Modernist Studies and Inter-Imperiality in the Longue Durée
Abstract and Keywords
This article sums up the various themes and arguments of this book. It argues that conversation in English language is positioned and shaped by the speaker's particular place in culture, and in the present moment of a long history. Many of the geomodernists discussed in this collection launched that work. The discussion argues for a need to move away from a Eurocentric global history that impoverishes accounts of global modernisms. The fraught global interconnectedness among geomodernists and across empires reflects a condition that is both deeply ancient and strikingly contemporary, an old dialectic, which, however, was dramatically intensified in the early twentieth century.
Opening this book, encountering its twenty-seven essays, a reader might feel dizzy, as if awakening inside a lithograph by M. C. Escher. Peering round through twenty-seven windows into unfamiliar landscapes in different planes, all carefully framed, one might experience both wonder and vertigo: each vignette norm-bending, eye-opening, while pointedly aware of the onlooker; aiming to translate, while consciously disorienting. And all are placed together in one edifice, one essay collection. Does this placing-together of divergent views and landscapes under the sign of modernism reenact an appropriative gaze—or undo it, expose it? Under the pressure of this question, this book’s globalizing of modernism will draw scrutiny.
And reward scrutiny. For these twenty-seven essays are impressively nimble and alert as they position each literature from within its own socioeconomic horizons, while also tracking its orientation toward distant conditions or disjunctive planes. Each modernism thus emerges as tilted in at least two directions at once, inward and outward, toward the local and the global—and then too also sideways, toward the adjacent, onlooking others, and all mutually so, yet on uneven ground.
And each essay asks questions about this dizzying positionality, about itself and all of the others. Taken together, the essays begin to dismantle leveling Anglo-European frames and norms. Some of them detail specific modernisms that are unfamiliar to most scholars of Anglophone modernism, and which interact with the latter in varying degrees—including Sanja Bahun’s essay on the Balkans, Harsha Ram’s on Russia and Georgia as well as France, Xudong Zhang’s on China, Shachar Pinsker’s (p. 670) on Jewish Eastern Europe, and Nergis Ertürk’s on Turkey. Others clarify the cultural labor of modernists who write in direct, decolonizing negotiation with Western nations; they study the movements, magazines, films, and texts in the Caribbean and Latin America (Emery, Aching, Unruh, Kalliney, and Rogers), Africa (Lazarus, Lincoln, Bulson, Blair, and Morris), and India (Dass and Berman). Several of these, and others in addition, emphasize the cultural crossings that mutually constitute modernisms on all sides, from Janet Lyon’s reconsideration of cosmopolitanism to Rebecca Beasley’s study of British translations of Russian literature to Edwige Tamalet Talbayev’s narration of the migrations and diverse affiliations of a Berber poet. These literary ethnographies also establish that communist movements both generated and splintered modernist movements around the globe, and did so in tension with allegiances to normative or queer sexualities, as becomes especially clear, for instance, in essays by Vicky Unruh, Ben Tran, and Miriam Hansen.
And each essay is written in English, as first, second, third, or fourth language. Weighted with that history. Constrained by an Anglophone circumference, rewriting its content.
And there’s the rub. All of this excavating, mapping, reorienting, rethinking, rehinging, and unsilencing occurs in English. This collection thus carries within it an old conflict. In the long history of this conflict, people have killed and been killed, books have been weapons. This book in our hands places us in this history. In English.
This position is not inherently wrong or false: it is a position. Conversation in this language is positioned, shaped by the speaker’s (un)certain place in culture and in the present moment of a long history. Work can be done here. Some work must be done here. Many of the geomodernists discussed in this collection launched that work. These essays labor to extend it. The rest will depend on readers, in particular on our ability to move further away from a Eurocentric global history that impoverishes accounts of global modernisms. And history is very much at the heart of the matter, this essay proposes.
Recent work in world history reveals that even our most incisive literary critiques are partial, insofar as they erase the presence of multiple global empires and continue to assume that Anglo-European empires have singly dominated and singularly shaped world politics and arts since the early nineteenth century. We will be in a position to carry forward what Janet Lyon calls a fragile cosmopolitanism insofar as we do better justice to the complex histories that this partial truth has obscured. These many essays point the way toward this complexity—and they have generated this Afterword which has itself become something larger and more multifaceted (p. 671) than anticipated, which I hope will merit the reader’s perseverance. Here, in Part I, this essay lays out the evidence and rationale for a different historical paradigm. Then, in Part II, it reapproaches global modernisms and the rich materials gathered here in an effort to bend our thinking to meet history’s escheresque tessellations.
The Longue Durée of Borrowing
As Edward Said noted long ago in Beginnings, the discourses and political economies of individualism have led us to cherish the idea of distinctive originals. Marking origins and originals is a primary structure within which many of us live, perceive, and ask questions. Literary theorists now critique these habits, knowing there is no absolute original, yet we implicitly continue to ask about beginnings and implicitly give overdetermined answers. Modernist scholars may in fact be particularly attracted to the seductive vocabulary of the new and the original, as several essays here note. Hence we may need to be especially on guard against a privileging of origins that forecloses many clamoring questions about history and flattens out the dialectical history that has produced global modernisms.
