Modernism and the 21st Century Literary Analysis

Modernism and the 21st Century Literary Analysis


This article gives a brief background to modernist art and literary modernism, considers literary modernisms and the modernist arts in a series of unfolding relations with society and culture in both national and transnational settings, and suggests that modernism should be thought of as an overdetermined, overlapping, and multiply networked range of practices which were always caught up in a dialectical process of affirmation and negation. It examines the interactions among various intellectual traditions, cultures, and genres, and explores the interplay between social, economic, and technological developments and the artistic practices of modernism.

Keywords: modernist art, literary modernism, society, dialectical process, traditions, culture, artistic practices


The field of modernist studies has changed enormously over recent years and the aim of this Handbook is to take the measure of this new terrain. A number of factors have contributed to the ongoing redefinition of what we now understand by the term ‘modernism’. The impact of postmodernism has led to a re‐evaluation of the entity supposedly left behind and has resulted in a resurgence of interest in the variety of modernisms and a relative decline in discussion of postmodernism. Challenges to earlier accounts of modernism as a pre‐eminently masculine enterprise (with one or two honorary women writers included at the margins) have been made by feminist scholars who have radically altered the ways in which modernism is now conceived. This is a question not just of including once forgotten (or marginalized) writers, texts, and movements but of rethinking the frames of reference according to which such forgetting, and marginalizing occurred in the first place.

Exactly the same point must be made about the post‐colonial critique of earlier theorizations of modernism, or about the questions addressed to modernism from lesbian or queer perspectives. No less important has been the renewed attention given in recent years to modernism’s transnational configurations (perhaps especially to the geographical criss‐crossings of the international avant‐gardes), which, it is now clear, cannot be restricted primarily to Europe or to the United States. Much of the work done on modernism’s multiple and shifting locations has been interdisciplinary in orientation, drawing on such diverse disciplines as anthropology, architecture, art (p. 2) history, book history, design, film studies, performance and theatre studies, philosophy, photography, and theology. This interdisciplinary points to a key feature of this Handbook: its recognition that no account of modernism can hope to be fully comprehensive, but that any account must register its overdetermined, cross‐disciplinary, international, and institutional affiliations.

Research in modernist studies since the late 1980s has moved away from an earlier emphasis on the aesthetic and towards a more culturally ‘thick’ sense of modernism’s multiple connections to a wide variety of non‐aesthetic practices. This doesn’t mean that the aesthetic, which was championed in different ways by various modernists, as well as by such influential critics as Clement Greenberg and Theodor Adorno, has been bracketed off or jettisoned, but rather that it is no longer assumed to be the principal issue at stake in discussions of modernism and its legacies. No less important is the need to grasp where modernism(s) emerged; how they developed; by what means they were produced, disseminated, and publicized; in what relationship they stood to other artistic and cultural forms, which might be (or might in the past have been) regarded as non‐modernist; which institutions (publishing houses, magazines, newspapers, galleries, museums, educational establishments, etc.) put modernism on view, promoted its claims, and constructed it as a corpus of works, an artistic entity with an identifiable—if not always coherent or unified—identity.

Research motivated by these concerns attempts to situate modernism within the sociocultural matrix out of which it emerged. It attends to the history of the book, the growth of the mass media, especially the rise of the newspaper, and censorship and propaganda; to the work of literary agents, publishing houses, advertisers, and reviewers; to systems of patronage, group dynamics, private and public networking, book contracts; to the public spaces in which writers forged alliances and fought cultural battles; to the ways in which emerging writers and artists fashioned careers for themselves by engaging with specific markets; and to the history of ‘little magazines’, by means of which so much modernist work was initially disseminated.1 As Aaron Jaffe has argued, by focusing on the material, economic, and institutional forging of modernism, we are enabled to see that ‘modernist cultural production is, in fact, cultural production…As producers of culture, modernists were keenly involved with the exigencies of making a place for themselves in the world and for their products in the cultural marketplace.’2 They were also in many cases concerned to withstand what they saw as the reification of social reality and the debasement of (p. 3) the public sphere. In this respect, as well as being preoccupied with personal and group self‐promotion (a necessary feature of the struggle for cultural visibility and economic survival), many modernists were no less anxious to contribute to the creation and sustenance of various counter public spheres.3

