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Reviewed by:
  • Modernism and Race
  • Patricia E. Chu
Modernism and Race. Len Platt, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Pp. xiv + 219. $88.00 (cloth).

The introduction to this collection of ten essays opens by clarifying its title. Its primary term is not “race” but “raciologies”: “the hypothetical premises about humankind, to paraphrase David Theo Goldberg, which, supported by once prestigious knowledge in such fields as anthropology, sociology, linguistics and biology, became embedded as commonsense culture” (1). The question addressed by the volume, Platt continues, is “how individual modern writers relate to the collective identities posited by race discourse” (1). This clarification is subtly stated yet entirely descriptive, and given what one knows about publishers’ limitations on titles, it is likely necessary.

Where other recent work and collections have interpreted the “modernism and race” rubric to analyze the work of non-white writers, this volume sticks to European authors for all but two essays (Doyle’s essay on Hurston and McKay and Booth’s essay on McKay). This focus is described in part as a turn away from “America’s confident hegemony over modernism” after the Second World War, which Platt understands to have cut European histories of race out of the criticism that established canonical modernism (4). That oversight, Platt argues, necessitates this volume’s detailed return to European authors:

“Many of the essays . . . operate tangentially to, or outside of, postcolonial discourses. . . . Potentially controversially, some of the accounts in this collection are concerned less with the black Atlantic than with a return to modernism in its European, Western dimensions, where . . . a North/South or Northern/Mediterranean consciousness becomes critically engaged”

(12). [End Page 827]

Platt’s own contribution to the volume, “Germanism, the Modern and ‘England’—1880–1930: A Literary Overview” examines the underwriting of English identity by Aryanism and Germanism as a “territory [modernism] shared and disputed with the wider culture” including the “standard historical romance” (22–23).

The essays primarily address the topic of “race” in the sense of culminations of and reactions to late-Victorian and Edwardian “raciology” rather than through contemporary critical race thinking (Laura Doyle’s essay on Atlantic modernism and migrant labor is an exception). Taking as a starting point the discursive histories of what race had come to mean in Europe at the point modernist writers took it up, many of the essays refer to developments as early as the sixteenth century, in this way tracking race as one of the defining discourses of modernity, itself seen, in another one of Goldberg’s definitions, as a historical formation of the west. Taken as a whole, the volume offers a painstaking analysis of the significance and meaning of the terms “Anglo-Saxon,” “English,” and “European” in interwar politics.

The depth with which these terms are historicized in the other essays fully demonstrates that Platt’s phrase “collective identities posited by race discourse” is not merely verbiage added to “race”; one of the contributions of the volume is that it reexamines an issue traditionally explored in modernist studies as an abstract tension between the individual and the collective. David Ayers’s essay, “Wyndham Lewis and the Modernists: Internationalism and Race,” examines the “elaborate political function” of anti-Semitism in Pound’s, Lewis’s, and Eliot’s responses to the philosophies of internationalism and universalism underlying both Wilson’s League of Nations and Russian communism. Understanding the details of this function through close analyses of texts such as Lewis’s Paleface, he argues, allows us to study the development of concepts of scientific race and nation during the modernist period so as to gain a better understanding of how the racial other and the Jew were not historically or discursively identical. Max Saunders’s essay “Ford Madox Ford, Race and Europe” examines Ford’s work in terms of the way that “early twentieth-century race discourse is as exercised over racial distinctions within Europe as it is over distinctions between European and non-European” (42). Finn Fordham’s “’Until Hanandhunigan’s Extermination’: Racialized Histories of the World” looks at the phenomena of European modernists working in the genre of “world history” after the First World War. Fordham describes the racialization of this genre, noting how...


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