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Reviewed by:
  • Modernism, Race and Manifestos
  • Christopher Freburg
Laura Winkiel. Modernism, Race and Manifestos. New York: Cambridge UP, 2008. x + 242 pp.

Laura Winkiel argues that revolutionary manifestos contain alternative communities and democracies that critics have yet to fully study and appreciate. In dismissing manifestos like C. L. R. James's The Case for West Indian Self-Government in favor of ur-modernist works such as James Joyce's Ulysses, modernist scholars miss the transformational potential of manifestos. Winkiel is not interested in all manifestos, rather ones that reinforce and challenge imperial domination. In her analysis, Winkiel isolates a particular concept from the British rhetoric of empire: progress. She emphasizes that British imperial modernity is white, and that Africa and the nonwhite Caribbean only emerge in this modernity as its primitive and static racial other. Winkiel's readings of manifestos' racial, national, and imperial crossings demonstrate that texts from the Women's Social and Political Union's "The Battle Cry" to W. E. B. Du Bois's "London Manifesto" disrupt master narratives of race and nation that define European superiority and progress through the exclusion of nonwhite colonial subjects. Winkiel's counterhistory of modernism, then, reveals the disruptive force of manifestos whose anticolonial discourse is central to the aesthetics and social life of modernism. Throughout the book, Winkiel draws on myriad cultural objects such as plays, novels, magazines, and literary anthologies. This broad array of objects allows Modernism, Race and Manifestos to show the specific cultural circuits of the manifesto, revealing its cultural aesthetic depth and significance to modernism as well as the broader scope of modernity that contains it.

For Winkiel, in order to study the impact of manifestos one must refigure modernity as a historical concept. Winkiel uses Walter [End Page 185] Benjamin's "Theses on the Philosophy of History" to critique modern Europeans' notions of progress because Benjamin suggests that reading history as a steady flow from the past into the future reproduces the structures and ideologies that protect the powers of the state and elites that influence it. In the British imperial order Winkiel studies, women and minority groups are instruments to be used on behalf of the progress of imperial projects. Manifestos critique this logic by ushering in forgotten histories that present ways to reconfigure how people see the historical present. By reconfiguring the present, one configures their relationship to the past, future, and time itself. Again, it is worth mentioning Winkiel's use of Benjamin's emphasis on the power of the present precisely because this concept animates one of the most profound contributions in the book: manifestos' ability to disrupt naturalized conceptions of temporality and progress, which constitute their political and aesthetic interventions.

All of the chapters are worthy of mention but it is Winkiel's first chapter on women's suffrage and her sixth chapter on reading across the postcolonial color line that demonstrate the diverse array of artifacts in the book, and its strongest claims. From the outset, Winkiel emphasizes that British subjects understood their nationhood in racial terms. Race's integral power in British colonialism becomes central to texts that readers may at first presume are not about race at all. For instance, British women's suffrage manifestos that rely on an imperialist wartime national narrative unfold in what Winkiel repeatedly refers to—vis-à-vis Benedict Anderson—as "homogenous empty time" (46). This temporality defines itself against the nonwhites that exist under the British imperial umbrella. Furthermore, it is through this empty time that other suffrage texts like Elizabeth Robins's novel The Convert (1907) challenge the homogeneity of national progress by the self-conscious manipulation of suffragist language. The manifesto is purposely heterogeneous, using ideologies of racist national identification to unveil antiracist discursive strategies. According to Winkiel, this type of disruption ultimately shows the political possibilities for women of various colors and classes to supplant oppressive ideologies that inform the British imperial nation state.

What is more, Winkiel examines texts that more specifically address race in the final chapter. In her study of Virginia Woolf in relation to C. L. R. James and Suzanne and Aimé Césaire, Winkiel illuminates the transnational context of Woolf's gender critique in...


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pp. 185-187
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