Attention to such questions has returned scholars to various archives in a search for neglected empirical evidence (see especially Chapters 3 and 18, by Fordham and Jaffe). But it has also encouraged us to see more clearly the conceptual presuppositions that underpinned earlier accounts of modernism and thus to grasp how and why these presuppositions operated to exclude or to marginalize practices that are now acknowledged as key features of modernity and its aesthetic and cultural manifestations. Joan Wallach‐Scott rightly points out that consideration of ‘the exclusions involved in one’s own project’ should produce ‘a reflexive, self‐critical approach [that] makes apparent the particularistic status of any historical knowledge and the historian’s active role as a producer of knowledge’.4

One obvious consequence of this self‐reflexive approach to literary history is that the modernist canon has been subjected to various kinds of revisionism. At the most obvious level (and as noted above) this revisionism depends on the discovery (or rediscovery) of cultural producers, works, and movements that have either been written out of literary history or never been included in it in the first place. But of course all claims made on behalf of supposedly neglected writers, artists, and practices depend on prior theoretical assumptions about modernism. Such revisionism either identifies figures whose work, the critic argues, can be shown to conform to existing definitions of modernism, or it introduces types of work that challenge inadequate accounts of modernism and thus require it to be reconceptualized. The first strategy is a fairly straightforward empirical one (and it has performed much valuable recovery work), whereas the second approach aims to expose the hegemonic critical paradigms that have underpinned earlier understandings of modernism.

If scholarship over the last twenty to twenty‐five years has asked us to reconsider what we thought we knew about modernism, then it has done so by opening up and expanding the field both theoretically and empirically. Put simply, modernism has been (and continues to be) reconfigured in an ongoing process of redefinition that takes its cue from analyses of a modernity that is increasingly seen in globalizing and thus transnational terms. When ‘modernity’ is the prior term, ‘modernism’—of whatever kind—becomes its expression, though this slightly awkward formulation is not to be understood in ‘reflective’ terms. If modernism expresses modernity in some sense, then this notion is to be conceived not on a base–superstructure model (p. 4) but on the principle of multiple interactions across social and geographical locations and of a non‐linear, non‐progressivist view of temporality. Modernism is not determined by a modernity that precedes it but is imbricated in it, is inseparable from the self‐reflexive nature of the modern life‐forms into which it is bound. Modernism is then to be seen in terms of overlapping, criss‐crossing, and labile networks.5 This model complicates our understandings of causality and diachrony because it insists that the history of modernity (and thus of modernism) should be seen as geographically and temporally ‘uneven’: modernity is not ‘singular’ but ‘multiple’, its development is intermittent, not smoothly progressive, and it takes diverse forms depending on time and place, and on different agents’ specific interventions, in particular sociocultural circumstances. Thinking about modernity and modernism along these lines gives rise to what Ian Hacking has described as ‘a local historicism, attending to particular and disparate fields of reflection and action’ that ‘discourages grand unified accounts’ (totalizing theories), replacing them with scrupulous attention to specific sociocultural contexts.6

The Handbook draws on this understanding of history, which informs so much recent work in modernist studies, in order to situate literary modernisms and the modernist arts in a series of unfolding relations with society and culture in both national and transnational settings. To this end, chapters in the volume draw upon a variety of interdisciplinary approaches from, for example, anthropology, architecture, cultural history, genetic textual studies, post‐colonial studies, queer theory, visual and material culture, and critical literary geographies. One aim of this Handbook is to update previous synoptic guides such as Bradbury and McFarlane’s influential Modernism (1975) and to take account of the past thirty years of research, during which the field of modernist studies has undergone an extraordinary number of changes. In keeping with the ways in which modernism has been re-theorized and its canon of works opened up by re-readings of generally accepted ‘classics’ and the incorporation of once excluded texts and/or practices, the Handbook also tries to avoid the standard teleological chronology and periodization which sets one ‘ism’ after another, climbing to and descending from high modernism. It replaces this implicitly progressivist approach with emphasis on the sheer range of modernisms contemporary scholars have uncovered and to which they continue to direct our attention. Any understanding of the innovations and experiments of modernism must take account of work in several areas if it wishes to delineate the aesthetic, intellectual, cultural, and material formations that link the various arts which comprise the practices we continue to group under the aegis of this concept. A number of the chapters in this volume thus examine the interactions among various intellectual traditions, cultures, and genres; explore the interplay between social, (p. 5) economic, and technological developments and the artistic practices of modernism; assess the numerous links and mutual influences among visual cultures (such as art, sculpture, photography) and other media and/or modes (such as cinema, dance, radio, theatre); and consider the impact of ‘theory’, both on modernists themselves and on later constructions of the term.

