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Recherche littéraire / Literary Research

Automne / Fall 2020

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Ulrika Maude and Mark Nixon, eds. The Bloomsbury Companion to Modernist Literature. London: Bloomsbury, 2018. Pp. 545. ISBN: 9781780936413. (David O’Donnell)

Ulrika Maude and Mark Nixon, eds. The Bloomsbury Companion to Modernist Literature. London: Bloomsbury, 2018. Pp. 545. ISBN: 9781780936413.

David O’Donnell

david.o’donnell@vuw.ac.nz

Te Herenga Waka / Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa / New Zealand

In her book Planetary Modernisms Susan Stanford Friedman writes, “Why is the energetic, expanding, multidisciplinary field of modernist studies so filled with contestation over the very ground of study?” (Stanford Friedman 19) This question resonates throughout this handsome volume from Bloomsbury which vigorously reflects the critical energy and methodological expansion in the field. Part One of The Bloomsbury Companion to Modernist Literature features 21 chapters by leading scholars in the field, structured into four sections. The first of these, “The Modernist Everyday,” considers the relationships between modernism and everyday reality. “The Arts and Cultures of Modernism” looks at the influence of popular culture, music and film on literary modernisms, while the third part, “The Sciences and Technologies of Modernism,” deals with connections between art and science. The expansion of Modernist Studies in the present is outlined in the fourth section, “The Geopolitics and Economics of Modernism.”

In her accessible, fluid and extensive introduction, Ulrika Maude succinctly summarizes the current state of modernist studies and sets out the emphasis of the book on the formal and thematic questions raised by modernist literature. She provides deft analyses of innovative works by a number of key modernists including Joyce, Beckett, Conrad, Yeats, Eliot, Woolf, Bowen, Mansfield and Lawrence, to illustrate various recurrent themes in modernist literature. Scott McCracken’s chapter on ←191 | 192→modernism and the everyday effectively traces the journey of the bar of lemon soap in Leopold Bloom’s pocket in Joyce’s Ulysses to draw out the complexity of the use of real and everyday objects in modernist writing. McCracken’s clear and accessible argument demonstrates the links between the everyday and commodity culture, illustrating convincingly how modernist artworks can help us to understand “a world that is in the process of rapid change” (39).

Andrew Thacker emphasizes modernism’s connections with geography, re-directing debates on modernism from the temporal to the spatial, stressing the urban character of modernism and incorporating global and transnational perspectives. This chapter does excellent work in defining modernism’s preoccupation with space and place. Thacker usefully summarizes older theories of geographical approaches to modernism, noting its focus on location, mapping, center and periphery and race, as well as new theoretical approaches including planetary modernism, geomodernism and geocriticism. In so doing he identifies a major problem arising from the spatializing of modernism, namely running the risk of “losing focus entirely and turning all twentieth and twenty-first century literature into some form of modernism” (49). Thacker expands his argument through three brief case studies on the work of Conrad, Joyce and Woolf. He demonstrates Conrad and Woolf’s contrasting approaches to the city of London, the former stressing its cosmopolitism which has the effect of “unplacing” individuals, while the latter uses the geography of the city to illustrate how “external spaces interact with the interior lives of its characters” (57). In contrast, Joyce’s writing about Dublin in Ulysses traces the colonialist politics of space in ways that “resist the imperialist map of the city” (56). Thacker convincingly shows how modernist literature exemplifies Franco Moretti’s notion that geography is an “ ‘active force’ that continues to shape how we understand modernist culture and its diverse locations” (58).

The remainder of the first section provides a useful summary of other connections between modernism and the everyday. Shane Weller examines the relationships between modernism and language, using a historical survey to illustrate how modernist literature has emphasized the limitations of language to express feelings and emotions. Weller explores the complex relationship between the “word and the world,” tracing a profound skepticism towards language beginning with the Symbolists and Dadaists, the High Modernists’ search for an “essential language,” and a return to language skepticism in Late Modernism. Using examples ←192 | 193→from Woolf, Lawrence and Eliot, Kirsty Martin recalls and questions modernism’s “famous protestations against emotion” (95), arguing persuasively that some modernist literature is characterized by intense engagement with emotion. Similarly, Michael Bell suggests that although modernist literature reflects the increasing secularization of society, there is a continuing preoccupation with myth and religion in the work of writers like Eliot, Rilke and Lawrence.

