- Editor’s Introduction
I have arranged this issue of jml along broadly chronological lines, from the earliest text and author to the most recent. Within this uncontroversial historical arrangement, the reader can see how what once was thought to be an exclusive modernism becomes more simply modern literature and more clearly a part of modern culture in a world we know, and not an aesthetic existence on an exquisite plane in a separate world elsewhere.
Kelly S. Walsh, in “The Unbearable Openness of Death: Elegies of Rilke and Woolf,” contests the common view of modernist elegies, that sees the genre being bent to serve the purposes of contempt for the modern world. Instead, Walsh finds, the elegies of Rilke and Woolf open creatively onto the world in an imaginative tension with the understandable human desire for transcendence.
Similarly, Thomas Claviez, in “The Southern Demiurge at Work: Modernism, Literary Theory and William Faulkner’s ‘Dry September,’” not only provides an original reading of this story but does so in support of a reading of contemporary theory and its relationship to modernism that demonstrates how the characteristic achievements of both movements actively shape our perceptions of identity and politics for the better, not for the worse.
“‘Charley, you’re my darwing:’ Sexual Selection in the Joycean Nursery” by Paul Bowers then shows us how Joyce, perhaps the quintessential modernist writer, invents in Finnegans Wake a satire upon Darwinian-inspired sexual sciences. Bowers thereby gives a concrete instance of how what is surely the most modernist of modernist texts, by parodically miming children’s nursery rhymes, opens up greater possibilities in the world, rather than shutting them down or closing off the text from that world.
David James, in “Localizing Late Modernism: Interwar Regionalism and the Genesis of the Micro-Novel,” intervenes in what is called the new modernist studies that applies the lessons of new historicism and post-colonialism, as well as poststructuralism, to modernism. James argues that Sylvia Townsend Warner, Storm Jameson and Rosamond Lehmann make use of the regional novel’s conventions and modernist technical strategies, so that the regional novel between the wars does not represent a regression from modernist aesthetic ambitions, as has too often been said, but rather a productive genre for ongoing experimentation, with a sharply political edge. [End Page v]
“Is Narrative Fundamental? Beckett’s Levinasian Question in Malone Dies” by David Sherman puts Levinas’s radical ethics of the totally Other beyond Being to use in showing how Beckett takes both modernist experimentation and ethical engagement to the extreme of a final, irresolvable confrontation and tension. Beckett’s fiction in particular performs a narrative poetics of repeated ethical frustration that defines the human condition, especially after World War II.
Kyla Schuller, in “Facial Uplift: Plastic Surgery, Cosmetics and the Retailing of Whiteness in the Work of Maria Cristina Mena,” analyzes how thematic and formal innovations in this Mexican-American author’s short fiction written for popular magazines intervene in the neocolonial marketplace where U.S. ideals of white beauty are being sold across the border in Mexico. How the hallmarks of this powerful cultural imperialism can be resisted and turned to critical purposes is what Mena’s stories, Schuller concludes, powerfully dramatize.
Black Power, Richard Wright’s 1954 travel narrative of the Gold Coast/Ghana, Dorothy Stringer argues, draws on the conventions of the African American tradition to express psychic life along with historical realities so that such major psychoanalytic concepts deeply imbricated with classic modernism as the Oedipus Complex, the return of the repressed and anal eroticism can be discussed openly and put into productive relationship with the world his text is narrating. Not only does Black Power then serve historically as the thin edge of the wedge for introducing sexual and scatological topics that at the time had yet to be discussed in serious aesthetic and political contexts, it can also function now as a spur to and resource for revisionary critical work across the board.
Ariela Freedman’s “Drawing on Modernism in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home” completes this issue’s round of essays by showing, with appropriately supporting illustrations, how this 2006 graphic novel, via explicit...