- A New Vocabulary for Global Modernism eds. by Eric Hayot and Rebecca L. Walkowitz
In this collection of essays, coedited by Eric Hayot and Rebecca L. Walkowitz, the bounds of modernism are fruitfully extended without losing their shape. As Hayot and Walkowitz note in their introduction, the global expansion of modernism has been underway for several years, and while their book partakes in this expansive process, it does so in a unique way. Rather than simply "describing more modernism" (1), the essays collected in A New Vocabulary for Global Modernism ask us to rethink modernism dialectically. This dialectical approach emphasizes how the turn to the global can help us rethink the standard tenets of modernism, and how modernism can simultaneously help us think more globally. While there are a few moments where it may seem like the collection stretches the definition of modernism beyond a tenable limit, each chapter manages to strike a delicate balance between the standard modernist works and authors, such as Woolf and Pound, and the foci of their new categories, whether it be puppets, the slums, or animals. The plethora of critical approaches and topics contained in this volume demonstrate not only the global nature of modernism, but fulfill Hayot and Walkowitz's promise to provide "not a reference, but a user's manual" (2), making this text a valuable tool for any scholar interested in modernist literature, global studies, or any combination thereof.
After Hayot and Walkowitz's introduction, each chapter focuses on a singular word or idea. While some of these concepts, such as "form" or "style," are frequently associated with modernism, each author engages in the dialectical project of the book, and provides new ways of rethinking these familiar terms. For example, Christopher Reed's chapter, "Alienation," challenges the typical modernist conception of alienation as individualistic, isolating, and closely tied to the avant-garde. Rather, Reed argues that, when thought about from a global context, alienation reveals the tensions between dominant and peripheral cultures. Reed's studious assessment of Eastern influence and exoticism in Western modernism develops into a more nuanced argument about the link between alienation and identification, which ultimately posits that "to ignore the dynamics of alienation and identification among those the avant-garde cast as Other perpetuates definitions of the avant-garde as exclusively Euro-American and oversimplifies the positions of those outside the hegemon" (20). While Reed takes a familiar modernist trope and decenters it by situating it in a global context, other contributors enhance our understanding of global modernism by introducing new or uncommon terms not typically associated with Euro-American modernism.
Efthymia Rentzou's essay, "Animal," is one such chapter. Rentzou notes that "if [End Page 406] one seeks the other side of the human in modernist literature and art, the machine appears immediately as the obvious candidate" (29), but goes on to claim that "the animal is both ubiquitous and invisible in the modernist imaginary" (29). By connecting authors as disparate as Woolf, Coetzee, Skarimbas, Mallarmé, Borges, and Kafka, among others, Rentzou makes a strong case for the need to consider the animal in modernism, and proves that this consideration is nurtured best by a global approach. Furthermore, Rentzou deftly unpacks the meaning of the animal in modernism to demonstrate the inherently global aspects of modernism itself. Rentzou argues that "the humanism that modernism articulates through the animal is indeed a critique of the whole Western tradition, a critique coming from within and from without" (40), further emphasizing that modernism is a movement that emerges from the relationships and interactions of different cultures, places, and times, rather than a singularly located and temporally specific development growing purely out of European modernization.
As with any project that seeks to rethink, expand, or reinvigorate a well-established field, there is a danger of stretching the boundaries of the field so much as to make it unrecognizable. Although the book as a whole provides strong arguments in favor of a spatially dispersed and temporally asynchronous modernism, there are moments that may cause a reader...