- Afterword: Regional Modernism and Transnational Regionalism
At the 2002 Modernist Studies Association Fourth Annual Conference, several of us participated in a seminar titled “Regionalism and the Modern.”1 In the discussion that revolved around previously shared position papers, seminar participants considered the idea that regionalism allows modernism to be understood as a crisis of definition. The seminar developed the idea of modernism as a process of layering—in space, of regions; in the social world, of identities; and in narrative, of time—a sedimentation that excavates the regionalist bedrock of the modern text. Earlier in the conference we had listened to Simon Gikandi note (in his plenary talk “Africa and the Epiphany of Modernism”) that “the process of developing categories in modernity depends on the purification of categories.” He argued that modernism derives its energy from the “other,” but that the institutions of modernism “separate out and ‘tame’ the sources” of that very energy, as when museums of modern art categorize African art as “primitive” instead of as integral to the history of art. For Gikandi, the region of Africa creates an epiphany of “what the ‘other’ is for the moderns.” Modernism becomes transnational when Gikandi explores the relationship between regional—African—art and modernism. At the same time, modernism becomes regional, and the challenge to modernism becomes one of including heterogeneity and global regions in its categories. [End Page 189]
By exploring the topic of regional modernism, this special issue of Modern Fiction Studies both brings us up to date and points the direction for further work on the intersections between regionalism and modernism. As editor Scott Herring notes in his introduction, the articles included in the issue may help us in the process of restoring “the importance of locality to modernism’s world-imaginary” and of “rethinking relationships between regionalist authors and modernist studies at levels both global and local.” While some of the most recent additions to the scholarship on literary regionalism (Tom Lutz’s Cosmopolitan Vistas and Philip Joseph’s American Literary Regionalism in a Global Age) may look toward both modernism and the global, Lutz and Joseph choose texts for analysis that remain comfortably grounded within US borders, even while cultural studies critics and anthropologists of science have insisted on moving us outside those borders, and sociologist Roland Robertson offers the Japanese marketing concept of “global localization” or “glocalization” as a way of connecting the global economy to local interests.2
Categories, terminology, and definitions matter. As Susan Stanford Friedman reminds us, what “is modern or modernist gains its meaning through negation, as a rebellion against what once was or was presumed to be. . . . [T]he relational meaning for modern (and its siblings) exists within a comparative binary in which the opposite is traditional. Neither term has a fixed or universal meaning in and of itself, but rather acquires meaning only in relation to its implied opposite” (503). Friedman’s discussion foregrounds the necessary tension in the term “regional modernism.” To the extent that regionalism has been both relegated to the margins of literary and cultural history and critiqued as a conservative bastion of traditionalism, Friedman’s understanding of the “relational meaning for modern” invites regionalism back to the center.3 “Modernism requires tradition to ‘make it new.’ Tradition comes into being only as it is rebelled against” (510).
With Friedman’s argument in mind, I read the essays included in this special issue with particular interest in terminology, as well as with the ways the essays position themselves in the larger conversation concerning regionalism, modernism, cosmopolitanism, and transnationalism. The essays add a variety of terms to the lexicon: “transpacific modernism” (Cruz); “modernist regionalism” (McWhirter); “regional cosmopolitanism” (Berman); “the afterlife of regional writing” (Sohn); and both explicit (Aronoff) and implicit (Gano and Majumdar) attempts to explore the “regional modernism” editor Herring proposed for his contributors’ consideration. As Judith Fetterley and I argued in Writing out of Place, regions [End Page 190]
have boundaries, but those boundaries that separate regional from urban or metropolitan life highlight relations of ruling rooted in economic history and the material requirements for everyday livelihood rather than in physical and “natural” borders. [Regionalist] writers both in their fictions...