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Reviewed by:
  • The New Modernist Studies ed. by Douglas Mao
  • Gül Bilge Han
The New Modernist Studies.
Edited by Douglas Mao. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021.

Modernist studies over the past few decades have undergone a radical sea change that has altered some of the field’s long-standing assumptions about the foundations and meanings of modernism as a theoretical and historical category. Recent critical interventions into what is now commonly referred to as “the new modernist studies” have charted paths that extend the traditional axis of modernism beyond early twentieth-century Euro-American arts and literature. By showing how modernist works operate in diverse geographical locations and cultural forms, and on different timelines, these scholarly activities have transgressed modernism’s previous disciplinary boundaries in various “spatial, temporal and vertical directions,” as Douglas Mao and Rebecca L. Walkowitz wrote in their seminal essay “The New Modernist Studies,” published in PMLA in May 2008 (737). Such efforts have led to the reconfiguration of modernism as a polycentric rather than a singular phenomenon while rendering the term itself increasingly elusive and at times hard to grasp.

The publication of this new collection of essays, The New Modernist Studies, continues and advances such critical work by rigorously documenting and responding to the field’s key areas of debate and self-inquiry, which were first developed in edited volumes such as Bad Modernisms (Duke UP, 2006), The Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms (Oxford UP, 2012), and A New Vocabulary for Global Modernism (Columbia UP, 2016), and recently anthologized in The New Modernist Studies Reader (Bloomsbury, 2021), to list but a few. With its fourteen essays divided into two parts, “Histories” and “Horizons,” the current volume, edited by Mao, both historicizes the critical currents of (the new) modernist studies from its origins to the present (Part I) and identifies productive points of departure for fresh paths of inquiry oriented toward the future (Part II). The two essays in “Histories,” by Michael North and Mark Wollaeger, provide a useful and comprehensive overview of the birth and growth of modernism’s trajectory as a cultural, intellectual, and academic formation. The remaining twelve essays in “Horizons” collectively explore a wide array of topics from a largely contextualizing perspective with a simultaneous emphasis on textual specificities and formal features. The volume undertakes the task of rethinking text-context relations in ways that resist the immediate prioritization of context over textual meaning. Such prioritization of context can be said to have dominated the field of the new modernist studies from its inception.

Several chapters set out to explore modernism’s spatial and global dimensions, highlighting patterns of transaction between diverse cultural and geographical contexts as well as individual texts and movements. María del Pilar Blanco’s contribution begins with a theoretical reflection on the notion of the planetary, which critically builds on previous models developed particularly by Gayatri Spivak and Susan Stanford Friedman. Taking as its case study Spanish American modernismo and French Décadence, the essay underscores the continuities and ruptures between the two movements through translation, linguistic correspondence, and individual travel. Modernismo ’s encounters [End Page 118] with the Décadence movement serve as a testing ground for comparative, planetary readings that nevertheless remain cautious of flattening out the temporal and linguistic boundaries through a homogenizing Anglo-American institutional lens. This revisionary approach to modernism as a global and transnational project emerges as a key concern in several other essays from a notably broad range of angles: Friedman’s chapter, for instance, proposes transnationally situated comparative readings that bring together figures like Rabindranath Tagore and E. M. Forster based on their mutual engagement with religious identity and empire. Aarthi Vadde probes the formal and conceptual allegiances between the technological and scientific engineering of international auxiliary languages, on the one hand, and mid-twentieth-century global modernist literature, on the other. Steven S. Lee’s contribution examines the global revolutionary projects of communism before and after the Cold War as a generative force for modernist aesthetics’ engagement with social realism. Edwin Hill is equally invested in uncovering modernism’s wider cultural and spatial flows in his exploration of noir film and its use of jazz as a...


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