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

Putting Performance Centre-Stage: Theoretical Tools for an Inclusive Modernism

2 June 2022
Alexandra Chiriac, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Modernism and performance have a famously fraught relationship. Scholars working on modernist and avant-garde performance have pondered the existence of this ‘antiperformative bias’ encountered in existing art historical and literary methodologies, often pinning the blame on well-known theorists of modernism such as Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried.[1] For Greenberg, each art form had to strive for purity, reflecting the uniqueness of its medium, while for Fried artworks that rejected the condition of autonomy were at risk of becoming theatrical, exhibiting ‘a kind of stage presence’ and seeking audience approval.[2] Although both Greenberg and Fried’s pronouncements were construed in very particular contexts, their broader implications still permeate the construction of modernist narratives. They conceive the modernist artwork as a self-referential, self-sufficient product that rejects the relationship to the beholder and to the world outside its boundaries. But performance cannot employ a single unique medium, nor can it flourish in an empty, unconnected space, centering instead values such as collaboration, repetition, and engagement. In recent decades, scholars have become increasingly preoccupied with dislodging or expanding the narratives of modernist and avant-garde artistic production, so if theatricality constitutes a dangerous attack on the ‘high art’ of the canon, perhaps the time has come to embrace its disruptive critical potential. Can performance become a tool for challenging entrenched narratives, recovering marginalized voices and experiences?

Continue reading “Putting Performance Centre-Stage: Theoretical Tools for an Inclusive Modernism”

The Modernist Review #40: Modernist and Avant-Garde Performance

2 June 2022

In Modernism and Performance (2007), Olga Taxidou observed that ‘the concept of performance [has] remained stubbornly connected to the critical legacies of the historical avant-garde and stubbornly ignored in canonical readings of literary Modernism’ (8). Indeed the concept of ‘performance’ still presents significant challenges to the theorization, categorization, and periodization of modernist artworks. Yet this provides us with a fertile opportunity to critically reflect upon the ways in which artists and theorists responded to modernity in the early twentieth century, revising our theoretical understanding of the culture and politics of this period by deploying the concept of ‘performance’. The debate concerning how a performative aesthetics or theory accords with or troubles our understanding of the relations between modernism and the avant-garde is thus a question that still warrants critical scrutiny. This is a provocation that animates the short articles published in this issue, with four writers responding in their own way to this question.  Continue reading “The Modernist Review #40: Modernist and Avant-Garde Performance”

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