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"What is the purpose of your trip?" The aesthetics of the customs desk are conspicuously realist, demanding—along with plausible motivations—a transparent exposition of setting, chronology, and character. "Where will you be staying?" "How long do you intend to stay?" "What is your occupation?" In Modernism and Mobility: The Passport and Cosmopolitan Experience, Bridget Chalk pits such questions and the "biopolitical apparatus" they vocalize against the turbulent narratives of Anglophone literary modernism (5). Her study recovers the rise of the international passport system as a contested project of global infrastructure- and institution-building, on one hand consolidating the state's management of national identity and on the other establishing the contradictory terms of "nationality in mobility" that for Chalk define modernist cosmopolitanism (18). Five chapters and a conclusion survey the crisscrossing itineraries of D. H. Lawrence, Gertrude Stein, Claude McKay, Jean Rhys, Christopher Isherwood, and W. H. Auden (with prefatory appearances by Henry James and Ezra Pound). Chalk reads these writers' experiences with and reflections on the new "passport regime" alongside their often generically hybrid texts (17). This multifaceted approach makes her book a valuable resource for those interested in specific literary figures and works as well those seeking an overview of the ideologies and practices that shaped transatlantic modernism's international theme. [End Page 599]
In Lawrence and Stein we get "central modernist figures with relatively secure national identities that were temporarily threatened by pressures on nationality and mobility occasioned by World War I" (32). Revisiting Lawrence's passport trouble during the war, Chalk recuperates Aaron's Rod as a hyperactive "inverse bildungsroman": "a novel of de-socialization, which values mobility without destination and is virtually void of interiority except as mediated by cultural codes and institutions" (44). The novel's central metaphor of the "authentic self-describing passport" (48) brings these formal features into focus, which in Chalk's reading advances Lawrence's scrutiny of the passport system's "psychosocial effects" (50) and its aesthetics of "shallow legibility" (59). Aaron's rejection of the passport thus facilitates Lawrence's turn toward an aboriginal ideal—"a typology of identity divorced from the state but linked to place" (57)—that he is unable to embody and holds in tension with his lifelong mobility outside of England. In contrast to Lawrence's travails, Stein performs her expertise in travel and demographic analysis with aplomb, earning Chalk's designation as an "independent bureaucrat" (64). This thoroughly enjoyable guise for Stein's (ultimately troubling) appropriation of the discourse of nationality recalls Oscar Wilde's fabled announcement at US Customs: "I have nothing to declare except my genius." Like Wilde's, Stein's finesse at the border and later recommendations on immigration policy draw on a larger trajectory of intellectual engagement with and personal vulnerability before questions of citizenship, celebrity, and race. Circling from her genre-bending autobiographies through her fiction and geographical texts, Chalk illuminates both "the central role nationality plays in the modernist cosmopolitan context" and Stein's conflicted performance of mastery over that context (91).
Transience feels different en route from the colonies. The chapter on McKay subtly revises recent celebrations of his internationalism by forging new links between his valorization of vagabondage and his precarious relationship to border controls. Riffing on the bureaucratic jargon of characters in Banjo: A Story Without a Plot, Chalk explores variations on the theme of "doubtful" nationality (105) in McKay's letters, memoirs, and fiction (making an unexpected connection to Paul Bowles's The Sheltering Sky). Archival material adds new details to this relatively familiar territory, including the concessions to plot in McKay's own life: letters from Paris to immigration officials in Charleston, South Carolina (seeking information about his arrival in the United States) and a readable autobiographical report he had to furnish for consular officers or well-connected patrons. Such precarity motivated rather than derailed McKay's ambitions. In Banjo the identity papers that drive or disrupt characters' actions are subsumed in an experiment with plotless narrative that adapts modernist form [End Page 600] to the task of...