022

Rory Hutchings, University of Kent

Rick De Villiers, Eliot and Beckett’s Low Modernism: Humility and Humiliation (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021)

The adoption of the “low” into critical theory is at once an alluring and complicated prospect. In the introduction to Eliot and Beckett’s Low Modernism: Humility and Humiliation (2021), Rick De Villiers raises two central difficulties with the development of “low modernism”. The first is the danger of overdetermination. De Villiers observes how ‘scholarship’s recent swerve towards the low and the weak follows a methodological injunction to cast off modernism’s vaunted associations with the high and the strong.’[1] This refiguration seeks to define a prevailing character of modernism, which in reality constitutes what De Villiers aptly describes as ‘a provisional marker by which to grab a protean bundle of works, writers and interests.’ (4) The second is the paradox inherent in the critical study of the “low”: ‘we can stomach and even turn extreme degradation […] into an object of analysis, while also maintaining that humiliation, by definition, is something that most people do not desire.’ (4) This tension speaks to the often dubious deployment of the “low” and the danger that humiliation, degradation, and their accompanying forms of violence are becoming little more than critical spectacles. De Villiers avoids these trappings, balancing a clear-eyed view of Eliot and Beckett’s troubling elements with an acknowledgement of the recurrent power of humiliation in the modern imagination (5). This fascination with humility and humiliation attests to De Villiers’ contention that ‘Eliot and Beckett have shaped our modern minds in a particularly unmodern way’ (2), writing against a humanist mode of humility, instead grappling with a theological tradition wherein humiliation might birth humility. Continue reading “Book Review: Eliot and Beckett’s Low Modernism: Humility and Humiliation”

Ecstatic Twilight and the Night-Day Polarity in D. H. Lawrence’s Twilight in Italy (1916)

28 February 2022

Dominic Berry, University of Sheffield

D. H. Lawrence’s early collection of travel essays Twilight in Italy (1916) is a wide-ranging text in its scope of subjects; however, this article will focus primarily on the collection’s sustained investigation of the concepts of opposition or polarity. Specifically, it will explore the significance of the night-day polarity over the many others which Lawrence evokes in the collection.

Continue reading “Ecstatic Twilight and the Night-Day Polarity in D. H. Lawrence’s Twilight in Italy (1916)”

The Modernist Review #38

28 February 2022

There is an obvious satisfaction in the precision of a four-week month, but the brevity of February is nonetheless surprising; modernist time warps abound. And here we are again to present another issue of The Modernist Review. With a rich offering of content this month, our contributors cycle through circadian rhythms, carve up abstract woodcuts, reflect on archiving archives, ruminate on the mouth of James Joyce’s fictional alter-ego and reconcile the anxieties and embarrassment of ageing modernist writers. Though we’ve racked our brains for a theme, the closest we’ve come is a sense of fragmentation, a churning through literary archaeology in order to break something new loose—as evidenced in our cover image this month, Cézanne’s ‘La Carrière de Bibémus’. This is your cue to settle in with a brew.

Continuing a conversation on a text featured in our last issue, Dominic Berry‘s article ‘Ecstatic Twilight and the Night-Day Polarity in D. H. Lawrence’s Twilight in Italy (1916)’ delves into a study of the conflict between the ‘negating, modern confusion of being’ with what one might call ‘the oscillating, or circadian, mode of becoming’. According to Berry, Lawrence’s  emphasis on the dynamic relationship between opposite poles allows the author to overcome the impasse of dualism.

A ‘modern confusion of being’ is brought into a new and different kind of order in the work of Wassily Kandinsky, Anne Regina Grasselli argues in ‘Wassily Kandinsky’s Woodcuts: Early Representations of Non-Objective Imagery’. The article explores the ‘new, non-objective pictorial language’ of Kandinsky’s prints which led him to the establishment of a fully abstract style in the first decades of the twentieth century. 

Rory Hutchings‘s review of Eliot and Beckett’s Low Modernism: Humility and Humiliation by Rick De Villiers maps the cultivation of low modernism in the works of T.S. Eliot and Samuel Beckett, demonstrating how each writer poses a challenge to a positivist modernism. According to Hutchings, the study offers ‘a new way to consider two of modernism’s enduring icons’. Remaining with the canonical but refreshing understandings of salivation and selfdom, Annie Williams‘s article is entitled ‘James Joyce and the Modernist Mouth’. Williams explores twentieth-century modernist literature and its cross-references with salivary diagnostics with a focus on oral dysfunctions in Joyce’s early texts. Williams notes how the characters’ “reluctance to speak, spit, or kiss” has deep implications, as it sheds light on their conflictual approach to “nationality, language, and religion” and often accompanies their “crises of selfhood”.

From crises of the individual to crises of the critical, Emily Bell reviews Historicizing Modernists: Approaches to ‘Archivalism’, edited by Matthew Feldman, Anna Svendsen and Erik Tonning. The oft-cited notion of an ‘archival turn’ in modernist studies is scrutinised in this text, as Bell highlights, elucidating the study’s questions of what we choose to preserve as ‘archive’ and the methods we use to do so, as well as pointing to alternative ways of conceptualising the idea of the archive. Bell reflects on the volume’s focus on the practice and production of modernist archives, examined through specific archives of major modernist figures and ‘new perspectives on how archives historicise modernism through various approaches – queer, transnational and feminist, for example’. 

In a few words of housekeeping, this issue is our first with our new postgraduate representatives, Jinan Ashraf, Elena Valli, and Hannah Voss. They are very excited to be joining the BAMS team and we are thrilled to have them; please extend a warm welcome and do feel free to reach out to them in their new capacity.

Finally, given the uncertainty of the last few weeks and days, especially within the academy but also globally, we are grateful to our authors for offering hope by pointing to the past, a reminder that it is through the benefit of hindsight that we are able to make ‘ordered sense of what might otherwise be seen as a fragmented cluster of shapes’ (Grasselli). Furthermore, we are grateful to our colleagues who continue to fight to create a viable future in academia for those like our contributors, and we postgraduate editors.

With best wishes,

Jennifer, Emily, Hannah, Elena & Jinan

Image credit: Paul Cézanne, La Carrière de Bibémus, c. 1895, oil on canvas, Museum Folkwang. Public domain.

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