- Modernism in the Green: Public Greens in Modern Literature and Culture ed. by Julia E. Daniel and Margaret Konkol
New York: Routledge, 2020. 219 pp. $160.00 (hardcover).
Modernism in the Green collects ten new ecocritical essays and provides a substantial introduction to them focused on the intersection of literary texts, visual representations, architecture, urban planning documents and actual or putatively “green” environments as they were created, emerged, or were defined from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries in the US, UK, and (mostly) Western Europe. Adopting an expansive contemporary approach to ecocriticism, the editors indicate that they have encouraged a “capacious” and inclusive frame of reference and interplay across the binary nature-culture divide (3). Consequently, this is not an introductory volume. While ensuring that references are well documented (an exception is a reference to work by John Evelev embedded but obscure on page 45), the editors assume that readers will be able to construe contexts readily and actively follow shifting critical perspectives. Regarding the words “green” and “the green,” Daniel and Konkol point to their gnarly “Germanic roots” (as in, die grüne Landschaft or die Grunfläche) but sketch rather than diagram affiliated uses to refer to enclosed parcels, open countryside, and borderlands, edgelands or wastes (5). This proliferation of approaches and vocabularies allows for richness and breadth of perspective. Limited to about 20 pages each, the individual essays still manage to enter [End Page 72] deeply into their subjects, and each represents quite well the editors’ desire to avoid “conceiving of a well-defined modernist esthetic mirrored in literary, visual, and landscape texts” and to explore instead “the very question of what constitutes a modern art, public, space, and nature” as a “common inheritance of modernity” (5). Such phrasing suggests kinship with the experimental and exploratory of Williams’s own “green” projects, the subject of the last essay in the volume. Throughout, the emphasis is on contesting boundaries and unsettling ideological assumptions about what constitutes nature and views of nature as well as human subjectivity versus, alongside, or in the midst of the non-human other.
While the book is divided into two sections titled “Green Grounds” (four essays) and “Green Texts” (six essays), binary conceptual divisions are subject to inversion and reversal. Questions of design and delineation relative to land, real estate, and the “grounds” or premises upon which social and inter-species interactions are portrayed are complexly entwined with literary and traditionally textual matters, and vice versa. The multiple disciplinary foci of particular essays become perspective-making devices for socio-cultural analysis, as for instance in the essay by Nora Kuster on the interaction of the modernist designs of transport posters in “modern” London that both feed off and project a landscape of greater London that was nostalgic and more “green” than possible, creating a display of social cohesion amid difference and division. As a paradigmatic example of the interplay of disciplinary approaches, and one of particular interest to students of Williams, Hatley Clifford’s essay on Marianne Moore’s notoriously dense poem “An Octopus”—drawing on previous work by editor Julia Daniel, Bonnie Costello, Jennifer K. Ladino, Cary Wolfe, and Stacey Alaimo, among others—offers a brilliant reading of that poem as an interrogation of a variety of subject positions vis-à-vis Moore’s sighting of Mount Rainier (Salish: Tacoma or Tahoma) through the interplay of the anthropomorphic language of a National Park Service guidebook and scientific nomenclature (“pseudopodia”) and the poem’s own verbal probing and prodding. The essays range in purely literary and artistic reference from poems by Frances Watkins Harper, to the landscape design writing of Frederick Law Olmsted, the paintings and poster art of Walter E. Spradbery, the memoirs and novels of Virginia Woolf, and works by Baudelaire, Kafka, Langston Hughes, Stein, Moore (mentioned above), and Williams. Some are exuberantly playful while others are forcefully determined: Maxwell Woods’s essay on Stein’s automobility in the circuitous travelogue Everybody’s Autobiography [End Page 73] introduces us to a playfully named figure “Yosemite Stein” (175...