The second section entitled “The Arts and Cultures of Modernism” begins with Tim Armstrong examining relationships between modernism and music. Conor Carville deals with modernism and the visual arts, while Laura Marcus looks at the complex interactions between modernist literature and film, producing fresh readings of works by Woolf, Chaplin and Beckett. Lawrence Rainey’s chapter on modernism and popular culture presents a fascinating critique of Andreas Huyssen’s argument in After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism. Rainey questions Huyssen’s separation of modernism (which he saw as hostile to popular culture) and the avant-garde (which embraced it). Using close analysis of Ulysses and The Waste Land, Rainey illustrates the deep engagement of these modernist masterpieces with popular culture. Rainey’s chapter exemplifies the contribution of the book as a whole to providing a thorough re-evaluation of the critical debates around modernism, to problematizing simple definitions and to reassessing the creative contribution of modernism culturally and politically.

The following chapter reinforces this argument, as Faith Binckes explores and analyzes the extensive contribution of magazines to the development of modernism. Binckes analyzes not only the legacy of periodicals founded specifically with a modernist agenda – such as John Middleton Murry’s Rhythm or the Vorticists’ BLAST – but also the considerable impact of modernism on popular magazines such as Vogue, Good Housekeeping and The Listener. Binckes suggests reversing the term “modernist magazines” to “magazine modernism,” emphasizing the central role periodicals have played in disseminating and popularizing modernism art. Dirk Van Hulle brings a focus on writers’ process in considering genetic criticism and intertextual cognition in modernist writing. Contradicting critical skepticism about the value of genetic studies of the artist, Van Hulle argues that there is a place for the study of manuscripts and the author’s life and working conditions, particularly as so many modernists “were preoccupied with the attempt to evoke the workings of the human mind” (223). Using examples from Beckett and ←193 | 194→Joyce, Van Hulle demonstrates that “knowing how something was made can contribute to an understanding of how it works” (212).

Section Three, “The Sciences and Technologies of Modernism,” features a fascinating set of essays connecting modernism to science and technology. Paul Sheehan considers literary modernism in relation to Einstein’s theory of relativity, productively linking relativity theory with modernism, specifically in relation to their close engagement “with the nature of the real” (231). Through analysis of texts by Lawrence, Joyce, Lewis and Woolf, all of whom demonstrate “awareness of irreducible temporal and spatial differentials” (244), Sheehan makes fresh connections between relativity theory and the treatment of time in literature. Jana Funcke beautifully articulates the connections between modernist writing and rapidly changing understandings of gender and sexuality. She argues that not only was modernist writing powerfully shaped by the redefinitions of gender and sexuality sparked by the new scientific and political movements of the early twentieth century, but also that gender and sexuality have a “constitutive role” in “producing new forms of knowledge and expression” (250). Contrasting politically significant works such as Radclyffe Hall’s lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness with the modernist experimentation of works such as Woolf’s Orlando, Funcke builds a rigorous and compelling argument about the ongoing relationships between gender / sexuality discourses and modernist literary strategies. Ulrika Garde explores modernist literature’s relationship with psychoanalysis and neurology, informed by what she calls “the embodied mind.” She focuses mostly on Sigmund Freud, who was an avid reader and interpreter of texts as well as a clinician. She argues persuasively that Freud can be seen as a modernist writer, and provides compelling readings of literature which brings together mind and voice, such as Beckett’s play Not I. Laura Salisbury’s chapter expands and deepens upon some of these arguments, illustrating ways in which psychoanalysis and other psychological approaches influenced both the writing and interpretation of literary modernism. While she too explores the echoes of Freud in various writers, she also investigates the very considerable influence of Jung’s analytical psychology, emphasizing the contribution of Eugene Jolas, who in publishing an early version of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake “thought he had found a mode of writing able to tap into a universal linguistic unconscious” (301). Throughout this section, the tensions between modernism and modernity emerge in different manifestations, a point highlighted in the final chapter by Julian Murphet, who illustrates ←194 | 195→ways in which modern technologies impacted deeply on both the subject and form of modernist literature. Murphet draws on Marxist concepts to theorize the tensions between industrial production and cultural labor, between literary production and the mediatization of art, emphasizing the adversarial relationship between technology and nature, and giving a wide range of literary examples to show how these tensions have played out in cultural production.