Much recent thinking about modernism has addressed itself to the question (which goes back to arguments among Adorno, Benjamin, Brecht, Lukács, and Marcuse) of how far modernism was, or can still be, oppositional, interventionist, politically engaged. And any attempt to debate this vexed issue needs to consider the relationship between modernism and that which supposedly superseded it: postmodernism.7 It has been questioned whether postmodernism—as used to be argued—ever represented a conceptual or historical ‘break’ with modernism, and this has led to a series of returns to the scene of the modern, which, as this Handbook shows, is now understood in a much expanded sense. It is widely agreed that problems of delimitation and definition continue to bedevil modernist studies, though this instability should not necessarily be seen as a cause for concern, since it is a concomitant of the very ‘opening up’ that has so reinvigorated the field.

That said, there is clearly a degree of anxiety around the question of how modernism is to be defined (see especially Chapter 1 by Shiach). Some critics take the view that though we shouldn’t make too many assumptions about what modernism is exactly, this, in fact, is what most accounts of it do. Geoff Gilbert, for example, observes that recent emphasis on a plurality of modernisms or on distinctions between early, high, and late modernisms tends to rely on an implicit assumption that modernism displays ‘a prior coherence’ from which ‘multiple versions can be ranged, or out of which fractions can be divided’.8 That is to say, it is only when there is already some idea or concept of ‘modernism’ in place that its differentiation into discrete phases or sundry manifestations becomes a viable critical move. Gilbert’s point is that as a culturally complex phenomenon, modernism shouldn’t be restricted to formally innovative work—as though experimentation were its sine qua non—since this view of it excludes all kinds of engagements with modernity that might no less plausibly be seen as ‘modernist’. A similar point has been made by Morag Shiach, who has suggested that past critical accounts of modernism ‘have tended to iron out the complexity of competing styles at any given historical moment in favour of a map which identifies particular forms of artistic experimentation as more truly expressive of their moment’.9 Ann L. Ardis, in turn, has argued that with the questioning of (p. 6) previously established ‘period’ boundaries around modernism, and with our increased awareness of how modernism may in part be seen as a response to the professionalization of socio‐economic life and to the creation of ever more specialized disciplines, we need to accept that ‘literature functioned as an “open field” at the turn of the century—a varied, highly unstable, and fiercely contested discursive territory’.10

Recent work on modernism calls earlier assumptions about its inner integrity, stylistic coherence, period boundaries, and principal geographical and social locations into question. It might fairly be said, indeed, that in reaction against the kind of flattening out described by Shiach there is such a concern to emphasize the multiplicity, diversity, and stylistic range of modernism that the term risks losing any conceptual or historical usefulness altogether.11 Patricia Chu has argued that inasmuch as it might be agreed that modernism cannot and should not be reduced to questions of style alone (and specifically to innovations in style), it should nonetheless still be seen as ‘an aesthetic commitment, despite our lack of critical agreement on the nature of that commitment’.12 This view is shared by Martin Halliwell, who follows Peter Nicholls by claiming that ‘the modernist tradition is…pluralistic and diverse. Lines of influence and coherent cultural and national groupings are identifiable, but there is no one broad intellectual current that can be traced throughout modernism that neatly aligns writers with each other, unless it is what Nicholls describes as a general shift from “representational” to “transformative” art.’13 Emphasis on a shift of this kind is also clear in Astradur Eysteinsson’s definition of modernism as that which denotes a break with tradition, though his view of the forms this ‘break’ might take is a complex and nuanced one.14

These critics are all attuned to recent changes in modernist studies, and their work cannot be aligned with New Critical formalism, but it is worth noting that the emphasis on aesthetic innovation derives from the writing of pioneering critics such as Clement Greenberg, some of whose formulations took place in the 1930s and which he defended against the claims of postmodernism in the 1980s.15 In an early intervention in debates about the significance of postmodernism, Greenberg suggested that ‘it remains to Modernism alone to resist decline and maintain the (p. 7) vitality of high art’, and he insisted that the ‘vitality of art means the upholding of esthetic standards’.16 These ‘standards’ were not statically conceived in Greenberg’s account, but were thought of in terms of an ongoing process of artistic renewal and cultural regeneration through aesthetic change. Whereas postmodernism was empty pastiche, an admission of cultural defeat, modernism was a vibrant force that sought ‘to rescue and maintain the best standards of the past’, which, Greenberg insisted, it had always sought to do ‘only by innovation’.17 Innovation, then, didn’t mean that the arts of the past were rejected, but that they were reworked and revisioned. Tradition becomes a site of contestation (not a source of passive admiration) in this account. And this insistence on a productive relationship with the past informs much recent thinking about modernism. Stan Smith, for example, suggests that modernism’s much vaunted originality lay in its emphasis on ‘the transformative act of translation, adaptation, repetition’ and that to be original in this context was ‘to reproduce, or re‐produce, that which is there already’, while Jeffrey M. Perl has claimed that ‘the process of return could almost stand as a definition of modernism’ because it offered a way to grapple with history.18

