- Human Creativity
MODERN PRINT ARTEFACTS is the latest volume in the Edinburgh Critical Studies in Modernist Culture series, whose purpose (write the series editors) is “to reflect and extend the range of new work in modernist studies.” Four of the five published and all seven unpublished volumes have “Modernism” in their titles—“Modernism and Magic,” “Lesbian Modernism,” “Primordial Modernism,” “Cheap Modernism,” etcetera—with the exception of the present volume. Only when we arrive at Patrick Collier’s six-page polemical “Postscript: Against ‘Modernist Studies’” do we discover his reluctance to use the word: “modernist studies, old and new,” he asserts, “have failed the early twentieth century” (I assume he means “twenty-first”). In his introduction, Collier further explains: “the vogue of fine textual materiality is better understood as modern than modernist.”
That introduction, comprising forty-one of the book’s 238 pages (seventy-eight of them devoted to endnotes, many of them explanatory), includes a number of luminaries—Jurgen Habermas, Walter Benjamin, Terry Eagleton, Raymond Williams, Jerome McGann, Barbara Herrnstein-Smith, and many more—and offers a thorough account of the book’s aims and methodology:
I want to pursue the cultural processes of meaning- and value-creation by examining forms that modernists and modernist scholars have paid heed to only partially and intermittently: material forms of print artefacts: textual form as embodied in spatial organisation, page layout, spacing and the tactile materials of textual objects.… I want to talk about periodicals and books-as-objects … as conductors and constructors of value, indeed, as objects whose own accrual, gathering and loss of value illustrates certain difficult-to-formulate aspects of more abstract and respectable aesthetic (or literary) value.
The “often ignored fact” at the center of Modern Print Artefacts, Collier explains, is that “periodicals and books, as objects, have material properties that convey meaning, properties that signify within (often multiple) codes and that, in so doing, stake out positions about value and the social status and function of writing and reading.” Collier’s language can be elaborate, but his meaning is usually clear. [End Page 529]
The book is divided into four chapters, each of which surveys one of the period’s most prominent “print artefacts”: the Illustrated London News (1842–1971), the popular weekly that offered its readers vicarious travel experiences and crafted “a new regime of visibility/mobility/intelligibility uniquely appropriate to a modernizing, imperial nation”; John O’London’s Weekly (1919–1954), which emphasized the status of its readers as “potential writers”; J. C. Squire’s monthly London Mercury (1919–1935), which embraced “the integrity of the object” (from architectural treasures to antiquarian books); and poetry anthologies, in particular The Golden Treasury (1861), The Oxford Book of English Verse (1900), and Twentieth Century Poetry (1929).
Collier includes a number of wonderful illustrations, all of them crucial to his close readings. For example, the multiple images showing the surrender of the Falam tribal area in Burma to imperial troops in the Illustrated London News of 27 August 1892 is deconstructed by Collier: “The collage’s narrative conclusion thus embodies one of the great central contradictions of colonial discourse, the need to both posit the colonised subject as inherently and permanently different (outside modernity and progress) and susceptible to, even desirous of, modernity’s benefits.” Collier also includes the Illustrated London News’s 17 September 1892 advertisement for Lipton’s Teas, whose text (“a complex act of geospatial mapping”) foregrounds the company’s “mastery of global space” and whose “exoticised female” in a “deferential pose … signalling her ‘submission’” is “transformed into an imperial commodity”; she is nothing less than “alienated local produce packaged for consumption.” In addition, Collier offers detailed analyses of two stories, Henry James’s “Greville Fane” and R. L. Stevenson’s “Uma, or the Beach of Falesá, both serialized (and illustrated) in the Illustrated London News in 1892, to show how “literary meaning is constructed within the print artefact in both deliberate and contingent ways that involve but exceed the...