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  • Goblin Modernism:Modernism, Anarchism, and the Radical Fantastic
  • James Gifford (bio)

The longstanding conflict between Marxism and anarchism as scholarly methodologies shapes how we read the modernist canon in modernist studies and in particular the new modernist studies. More importantly, it has just as strongly shaped the formation of that canon itself. What we conceive as belonging under the designation of modernist and understand as a manifestation of the conditions of modernity is itself pliably configured by the critical paradigms on which we rely and the inherited legacies of their development. This means that we are also shaped by the critical scotoma or blind spot each methodology demands. But this is not a new idea in the new modernist studies, and as much as it is metacritical, it is also simply a rephrasing of Susan Stanford Friedman's sense of definitional excursions and the purposes that differing definitions serve: these purposes being perhaps of greater interest than the definitions themselves.1 In the new modernist studies, the prevalence of Marxist methodologies has made working class popular culture, film noir, science fiction, and both hardboiled pulp and detective fiction visible and vital. They are forms particularly conducive to Marxist analyses, perhaps best evidenced through Fredric Jameson's work across them all in connection with his writings on modernism.2 The symptomatic critical scotoma that accompanies this methodology, however, covers and blinds modernist studies to the deep entanglements between anarchism, modernism, and the apparent anathema to Marxism: fantasy. Even as magic and the occult have become normalized elements of modernist studies [End Page 551] that are recognized as essential components of the print cultures in which modernist little magazines flourished, the overlaps among modernism and magical fantasy have been eclipsed by Jameson and by the ur-critic of science fiction Darko Suvin's argument that fantasy is "socio-pathological" when set in comparison to its cousin in genre pulp: science fiction.3 Fantasy's "pathology" is supposedly even more visible in relief against both genres' ego ideal: modernist literature.4 Moreover, it is socio-pathological in the same way as Jameson and Suvin see anarchism through their critical lens. The problem goes beyond merely recognizing that the same moment of the late modernists also saw the emergence of hobbits and the New Apocalypse, or that the reactionary nostalgia in reviving Grail romances shapes the literary events of 1922 in a vision of resurgent Romance and Arthuriana widespread in popular Romances of the same time, both playing to imperial nostalgia and ideological certainties of a passing (or passed) historical moment. The problem is larger, more enchanting, and more unruly than that. Innovative modernist writers such as John Cowper Powys and Hope Mirrlees transitioned seamlessly to writing fantasy fiction, and there is a long thread of anarchist thought embedded in the genre, as if these were not really transitions after all but merely continuations in another form.5 What I call "goblin modernism" comes from this overlap and provides a powerful corrective through direct action to the critical habits generated by the chummy camaraderie of the new modernist studies, science fiction studies, and Marxist studies (despite how productive their contiguity has been and continues to be). My term deliberately blurs Marx's specter or hobgoblin from the opening of The Communist Manifesto with a magical spell and the notion of fantasy.6 Modernist writers were doing a great deal in genre writing, as has been long recognized, and if we have the modernist middlebrow in our critical field, we also have the lowbrow pulp, and likewise if we have a modernist historicization of the class struggle we also find the role of anarchism in modernist poetics runs deep.7 More to the point, this pulp has every potential to be radical, disruptive, and self-reflexive for its historical moment if we can only get past the tribalism of the critical body built up around it and that creates a blind spot occluding our view.8

The crux of my argument is that the development of the new modernist studies, and in particular the concept of late modernism within it, is remarkably congruent with the development of fantasy studies, and in particular the concept of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6601
Print ISSN
1071-6068
Pages
pp. 551-565
Launched on MUSE
2020-10-28
Open Access
No
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