But the persistent association of modernism with the aesthetic—especially when the aesthetic is conceived in formalist terms, as in Greenberg’s work or that of the New Critics—has been objected to by those who see modernism as thoroughly imbricated in the social realm and who want to reconnect it with the popular, or ‘mass’, culture against which it has so often been defined. Robert Scholes has argued that in the Anglo‐American context modernism became codified and gained an institutional presence in the academy as a result of the New Critical hegemony from the 1940s through to the 1960s. The formalist approach to literature and the visual arts was perfectly suited to linguistically complex writing and to abstract painting, and was thus to a great extent responsible for the critical valorization of modernism, out of which the New Criticism had itself emerged.19 This valorization was predicated upon the rejection of popular, or ‘mass’, culture and thus performed significant intellectual work: it insisted on a hierarchy of aesthetic values that sought to operate with ‘clear distinctions where clear distinctions cannot—and should not—be made’.20 For Scholes the divide between ‘high’ and ‘low’ represents ‘a basic (p. 8) element of Modernist critical theory and Modernist pedagogy’, and he argues that the ‘attempt to exclude the middle can be seen as the engine driving Modernist paradoxy itself’.21 As interpreted and disseminated by its initial promoters, then, modernism was in an important sense separated out from the wider cultural field from which it emerged and which it in turn disavowed in an attempt to assert its originality and value.

We have already suggested that a feature of recent scholarship has been a renewed attention to cultural and material factors, to what Peter Brooker has described as ‘the situated sociality of modernist art’.22 This goes some way to addressing Scholes’s objections to a formalist‐inspired modernist hermeticism. But critics like Scholes are also concerned with the hierarchies of value instantiated by earlier accounts of modernism. The argument here objects not just to the high value placed on modernist artefacts (to the exclusion of derided ‘others’, which in this paradigm function to buttress the claims made on modernism’s behalf) but on the equation of artistic quality with a narrowly conceived conception of the aesthetic as a repository of value. A related critique directs itself against the oft‐heard claim that modernism can be read as a form of resistance to modernity, a set of disparate interventions that—in their ‘radical’ forms, at least—oppose global capital and the socio‐economic systems it puts into place. The avant‐gardes, perhaps especially Dada and Surrealism, but also some modernists (Beckett, Brecht, Kafka), are here read as movements and figures that interrupt and challenge the seemingly inexorable unfolding of global capital and the peculiarly modern economic, social, and political structures it produces. On this view, modernism and the avant‐gardes are indeed thoroughly imbricated in society—certainly, they are not seen as standing ‘outside’ it in any crude sense—but they try to distance themselves from it. They seek to expose its flaws and contradictions, even if this can only take the form of partial, elliptical, and intermittent critique. For Adorno, such critique famously takes a ‘negative’ form; it acts as an implicit and coded denial that has nothing to do with overt cultural commentary or direct social intervention. In a similar way, Marcuse insisted that the avant‐gardes, ‘far from playing down alienation, enlarge it and harden their incompatibility with the given reality’ in order to ‘confront man with the dreams he betrays and the crimes he forgets’.23 This argument, in other words, rests on the assumption that under the conditions of capitalist modernity, viable critique can only be generated by exaggerating the reification of everyday life in the very formal features of the artwork itself.

Within this understanding of modernism, it can be read as ‘a protest at the reign of instrumental reason and market culture which attempts to preserve or to create a space for individuality, creativity, and aesthetic value in an increasingly homogenous and bourgeois world’ or as ‘a cultural expression of the intense development of key aspects of modernity, to the point where they are reconfigured as an internal (p. 9) critique’.24 An alternative reading, articulated from both leftist and neo‐conservative standpoints, maintains the exact opposite: modernism is nothing more than the cultural embodiment of capitalism itself. Modernism is produced by capitalism in the sense that it could only have emerged under its socio‐economic conditions and it then reproduces capitalist logics in its drive to break with earlier traditions, to seek new expressive modes, to innovate, to ‘make it new’. Thus, for Gerald Graff, in an early statement of this view, ‘the real “avant‐garde” is advanced capitalism, with its built‐in need to destroy all vestiges of tradition, all orthodox ideologies, all continuous and stable forms of reality in order to stimulate higher levels of consumption’.25 More recently, John Xiros‐Cooper has suggested that whereas modernists saw themselves as protesting against bourgeois culture, modernism was in fact ‘the culture of capitalism’ and capital was from the outset ‘the avant‐garde of economic and political history’.26

