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Modernism/Modernity 8.3 (2001) 385-387

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Editor's Introduction

Cassandra Laity

Welcome to the first MSA conference issue of Modernism/Modernity. The essays appearing here and in future issues will be culled from some of the best work presented at the annual conference of the recently founded Modernist Studies Association. This issue will not be a proceedings volume, but a collection of full-length journal articles by modernists generating the most exciting work in the field at this pivotal moment of its renewal. Now in its third year, the MSA meeting continues to assemble a rapidly growing community of modernists seeking a forum for vital scholarly exchange; and I hope to reproduce that enthusiasm and intellectual energy annually. In this venture, I share the aims of the MSA and of my co-editors to provide an international and interdisciplinary forum for the study of the arts in their social, political, cultural, and intellectual contexts.

Making it New

Generally speaking, the essays in this issue present some recent approaches to modernism and modernity. Four of its more topical articles examine variously: the "witnessing"of war (John Whittier-Ferguson); the interaction between poetry and avant-garde film (Susan McCabe); gender and classical, ritual performance (Edward P. Comentale); and the influence of the mid-century rather than the late-Victorian period (Jessica R. Feldman). Two nontraditional, speculative essays frame the issue, an intricate polemic on the marketing of modernism (Jennifer Wicke), and a "definitional excursion" into the meanings of modern/modernity/modernism across space and time (Susan Stanford Friedman). More specifically, all six essays might be [End Page 385] organized around the theme, "mak[ing] it new," both as that enterprise recalls the association of Pound's famous dictum with aesthetic innovation, and in its application to the "new" modernist studies' engagement with interdisciplinary, cultural, social, and historical critical angles arising in the academy from the 1970s to the present. Thus, Wicke and Friedman interrogate (among other things) the long-term politics of the "new modernisms'" self-designation as "new." McCabe and Whittier-Ferguson focus on aesthetic innovation, across disciplines (poetry and film), and as mediated by history (war). And Feldman and Comentale reject modernism's claim to spontaneous renewal entirely, searching out its cross-fertilizations with Victorian or classical tradition. Given their differing orientations toward the new, the following essays often represent contradictory, even dissenting, discourses of modernism and modernity--on the potentially transformative or supremacist affinities of the avant-garde's preoccupation with violent rupture, for example.

The first MSA conference issue begins appropriately with Wicke's inquiry into the resurgent retailing of modernism, "Appreciation, Depreciation: Modernism's Speculative Bubble." Using economic metaphors and provocative conceits, she speculates widely on what happens when modernism becomes (once more) a brand name. What ventures or misadventures attend its rebranding? Wicke advances another frame for the "new" modernist critical enterprise drawn from Ernst Bloch's Novum and his related conception of "colportage," an ever-shifting, culturally transformative, market version of bricolage. Wicke's illumination of the new "lying immanent in colportage" includes modernist artifacts ranging from Leopold Bloom's anomalous reading matter to the unexpected commercial success of insurgent Mexican cinema.

McCabe's timely "'Delight in Dislocation': The Cinematic Modernism of Stein, Chaplin, and Man Ray" explores the impact of avant-garde cinema's dislocated, automaton bodies on Gertrude Stein's disjunctive, repetitious, "continuous present." While she devotes much needed attention to the juxtaposition of experimental poetry and avant-garde film--here exemplified by Man Ray's self-described "cinepoem," Emak Bakia, and Stein's "Mrs. Emerson"--her essay more broadly interrogates the role of bodily volition and processes of attention in modernity. McCabe thus investigates the intimate relation of Stein's cinematic modernism to comedy--iconized for Stein and the avant-garde by Charlie Chaplin's trademark, nonpurposive "jerky gait"--and to hysteria--formalized by Jean-Martin Charcot's Tuesday lecture/performances of hysterical bodies suffering the "disease of attention."

In Whittier-Ferguson's "The Liberation of Gertrude Stein: War and Writing," Stein, the examplar of anti-narrative innovation (further elucidated by McCabe's essay) competes with a more historically accountable Stein, who...