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Reviewed by:
  • Geomodernisms: Race, Modernism, Modernity
  • Alfred J. López
Laura Doyle and Laura Winkiel, eds. Geomodernisms: Race, Modernism, Modernity. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 2005. xi + 354 pp.

This useful but uneven volume appears, as have any number of other “new modernist” studies, in the shadow of Dilip Gaonkar’s 2001 collection Alternative Modernities, which along with Donald Pease’s and Robyn Wiegman’s Futures of American Studies (2002) helps to chronicle a significant paradigm shift in the humanities. This shift can be characterized as a turn to the global, in both senses of that word: a tendency toward more globalized readings of Euro- American canonical works, events, and discourses, as well as an expansion of the canons themselves beyond their Euro-American focus. Comparative literature, to cite just one example, has been undergoing a similar shift towards the global, a development much noted in the ACLA’s (American Comparative Literature Association) most recent “State of the Discipline” report. Thus does modernism, [End Page 454] a field circumscribed by its Eurocentric focus in the first place, now join what we might call the “scramble for planetarity,” following Spivak’s term. As in comparative literature, which is now turning its attention to its erstwhile others, modernists now find themselves in a position analogous to Britain’s in the seventeenth century: playing catch-up, trying to establish a belated presence in an arena already carved up by others. Postcolonial studies, to name only one such intellectual project, has long interrogated the hegemony of canonical modernist texts and writers in twentieth-century literature and has also exhaustively theorized the relations of writers such as Conrad, Forster, and others to the postcolonial writers and texts that would later appropriate and critique them. Thus is Geomodernisms doubly disadvantaged: not only is the new modernism a late arrival to a critical enterprise that postcolonial studies and related projects have thoroughly explored, but it constitutes something of a second wave even within the new modernism itself, following the lead of Gaonkar, Arjun Appadurai, and others.

Given this position of relative belatedness, the onus is on the volume editors to carve out their own distinctive niche—that is, the volume’s chapters must collectively offer a reading that both supports and extends the project of the new modernism, that breaks (or at least explores) ground not necessarily covered in texts that pioneered or established the project within which it is working. At this task, Geomodernisms is intermittently successful; some of its chapters, most notably Simon Gikandi’s trenchant critique of modernism’s appropriation of so-called primitive art while writing Africans and Africa out of the project of modernism itself, suggest the wealth of possibilities for a truly “geo-” modernism. Too few of the remaining chapters, unfortunately, similarly follow through on the introduction’s promise to “move across linguistic and national boundaries in scholarship, in order to re-see the circuits within which capitalist modernity has placed us and geomodernisms” (14). The unfortunate “us-them” distinction that ends that sentence, in fact, accidentally articulates Geomodernisms’s other significant flaw: Not only does its geographical orientation of its title perpetuate modernism’s own hemispheric cultural logic of hegemony of the civilized “us” over the various “geos” against which “capitalist modernity has placed” it, but it does so without a sustained metageographical critique of that condition. The primary exception to this omission is the volume’s penultimate chapter, Jessica Berman’s “Modernism’s Possible Geographies,” and its interest in geography runs only as far as demonstrating modernist writers’ interest in the discipline as distinguished by its recurrence as a trope in the work of Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, and Gertrude Stein. Far from serving as a point of departure for the exploration of non-Euro-American modernisms, most of the essays here end up either focusing on the [End Page 455] same-as-ever canonical figures and texts or—more tellingly—locating their chosen alternative modernisms within the very Euro-modernism to which they supposedly provide an alternative. Simon Gikandi’s contribution, “Africa and the Epiphany of Modernism,” is the exception that proves the rule. Gikandi’s demonstration of the modernist legerdemain of embracing African art as a means to...


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