If modernism is the expression of capitalism itself, then its much‐vaunted critical capacity is simply a chimera, a fantasy invested in by critics and intellectuals who fail to grasp that modernist autonomy is an illusion and that modernist experimentation perfectly accords with capitalism’s demand for the ever new. The modernist aesthetic, then, simply comes to occupy ‘the lost terrain of social representation’ from which agency and critique have effectively been expunged, and this strange process of substitution strips modernism of its alleged critical capacity. T. J. Clark objected to Greenberg’s work on precisely these grounds, suggesting that Greenberg mistakenly believed ‘that art can substitute itself for the values capitalism has made valueless’, and arguing that this was a thoroughly formalist account of the aesthetic which severed it from social reality. Xiros‐Cooper extends this line of thought in his critique of modernist ‘radicalism’: ‘It is this peculiar logic of ascribing to modernist works of art a kind of negative historical agency (but calling it autonomy) that becomes an important constitutive moment of modernism.’27

The arguments made by Graff and Xiros‐Cooper offer a riposte to critics who view modernism as at least potentially an oppositional practice. But these arguments are in certain respects too monolithic, both about capitalism and about modernism. They don’t differentiate enough among the multiple cultural, economic, social, historical, and geographic trajectories and formations of modernity. There is a tendency to see capitalism as a huge overarching system in control of all sites of (p. 10) resistance and to view modernism as straightforwardly homologous to it.28 This was very much the point Marshall Berman made against Anderson’s analysis of the situation in the early 1980s:

I’m writing more about the environments and public spaces that are available to modern people, and the ones they create, and the ways they act and interact in these spaces in the attempt to make themselves at home. I’m emphasizing those modes of modernism that seek to take over or to remake public space, to appropriate and transform it in the name of the people who are its public.29

This Handbook suggests that modernism should be thought of as an overdetermined, overlapping, and multiply networked range of practices that were always caught up in a dialectical process of affirmation and negation.30 Modernism can productively be regarded in terms of theories of ‘uneven development’, which in turn inform accounts of ‘alternative modernities’.31 Critical work done from this kind of perspective is attentive not just to the ‘episodic’ (in T. J. Clark’s sense) and temporally fragmented nature of modernism but also to its geographical dispersal, its multiple sites and contexts. It’s not just that modernism is thereby shown to arise in various locations and to take numerous forms but that it is also rendered unstable as a category. Modernism, Tim Armstrong argues, should thus be seen in terms of ‘notions of temporality which overlap, collide, and register their own incompletion…the dynamization of temporality is one of the defining features of modernism: past, present, and future exist in a relationship of crisis’.32

Awareness of this complex geographical and historical nexus moves us decisively away from simple periodizations and teleological accounts of modernism’s ‘efflorescence’, which is then followed by its inevitable ‘decline’ and ‘fall’, but it also forces us to acknowledge the transnational dimensions of modernism and modernity. The stress on transnationality, in turn, requires us to confront modernism’s complex relations with imperialism. Patrick Williams offers a useful summary of the issues at stake:

A ‘combined and uneven’ development perspective on modernism and imperialism would also want to register the ways in which they display relations of continuity and discontinuity, both internally and…between one another. These would include, for instance, modernism’s modes of connection to and disconnection from imperialism in terms of geographical location, political positionality, trajectory and temporality, as well as its internal (p. 11) (dis)continuities: assimilated by or resisting modernity; enormously assimilative in its turn, or isolationist and defensive. Such a perspective also makes clear why, in the combined and uneven context that imperialism offers on a world scale, modernity and modernist responses to it emerge and subside at very different moments, and with their own particular rhythms and according to their own particular agendas—33

