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The Trouble with Modernism: a Dialogue Continued

15 September 2020

In 2019, the Modernist Review published a dialogue on the state of Modernist Studies in several instalments, taking as its namesake the title of BAMS’ own conference: Troublesome Modernisms. It began (as so many things do) with a series of tweets in 2018 from Luke Seaber (UCL) who conjectured that ‘current Modernist Studies has something of an academic Ponzi scheme about it’. This sparked a dialogue between he and an independent researcher, Michael Shallcross, about the ‘New Modernist Studies’ and the professional demands of the modern academy. We published responses to this dialogue by Nick Hubble (Brunel University), who believed that ‘it’s time to move…to more democratic conceptions of modernity that lie beyond modernism’, and Emma West (University of Birmingham), whose own encounters with troublesome modernism found her ‘draw[ing] up a pros and cons list for including the word “modernist” in the title of [her] first monograph’. Naomi Milthorpe, Robbie Moore and Eliza Murphy intervened with their own reflections on being Modernism-Adjacent at the University of Tasmania, where ‘the spatial politics of the New Modernist Studies are particularly acute’. Luke and Michael reflected on both of these thoughtful interventions in their own final responses.

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The Trouble with Modernism: Author’s Response

In one of our most popular recent articles Luke Seaber and Michael Shallcross held an in depth discussion of our namesake, institutional and anchor and bête noire, modernism. This was followed by important interventions by Nick Hubble and Emma West, who, while agreeing in part with the observations made, suggested some rather different points of departure. Naomi Milthorpe, Robbie Moore, and Eliza Murphy, of the University of Tasmania, join this dialogue in their own answer to the question from an ‘adjacent’ perspective. In this third and final installment of this series, Luke and Michael reflect on Emma and Nick’s observations.

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Naomi Milthorpe, Robbie Moore, and Eliza Murphy, University of Tasmania

Luke Seaber and Michael Shallcross’s dialogue in issue #10 of the Modernist Review, laid out on a table (Prufrock-style) the various anxieties many scholars are beginning to voice about modernism and the New Modernist Studies. These anxieties are laid out by Seaber and Shallcross in spatial terms. The seemingly welcoming and cosmopolitan expansiveness of the New Modernist Studies is shown to be claustrophobic: its ‘quasi-imperialistic process of assimilation’ (or ‘disciplinary manspreading’) threatening to ‘subsum[e] and dilut[e]’ non-modernists under ‘the lapping tides of expansion’ – even as this imperialistic competition for scarce resources compounds an employment crisis in the university sector, with its ‘institutional model predicated upon contraction.’

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The Trouble with Modernism: a Dialogue

28th June 2019

Luke Seaber and Michael Shallcross


In early 2018, Luke Seaber (UCL) took to Twitter to share his suspicion that ‘current Modernist Studies has something of an academic Ponzi scheme about it’. This comment caught the eye of Michael Shallcross (an independent researcher), who contacted Seaber to see if he might be interested in initiating an email exchange on the state of contemporary modernist studies. Seaber and Shallcross are perhaps well-placed to provide semi-detached commentary. They are both scholars of the seemingly anti-modernist figure, G.K. Chesterton, but their research has focused upon Chesterton’s relationships with writers more closely associated with modernism (T.S. Eliot and George Orwell for Seaber; Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, and Ezra Pound for Shallcross). Similarly, they each occupy a position of relative professional remove: neither has a lectureship in modernism, but each is employed within academia (Seaber is Tutor in Modern European Culture on the international foundation year at UCL; Shallcross works in academic and student support at York).

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