- Transatlantic Avant-Gardes: Little Magazines and Localist Modernism by Eric B. White
There are moments when you read a critical study that you know it’s something special, that it will garner a prominent place in literary scholarship for years to come. Eric White’s Transatlantic Avant-Gardes: Little Magazines and Localist Modernism published by Edinburgh University Press is just such a book. White’s engaging monograph examines the transatlantic movement of little magazines produced throughout the modernist period and expertly chronicles the dynamic collaborations that formed and reformed the avant-garde in multiple locations. [End Page 84]
Based upon extensive archival research, that includes unpublished manuscripts and magazine issues, White’s monograph combines multiple, critical approaches to reveal the complex interconnections forged amid a transatlantic avant-garde community. It offers a revisionary examination of the ways literary modernists considered specific locales in the cultivation of experimental writing and national identity. Through his approach, White examines how William Carlos Williams, Alfred Kreymborg, Jean Toomer, and others participated in the transatlantic construction of American literary modernism. He posits, as noted in his prologue, “a version of localist modernism that configures the aesthetic expressions of avant-garde modernists as responses to specific regions and cultural moments. However, it locates the development of those responses within rather than outside of the transatlantic discourse networks of the early twentieth century” (4).
White frames his book in terms of “locational” and “localist” formations of modernism, key distinctions in the field of transatlantic studies, and his study divides into six chapters that offer extensive, insightful analysis of the multiple iterations of little magazines, as well as the key figures involved in their production. He starts with an examination of Alfred Kreymborg’s Others: A Magazine of the New Verse and argues that this magazine “laid the textual groundwork for the localist avant-garde to take root in” (15). Chapter 2 then turns from a locational to localist analysis of the little magazine world by focusing upon geographic places, as well as “private” work completed behind the scenes. Drawing upon recent archival research, White’s third chapter examines the permutations from a “locational poetics” to the emergence of “localist modernism” (16). The next chapter then offers an analysis of “the New Science of Advertising” with a fascinating look at how American localist writers “confronted the problem of place in the light of new economic and political realities.” In Chapter 5 White considers later developments, specifically the emergence of “alternative modernisms,” and offers a compelling exploration of the ways African American modernists participated in the transnational aesthetic, examining Broom, Secession, and S4N, as well as Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro, Survey Graphic, and Fire!! White’s analysis reveals how these later publications offer “unique articulations of a locational praxis which successfully undertook an aestheticised form of cultural critique,” as well as “new possibilities for approaching modernist problems of place” (17). Of special note is White’s breakdown of Jean Toomer’s modernist poetics as the formulation of a “new” American language rooted in the fusion of identities and geographic spaces. As part of this exploration, White considers the influence of uananimisme, a “transatlantic vogue” that “drew on ancient folk cultures to synergize urban environments” (149). White’s book fittingly concludes with an [End Page 85] examination of the ways “cultural localism” reemerged during the late modernist period. It focuses particular attention on 1924, Blues, Pagany: A Native Quarterly, as well as the revival of Contact. This “new localism,” as White incisively points out, “mediated a cultural transition in American modernism from imagist to objectivist poetics, where issues of race, class, and gender inequality in the inhabited world were brought into increasing contact with the written word” (17–18).
From White’s study, William Carlos Williams stands out as one of the pivotal figures in this transatlantic movement. White threads Williams’s participation in numerous little magazine iterations throughout various chapters. With his contribution as the Associate Editor of Others, Williams promotes, what White perceptively describes as, “a new Franciscan order” for the...