Williams not only highlights the numerous manifestations of modernism as it emerged in and engaged with different national and political sites, but also insists that human agency was always at work in these contexts, that specific choices were enacted under conditions that could not themselves be chosen. Dilip Gaonkar describes such choices as forms of ‘creative adaptation’ that do not do away with the Enlightenment account of modernity but rather interrogate and rework it, not least in order to expose the ways in which its putatively emancipatory project has—in the contexts of colonialism and imperialism—failed to deliver on its universalist promises.34 For Gaonkar, ‘in the face of modernity one does not turn inward, one does not retreat; one moves sideways, one moves forward’. This ‘creative adaptation’ produces a ‘double relationship between convergence and divergence’ and ‘makes the site of alternative modernities also the site of double negotiations—between societal modernization and cultural modernity, and between hidden capacities for the production of similarity and difference’.35

As several of the chapters in this Handbook show, the dialectic between difference and similarity that lies at the heart of ‘creative adaptation’ takes wildly divergent forms. Modernism is embraced, appropriated, redefined, parodied, and rejected. It is echoed, ridiculed, borrowed from, and turned inside out. It is caught up in the dynamics of colonialism and bound into strategies of post‐colonial critique. Most importantly, perhaps, the various uses to which modernism is put by writers and artists working outside Europe and the United States challenge the widespread notion that modernism is ‘centrally’ a European and North American phenomenon.36 Kwame Anthony Appiah argues that: ‘If there is a lesson in the broad shape of this circulation of cultures, it is surely that we are all already contaminated by each other, that there is no longer a fully autochthonous echt‐African culture awaiting salvage by our artists (just as there is, of course, no American culture without African roots).’37 Scholars have long acknowledged the dependence of European–American (p. 12) modernism on the cultures and arts it encountered through the histories of colonialism and imperialism.38 In one argument, modernism is the product of colonialism, which came into being through its various appropriations of the ‘exotic’ and the ‘primitive’, and which deployed these (always ambiguous and ambivalent) appropriations as a means to renew a society that was feared to be in danger of degeneration and atrophy.39

It has been argued that modernism should be seen as a response to a profound crisis of values instigated by these encounters.40 For Simon Gikandi: ‘The moment of English modernism, in spite of a certain canonical insistence on its ahistorical and hermetical character, was generated by a crisis of belief in the efficacy of colonialism, its culture, and its dominant terms—a progressive temporality, a linear cartography, and a unified European subject.’41 Equally important here is to take note of Gikandi’s point that by appropriating discourses such as those of modernism colonial subjects could gain ‘the authority not only to subvert the dominant but also to transform its central notions’.42 From this perspective, it is not just that modernism is influenced by ‘other’ cultures—a view that does little to destabilize the centre–margin binary—but that it is completely overhauled by writers and artists who re‐create and redeploy modernism in their own culturally specific terms and for their own distinctive purposes. As Patricia Chu has noted, in many accounts of modernism the ‘other’ is simply incorporated into existing models, a strategy that simply repeats ‘the logic of imperial economics: metropolitans use raw materials from the periphery to manufacture finished goods’.43 This approach to modernism not only denies agency to those who would rework it but also leaves the category of ‘modernism’ untouched: ‘In reading “other” modernisms according to the predefined identity categories of its authors, modernist studies commits itself to an understanding of a primary (unmarked) modernism surrounded by (raced and gendered) satellite artists.’44

Several of the chapters in this Handbook show that this notion of an ‘unmarked’ modernism must be (and is) contested. What chapters on various transnational modernisms show beyond any doubt is that European models of modernism can no longer be regarded as hegemonic; they may well be utilized in non‐European contexts (though they often are not), but they don’t take precedence over alternative understandings of the forms modernism might take. Equally importantly, chapters (p. 13) on Irish, Welsh, and Scottish modernism suggest that urban experience cannot be regarded as representative of modernity. These disparate modernisms were often self‐consciously ‘regional’ and their explorations of non‐metropolitan locations and forms of life challenged notions of a shared (and predominantly urban) national culture.45 Borrowing from James Clifford, we may suggest that what has been decisively overturned is the Eurocentric and metropolitan view that ‘certain classes of people are cosmopolitan (travelers) while the rest are local (natives)’. This view, Clifford reminds us, represents ‘the ideology of one (very powerful) traveling culture’, which, when applied to our theorizations of modernism, denies various ‘other’ cultures any access to a modernism of their own.46



(1) See Kevin Dettmar and Stephen Watt, Marketing Modernisms: Self‐Promotion, Canonization, Rereading (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996); Peter D. McDonald, ‘Modernist Publishing: “Nomads and Mapmakers”’, in David Bradshaw (ed.), A Concise Companion to Modernism (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), 221–42; Elizabeth Outka, Consuming Traditions: Modernity, Modernism, and the Commodified Aesthetic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Lawrence Rainey, Institutions of Modernism: Literary Elites and Public Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998); Catherine Turner, Marketing Modernism Between the Two World Wars (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003); and Joyce Piell Wexler, Who Paid for Modernism? Art, Money, and the Fiction of Conrad, Joyce, and Lawrence (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1997).

