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Book Review: Primordial Modernism 

Christy Heflin, Royal Holloway, University of London

Cathryn Setz, Primordial Modernism: Animals, Ideas, Transition (1927-1938) (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019)

Cathryn Setz’s book Primordial Modernism: Animals, Ideas, Transition (1927-1938) is part of a series from University of Edinburgh Press titled Edinburgh Critical Studies in Modernist Culture, edited by Tim Armstrong and Rebecca Beasley. Divided into four chapters, Setz brings the reader along an evolutionary path – from amoeba, to fish, then lizard and finally bird – while thoroughly examining Eugene Jolas’ experimental literary journal transition within the framework of modernist animal studies. However, there is much more than just a recital of animal imagery found within this important interwar publication. Setz weaves these creatures and the writers who invoke them into historical, political and scientific contexts showing that these references were not occurring in any sort of vacuum but were in fact part of the cultural zeitgeist. Throughout the book Setz establishes many new pathways of inquiry for both established and beginner scholars of modernism, giving the reader the impression of being guided by a benevolent mentor. There was no haphazard natural selection from the review’s contributors, and Primordial Modernism is organized in such a way that everything is laid out clearly and explained in such depth that many aspects of the book could be pursued for future scholarship. 

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