restricted access Behind the Masks of Modernism: Global and Transnational Perspectives ed. by Andrew Reynolds, Bonnie Roos (review)
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Behind the Masks of Modernism: Global and Transnational Perspectives. Edited by Andrew Reynolds and Bonnie Roos. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016. Pp. ix + 304. $74.95 (cloth).

In his now-seminal book from 1974, Los hijos del limo (Children of the Mire), Mexican Nobel laureate Octavio Paz points to the disconnections between modernity in Latin America and modernity as it was felt in Europe in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. There was, he says, a “radical difference” between Europeans and Latin Americans: “when Baudelaire says that progress is a ‘grotesque idea’ or when Rimbaud denounces industry, their experiences of progress and industry are real, direct, while those of Latin Americans are derivative.”1 Ultimately, Paz calls the latter’s experience of modernity “el reino de la máscara, el imperio de la mentira” (the kingdom of the mask, the empire of the lie) (127). Paz’s observation in the 1970s, as Alejandro Mejías-López has argued in The Inverted Conquest, prolongs an already longstanding contention about Latin America’s modernity as not only different, but tediously lagging. This absence is made clear in Paz’s alignment of the concept of the “mask” and the “lie,” highlighting the Latin American adoption of modernity as a performance on a stage stripped of all the accoutrements of a material sense of “progress.” The mask, in Paz’s account of Spanish American modernismo, is worn by the artist so that he can take part in Western modernity, take from it elements that allow for a reinvigoration of local modes of poetic expression, and in that way offer a rebuttal to the perception of Spanish American literature as the perennial inheritor of peninsular Spanish models. The artist, in this account, remains a kind of impostor in a world of clear geopolitical hierarchies.

In many ways, Paz’s take on modernism and modernity in the Latin American fin de siècle heralds the debates surrounding a singular modernity versus alternative and multiple modernities (as proposed by Fredric Jameson, Dilip Gaonkar, and S. N. Eisenstadt, respectively) that have emerged and been debated since the beginning of this century. In its focus on the places and periods of the tangibly modern, Paz also anticipates that most hotly debated of arguments in the New Modernist Studies: the notion of “planetary” modernist cultures, which Susan Stanford Friedman engages in her 2015 book. It is precisely within this great mass of exchanges and disputes that Andrew Reynolds and Bonnie Roos situate themselves in their new collection Behind the Masks of Modernism: Global and Transnational Perspectives. Reynolds and Roos find, in collections like Mark Wollaeger’s Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms, Laura Doyle and Laura Winkiel’s Geomodernisms: Race, Modernism, and Identity, and Friedman’s own earlier writings on planetarity, a will to commence, however cautiously, a “global conversation” of what modernism is, how it might be distinct from ideas of modernity as such, and where and when it is to be found (10). They perceive in Wollaeger’s Handbook a “monovocal” conception of modernism, although the specifics of their contentions with the essays compiled in that volume are not clearly expressed (8). To counter this, their collection proposes the figure of the literal and [End Page 195] figurative mask as a “len[s]” to study “global modernisms and modernities,” in the “hope that it might help us to address what we see as a problem inherent in both Western modernist studies and global modernist studies, involving a suspect relationship with history” (9). This “suspect relationship” is weighty: for one, it points a finger at our preconceptions about the mask’s place in the grand narrative of modernism. It will come as no surprise that the first example of masks in the introduction and the book itself is Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907). To many, this may well be the first iteration of the mask that comes to mind: a painting displaying a use of the primitive that, according to Reynolds and Roos, immediately asks us to question the artist’s intentions as either exploitative of the racial and cultural other, or as a conscious critique of imperial...