(2) Aaron Jaffe, Modernism and the Culture of Celebrity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 7.

(3) For more on this issue, see Patrick Collier, Modernism on Fleet Street (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006); Edward P. Comentale, Modernism, Cultural Production, and the British Avant‐Garde (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Lois Cucullu, Expert Modernists, Matricide, and Modern Culture (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004); Melba Cuddy‐Keane, Virginia Woolf, the Intellectual, and the Public Sphere (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Celia Marshik, British Modernism and Censorship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

(4) Joan Wallach‐Scott, Gender and the Politics of History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 7.

(5) For some cautionary thoughts about the implications of this move away from the base–superstructure model towards that of the ‘network’, with specific reference to the category of class, see Peter Nicholls, ‘State of the Art: Old Problems and the New Historicism’, Journal of American Studies, 23/3 (1989), 423–34.

(6) Ian Hacking, ‘Two Kinds of “New Historicism” for Philosophers’, New Literary History, 21 (1989–90), 345.

(7) Though not, we must remember, in Lyotard’s influential formulation: ‘A work can become modern only if it is first postmodern. Postmodernism thus understood is not modernism at its end but in the nascent state, and this state is constant’ (Jean‐François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), 79).

(8) Geoff Gilbert, Before Modernism Was: Modern History and the Constituency of Writing (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 168.

(9) Morag Shiach, Modernism, Labour and Selfhood in British Literature and Culture, 1890–1930 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 135.

(10) Ann L. Ardis, Modernism and Cultural Conflict, 1880–1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 175.

(11) See Comentale, Modernism, Cultural Production, and the British Avant‐Garde, 2–3.

(12) Patricia E. Chu, Race, Nationalism and the State in British and American Modernism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 16.

(13) Martin Halliwell, Transatlantic Modernism: Moral Dilemmas in Modernist Fiction (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006), 7.

(14) Astradur Eysteinsson, The Concept of Modernism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), ch. 1.

(15) Most obviously in Clement Greenberg, ‘Avant‐Garde and Kitsch’, Partisan Review, 6/5 (Fall 1939), 34–49, and ‘Towards a Newer Laocoön’, Partisan Review, 7/4 (Aug. 1940), 296–310. For an account of Greenberg’s career, see Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005). Jones argues that ‘Avant‐Garde and Kitsch’ depicted ‘the artist as an alienated, apolitical bohemian whose goals could only be aesthetic’, while ‘Laocoön’ severed radical art from both the masses and ‘revolutionary’ intellectuals alike. See Jones, Eyesight Alone, 35, 37.

(16) Clement Greenberg, ‘To Cope with Decadence’, in Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Serge Guilbaut, and David Solkin (eds), Modernism and Modernity: The Vancouver Conference Papers (Halifax: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 2004), 164.

(17) Ibid., ‘General Panel Discussion’, 268.

(18) Stan Smith, The Origins of Modernism: Eliot, Pound, Yeats and the Rhetorics of Renewal (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1994), 6, 5, and Jeffrey M. Perl, The Tradition of Return: The Implicit History of Modern Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 14. For a good discussion of the complexity of the term ‘tradition’, see Giovanni Cianci and Jason Harding (eds), T. S. Eliot and the Concept of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

(19) This was first mooted as a possibility just after the Second World War, in the context of the impact on academic life of ‘little magazines’. See Frederick J. Hoffman, Charles Allen, and Carolyn F. Ulrich (eds), The Little Magazine: A History and a Bibliography (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947), 224. The individuals that Hoffman et al. had in mind were Norman Macleod, Yvor Winters, Robert Penn Warren, R. P. Blackmur, and John Crowe Ransom.

(20) Robert Scholes, Paradoxy of Modernism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), p. xi.

(21) Robert Scholes, Paradoxy of Modernism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 22, 26.

(22) Peter Brooker, Bohemia in London: The Social Scene of Early Modernism (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 131.

(23) Herbert Marcuse, ‘Art as Form of Reality’, New Left Review, 74 (July–Aug. 1972), 56, 57.