The authors in the first three sections of the book rely heavily on the canonical names of high modernism for their case studies. Therefore it was refreshing to reach the first chapter of Section Four, “The Geopolitics and Economics of Modernism,” which begins with a brilliantly succinct summation of the history and themes of European modernism before launching straight into the question “Can there be a global modernism?” Authors Emily Hayman and Pericles Lewis argue that many postcolonial writers are strongly influenced by the modernist canon which they were required to read in colonial education systems, contending that writers around the globe “have used modernist techniques to explore the dislocations of identity in an age of constant change” (330). Hayman and Lewis give six compelling examples – Joseph Conrad, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, Jorge Luis Borges, Arthur Yap, Orhan Pamuk and Héctor Pereda – as global modernists. They draw connections between narratives set in Singapore, Istanbul and Buenos Aires between 1880 and 2001, making a convincing case for these works being seen as modernist, and examining how all six authors deal with the challenges of globalization (345). In the following chapter, Benita Parry similarly questions the Eurocentrism of the canon, focussing on the “peripheries and semi-peripheries” (351) of modernism. She goes further than other New Modernist Studies scholars by arguing that so-called “peripheral” writers transcend “the normative modes attributed to modernist literature” (352). She makes her point strongly in a detailed and compelling study of the 1974 novella Xala, by Sengalese writer / filmmaker Ousmane Sembéne. Tyrus Miller examines the political dimension of modernist literature, highlighting ideological contradictions between the political convictions of some of the canonical writers. He argues that modernism cannot be aligned with any fixed political ideology because the work by its very nature “resists decoding and interpretation” (377). Miller deepens his analysis through a close study of three contrasting case studies – the revolutionary Messianism of Hugo Ball and Lajos Kassák, Wyndam Lewis’ satiric novel The Childermass, and John Dos Passos’ U.S.A trilogy. These ←195 | 196→studies support his thesis that there is in modernist writing a “politically charged tension” between the present and “a changed future that is implicitly or explicitly indexed by the work” (390). The final chapter of Part One is a fascinating discussion by Ronald Schleifer probing the relationships between modernism and economics. Through examining aspects of modernism through the lens of economic theory, he succinctly demonstrates how modernism can be interpreted through the changing social and economic conditions in the early twentieth century, proposing that modernism can be seen as “a function of changing understandings of the meanings of value, property, ownership and even well-being itself” (409–10). There are pleasing resonances between Schliefer’s argument and Scott McCracken’s observations on commodity culture in the first chapter, contributing to a sense of unity in the overall structure of the book.

One of the most useful aspects of The Bloomsbury Companion to Modernist Literature is the package of critical resources which forms the second part of the book. These constitute an alphabetical list of key terms, an annotated bibliography of selected modernist criticism and a timeline of modernism. All of these resources are immensely useful for cross-reference and elaboration on the chapters, as well as for further study. The A to Z of Key terms, compiled by Alex Pestell and Sean Pryor, contains many useful definitions of key concepts such as “Consciousness,” “Difficulty” and “Object,” each supported by a short bibliography. This, however, is extremely selective. While High Modernism and Late Modernism are clearly defined, there is no definition of Postmodernism, despite this being referred to in passing in the Late Modernism section. The timeline usefully juxtaposes landmarks in modernist literature with significant historical events. However, given the emphasis on global modernism in several chapters, the timeline reflects a rather old-fashioned view of modernism, beginning in 1857 with Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal and ending at the Second World War. This timeline even excludes Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1953), which is foregrounded in the introduction to the book, and does not reflect the considerable discussion of the geographical and temporal expansion of modernist studies explored in the fourth section of the book.

Much of the critical writing on modernism emphasizes the difficulty of definitions. The Bloomsbury Companion to Modernist Literature clearly defines and analyzes trends in modernism criticism, and through many fresh and conceptually challenging case studies provides new energy ←196 | 197→in the field. The comprehensive approach means that modernism is clearly located historically, geographically and politically, while making an original contribution to the continuing re-definition of Modernist Studies in the twenty-first century. Thus it is suitable for newcomers to the field, as well as for experienced scholars who will obtain new insights and ideas from the wide range of ideas explored. The careful curating of the chapters gives a pleasing coherence to the volume, as discussions move logically from one topic to another. The book is a rich and encyclopedic study that earns a distinguished place among the plethora of recent collections on modernism. The book as a whole illustrates superbly what Emily Hayman and Pericles Lewis refer to as “the persistence of modernism” (344), the re-incorporation of certain shared themes, issues and challenges “through the advanced literature of the past century and a quarter” (344).

Work Cited

Stanford Friedman, Susan. Planetary Modernisms: Provocations on Modernity across Time. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015.

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