- Modernism: Evolution of an Idea by Sean Latham and Gayle Rogers, and: Modernism's Print Cultures by Faye Hamill and Mark Hussey, and: Modernism, Science, and Technology by Mark S. Morrison
The appearance of Bloomsbury's New Modernisms series marks a turning point in the study of modernism, a moment at which its discoveries and insights can be productively evaluated and reflected upon. Bloomsbury's series offers a range of introductions, guides, and handbooks—not manifestoes or polemics—to help students and scholars map the diverse perspectives and approaches that now make up the field. This dispassionate accounting of what has been accomplished in modernist studies over the past twenty or so years—in relation, of course, to the longer history of modernism itself—signals an important watershed: the "new" modernist studies is no longer primarily preoccupied with its own project of "making it new," and is now a well-established field. Of course we might read Douglas Mao and Rebecca Walkowitz's important 2008 PMLA article, "The New Modernist Studies," in a similar light—less a proclamation than a summary and assessment of the field as it stood at that time. That piece, written a decade ago, however, still performed the function of introducing an emergent field to scholars outside that field. Bloomsbury's series, I would argue, represents a new era: an era in which the field itself has already coalesced and in which overview, summaries, and assessments no longer need also serve as introductions to an emerging field.
"Well established" does not of course mean clearly defined or easy to describe: on the contrary, the field of modernist studies consists in large part of debates over how the field should be defined. On the one hand, recent attempts to rethink the term have made it harder than ever to pin down what "modernism" means, whether in stylistic, historical, [End Page 461] or geographical terms. On the other hand, a residual sense of modernism seems to endure, so that most of us, as Justice Potter Stewart once said of pornography, know it when we see it: artworks from roughly the first half of the twentieth century that hit a range of familiar notes: stream of consciousness, opacity of form, manifestoes, the Men of 1914, the Women of the Left Bank, the Harlem Renaissance, the Jazz age. This odd mix of overdetermined clichés on the one hand (think of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris) and open-ended, endlessly shifting and expanding categories on the other presents a challenge to anyone who wishes to understand what has actually been happening in modernist studies over the past few decades.
And indeed, much has been happening: scholars have been redefining the field, expanding it along geographical, chronological, and stylistic axes and making space for different voices, methodologies, and critical perspectives. They have worked to create a much broader and more racially, sexually, economically, and politically inclusive canon. A more precise and accurate rendering of the field, were such a thing possible, would thus require redefining contested terms and peeling back layers of myth, legend, and ideology. It would also require reimagining a cultural phenomenon—modernism—whose original incarnation is still potent enough to exert its pull on our cultural imagination. Telling the story of modernism is a complex historiographical project that also demands mastery of a discrete (but large, diverse, and constantly expanding) body of knowledge. It is both simpler and far more complicated than it seems.
One of the major challenges facing scholars of modernism is the many ways in which—as a discipline and as a culture—we are still breathing the air of modernist ideology ourselves.1 I refer to modernism's celebration of revolution, rupture, and shock, its desire to jettison the past in favor of beginning afresh, its rapturous idealizations of heroic artist/critics whose adversarial stance vis-à-vis the culture and its...