(24) Tim Armstrong, Modernism: A Cultural History (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005), 4; Shiach, Modernism, Labour and Selfhood in British Literature and Culture, 1.

(25) Gerald Graff, Literature Against Itself: Literary Ideas in Modern Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 8. See also Suzy Gablik, Has Modernism Failed? (London: Thames & Hudson, 1984). For the view that modernism was in the past partially able to resist capitalism but is now fully incorporated into it, see Perry Anderson, A Zone of Engagement (London: Verso, 1992), 54. Anderson is here returning to his earlier debate with Marshall Berman. See Perry Anderson, ‘Modernity and Revolution’, New Left Review, 144 (Mar.–Apr. 1984), 96–113, and Marshall Berman, ‘The Signs in the Street: A Response to Perry Anderson’, New Left Review, 144 (Mar.–Apr. 1984), 114–23.

(26) John Xiros‐Cooper, Modernism and the Culture of Market Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 23.

(27) Ibid. 109.

(28) Thus Xiros‐Cooper: ‘Capitalism, as it is embodied in market society, emerges from the same gene pool as modernism; they are, to repeat, one and the same’ (Ibid. 23).

(29) Berman, ‘The Signs in the Street’, 122.

(30) See Thomas Crow, ‘Modernism and Mass Culture in the Visual Arts’, in Buchloh et al., Modernism and Modernity, 247.

(31) See Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996); Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993); Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, ‘On Alternative Modernities’, in Gaonkar (ed.), Alternative Modernities (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001), 1–23.

(32) Armstrong, Modernism, 9. See also Brooker, Bohemia in London, 41, 131.

(33) Patrick Williams, ‘“Simultaneous Uncontemporaneities”: Theorising Modernism and Empire’, in Howard J. Booth and Nigel Rigby (eds), Modernism and Empire (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), 32.

(34) For more on this contradiction between Enlightenment ideals and colonialism, see Simon Gikandi (ed.), Encyclopedia of African Literature (London: Routledge, 2003), 336–40, and Vasant Kaiwar and Sucheta Mazumdar, ‘Race, Orient, Nation in the Time‐Space of Modernity’, in Kaiwar and Mazumdar (eds), Antinomies of Modernity: Essays on Race, Orient, Nation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 285–7.

(35) Gaonkar, Alternative Modernities, 22, 23.

(36) See Laura Doyle and Laura Winkiel (eds), Geomodernisms: Race, Modernism, Modernity (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005).

(37) Kwame Anthony Appiah, ‘Is the Post‐ in Postmodernism the Post‐ in Postcolonial?’, Critical Inquiry, 17 (Winter 1991), 354.

(38) See e.g. Richard Begam and Michael Valdez Moses (eds), Modernism and Colonialism: British and Irish Literature, 1899–1939 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007).

(39) See e.g. Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981), and Simon Gikandi, Maps of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).

(40) See Stephen Slemon, ‘Modernism’s Last Post’, in Ian Adam and Helen Tiffin (eds), Past the Last Post (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991), 1–11; Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, and Edward Said, Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990); Joseph Bristow, Empire Boys: Adventures in a Man’s World (London: HarperCollins, 1991), 123.

(41) Gikandi, Maps of Englishness, 161.

(42) Ibid., p. xv.

(43) Chu, Race, Nationalism and the State, 13.

(44) Ibid. 14.

(45) For more on this point, see Jed Esty, A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004); John Marx, The Modernist Novel and the Decline of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), esp. ch. 5; and Steven Matthews, Modernism (London: Arnold, 2004), esp. ch. 2.

(46) See James Clifford, ‘Travelling Cultures’, in Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula A. Treichler (eds), Cultural Studies (London: Routledge, 1992), 108.

Peter Brooker

Peter Brooker is Research Professor at the Centre for Modernist Studies, University of Sussex. He has written widely on contemporary writing, film, and cultural theory and is author of Bertolt Brecht, Poetry, Dialectics, Politics (1989), New York Fictions (1996), Modernity and Metropolis (2002) and Bohemia in London (2004, 2007) and co-editor of Geographies of Modernism (2005) and The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, volumes 1-3.

Andrzej Gąsiorek

Andrzej Gasiorek is Reader in Twentieth-Century Literature at the University of Birmingham. He has written widely on modernism and on post-war British fiction. He is a co-editor of the journal Modernist Cultures and author of Post War British Fiction: Realism and After (1995), Wyndham Lewis and Modernism (2004) and J.G. Ballard (2005).

Leave a comment

Open chat
How may we assist you please?
× How can I help you?