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Reading 1922: A Return to the Scene of the Modern
Theory and Cultural Studies
Michael North. Reading 1922: A Return to the Scene of the Modern. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. vii + 269 pp.
Discontented with the cultural deficiencies in criticism of modernism, Michael North attempts a more inclusive study of 1922, the monolithic year of Eliot's The Waste Land and Joyce's Ulysses. In a reconstruction of the culture(s) of 1922 as a socially experienced fact, North analyzes not the literary cliques in which such landmark works were produced, but instead the "larger public world" that received them. North's method, generally employed with deft control, is to examine and juxtapose numerous elements of culture, including journalism, advertising, philosophy, anthropology, psychoanalysis, popular novels, colonialist propaganda, photographs, encyclopedias, motion pictures, and more; what he achieves in examining this diversity of culture is the discernment of reticulate relationships among aspects of modernism that problematize the picture of the era as most often seen in criticism. In exploring the culture around the literature of 1922, he employs his multifarious sources with admirable control.
North introduces his study with a meticulously researched demonstration of the cultural rift felt in 1922 by a broad cultural spectrum of observers. After considering the possible models for criticism, North chooses Raymond Williams's The Politics of Modernism, which presents a social vision of modernism based on the newfound global mobility of the era. North deftly extends Williams's theory to the even more extensive global "travel" increasingly available in 1922 through newspapers, radio, and motion pictures. For instance, through his analysis of the excavation of Tutankhamen's tomb, North illustrates how this early geopolitical struggle, indicative of the cultural disjunctions of 1922, gave rise to an [End Page 1061] intermingling of archeology, journalism, advertising, fashion, and popular culture, and is illustrative of "the conjunction of migration and media."
In the first four chapters, North explores how aspects of culture curiously overlap. In "Translation, Mistranslation, and the Tractatus," for example, he pursues a "suggestive inquiry" into the relationship between Wittgenstein's "anthropological method" and the new, scientifically-oriented anthropological methods of Bronislaw Malinowski and A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, both of whose first important works were published in 1922. "The Public Unconscious" traces how the rise of psychoanalysis and group psychology led to public doubt about the soundness of democracy and to the invention of public relations, as well as to, disturbingly, the rise of intelligence testing, which was begun by psychologists but promptly used to disenfranchise immigrants. In "Tourists in the Age of the World Picture," North cross-interrogates the 1922 world tours of the Prince of Wales, D. H. Lawrence, and Lord Northcliffe, exposing the theoretical contradictions inherent in the projects of figuration (especially photographs) of all three men. And in "The Great Divide," he critiques the controversy between popular culture, first termed as a critical category by Gilbert Seldes in 1922, and the sense of unified public morality, to which the purity of "art" is a corollary. In these four chapters, North connects his discussions to literary modernism in ways that are elucidating, such as when he suggests the ambivalent relationship modernist writers seem to have had, for example, with public relations, jazz, or motion pictures. For the light it sheds on the culture of modernism and obliquely onto literary modernism itself, Reading 1922 proves itself an excellent contribution to critical work on modernism, on the whole.
In the last major chapter, however, North explicitly directs his attention to the literary culture of 1922, focusing on the "crisis of masculinity" as seen in the works of Willa Cather and Ernest Hemingway. His goal in "All Nice Wives Are Like That"--to problematize Cather's relationship with modernism--would be commendable were his methodology in this chapter not occasionally quite meretricious. The crux of the chapter's argument is that Hemingway and other male authors attacked Cather's 1922 novel about World War I, One of Ours, because it belies the falsely...