- Précis Reviews
David Bradshaw and Kevin J. H. Dettmar, eds. A Companion to Modernist Literature and Culture. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. xxi + 593 pp. Paper $50.00
As Dante needed his Virgil to negotiate the more obscure paths on his journey, so is this book necessary either for those venturing onto the modernist trek for the first time or for those who would like a trusted friend, advisor, or tour guide. One can make a safe investment in this book, which, for the price, presents well-known modernist scholars writing with completeness yet brevity and, on occasion, humor. In fact, with sixty-four essays by scholars from both the United States and Great Britain, this is a valuable companion and text for graduate courses on modernism, since its entire focus questions, investigates, and attempts to answer to the essence of modernism. The volume contains well-organized snapshots of often heavy topics and succinctly encapsulates arguments that could otherwise be ponderous and intimidating to neophytes of modernism.
Part I addresses such issues as philosophy and religion, politics and psychology—what one would expect in a modernist study—but also goes beyond expectations in interesting essays on “The Biological Sciences,” for example, in which the idea of the New Woman is explored, often with funny turn-of-the-era quotes concerning “the nervous disorders, in particular hysteria, to which celibate adult women lay themselves open.” Another interesting essay considers the importance of burgeoning technology—the beauty and the nightmare of machines, from the advent of the telephone to the horror of mechanized warfare.
Part II of the Companion looks at some modernist movements: Imagism, Dadaism, Vorticism, and Surrealism, to name just a few, and then Part III separates analyses into genres, with essays on film, music, dance, architecture, the visual arts, and photography, along with the standards of poetry, the novel, and drama. At its heart, however, are twenty-six essays in Part IV, each on a separate modernist author who is a quintessential “modernist”: too many to list here with Fitzgerald, Pound, Eliot, Joyce—all the regulars—but also Zora Neale Hurston, Mina Loy, H.D., Nathanael West, and Wyndham Lewis. Finally, [End Page 500] Part V, “Other Modernisms,” contains essays on gender, queer, and postcolonial modernism. “Global Modernisms” presents an approach for “the comparative study of modernist texts written in different global locations” to “seek new understandings of complex global relations in multicentric and ethically responsible ways.” The essay on postmodernism nicely explicates what is really meant by that term and how it might differ from the concept of “modernist.” The book ends with a look at “Modernism Now,” reiterating what made the modernist period so revolutionary (engines, telephones, automobiles, plastics, x-rays, physics, population growth in cities, airplanes, typewriters, not to mention the demise of mimesis in literary constructs!).
In short, this collection is a reaffirmation of what makes the modernist period still so exciting. As Marjorie Perloff asserts, “it was in the modernist era that the great literary inventions of our time—collage, simultaneity, free verse and verse-prose combinations, genre-mixing, indeterminacy of image and syntax—were born,” “art that supplies redemption.”
Elizabeth Bergmann Loizeaux. Twentieth-Century Poetry and the Visual Arts. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. xii + 261 pp. $95.00
William Carlos Williams wrote “most intimately / two and two to make a dance,” and it is this intricate involvement of steps that Loizeaux addresses in this study of the pairing of the artist and the poet. Loizeaux asks why “so many modern poets, with such attention and such conflicted self-consciousness, turn to painting and sculpture as subjects for their poems?” Although poems and the visual arts have been interconnected for a long time (e.g., Homer’s description of Achilles’s shield), “ekphrasis,” or the poem that addresses a work of art, seems to be especially important to the moderns and postmoderns. With mention of nineteenth-century precursors such as Browning, Keats, and Rossetti, Loizeaux’s study delves more into the works of Yeats, Auden, Williams, and through the later works of Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich, Marianne Moore, Ted Hughes, Leonard Baskin, and Rita Dove. This might seem like a...