In the case of literary or cultural history, perhaps the word that most commonly signals this habit of designating originals, and in turn blinds us to literature’s dialectical co-formations, is the nagging term “borrowing.” The idea and act of “borrowing” stand at the center of a cluster of words that includes “belated,” “third world,” “expropriated,” “appropriated,” “derive,” and “revise.” And it stands against a counter-cluster: “original,” “metropole,” “first world,” “generate,” and “innovate.” As several essays here make clear implicitly or explicitly, current scholarship on global modernisms, or geomodernisms, is struggling with the legacies of these words.1 In particular, it is struggling to resist the way that a notion of borrowing deforms or haunts all considerations of the relation between canonical modernism and other literatures, especially postcolonial literature. It is this rocky landscape through which any approach to “global modernisms” must pass.
Borrowing needs a new history and different framework if we are to encounter each other here without further harm. Usefully, nearly all of the essays begin this work by recasting or undercutting the notion that modernism was essentially an Anglo-European and North American phenomenon that “spread” elsewhere. Many essays do so by tracing the complex, multifaceted conditions under which modernist vocabularies and experimental forms emerged in particular locales, whether in William Gardner’s detailing of the Marxist political debates informing Japanese modernism or Manishita Dass’s analysis of mother figures and Jewish female stars in early Indian cinema. Other essays reinterpret the old metropole-to-margin trajectories. Gerard Aching argues that the orientation toward Spain and France in the texts of Latin American and Cuban modernists—often reduced by critics to fawning metropole imitation—on closer look enacts a critical cosmopolitan engagement. Jessica Berman writing on India and Sarah Lincoln on Nigeria trace modernist forms to specific political and economic conditions, and thus explain homologies between earlier metropole and later postcolonial texts as a (p. 672) comparable engagement with material conditions rather than as aesthetic mimicry or mirroring, to borrow Berman’s language. More broadly, even as they focus, respectively, on African, Chinese, and Caribbean literature, Neil Lazarus, Eric Hayot, and Mary Lou Emery place all modernisms in relation to global paradigms, in Lazarus’s case capitalist modernity, in Hayot’s a reversible economy of mimetic, other-cultural desire, and in Emery’s a planetary consciousness. Likewise, Susan Stanford Friedman and Jahan Ramazani work to establish a common world of crisis, struggle, and possibility with which all modernisms engage, if from different positions, thus shrinking the secondary question of who borrowed from whom down to its proper size.
Yet these reconfigurations need follow-up. We are still only glimpsing the fuller story. Uncovering this story, a history of modernisms might validly take up the question of borrowing or influence; but it needs to begin well before the twentieth century—at least as early as the twelfth. And insofar as modernism is a function of modernity, this history will also entail a different understanding of modernity. For, if it is true, as many essays here assume, that modernisms arise to grapple with modernity in some form, then we need to revisit our formulations about “modernity” as well.
A hint of what I have in mind appears in Eric Hayot’s essay on “Chinese modernism”—a phrase that in itself, as he notes, already encodes a west-to-east trajectory insofar as the word modernism is a Western import. Giving pointed instances of an elided reverse flow (e.g., the mantra “make it new,” cribbed by Pound from an ancient Chinese text), he then nods toward the much older flow of materials and ideas from east to west and speaks in passing of “the deep debt owed by the Anglo-European modernists to the languages, histories, cultures, and literatures of East Asia,” as well as of Africa. Hayot closes by reiterating the call to “abandon the temporal logic that has until now structured the field [of modernism] … and served as a screen for geographic centrisms.”
We can do so most effectively if we lengthen our time lines and revise our historiography of empire. Within this fuller perspective, we begin to fathom the deep sedimentation of cross-cultural influence and the centuries-old dialectics of geopolitical literary history toward which Hayot gestures.
We might begin by moving away from the standard view in which Anglo-European empires arise in (roughly) the sixteenth century from the ashes of empires past to rule the world in “the modern” era. Instead we might pay more attention to the contemporaneity of empires and the accumulation of vexed cultural exchange among empires, over generations. That is, as I have discussed elsewhere and will review here, despite the familiar rhetoric of rise and fall, world empires with their various projects of modernization have not existed simply sequentially.2 They have overlapped with each other, battled each other, and borrowed from each other, forming each other through processes of transculturation.
(p. 673) We overlook these dynamics when we think in terms of the single cluster of “Anglo-European empire” in “the modern” period. The world has likely never had one “core” as the single axis of a circle of peripheries and semi-peripheries, including in the last several centuries. Rather it has suffered the effects of multiple inter-imperial contests around the globe, shaping and shaped by multiple anticolonial movements. Attention to these jockeying empires, plural, and to anticolonialisms, plural, and over the very long haul, fosters a fuller account of how literatures have developed in volatile relation to each other within the dynamics of coproduced imperial modernities.
This account does not suppose a set of “alternative modernities,” which continues the assumption of one main modernity. Rather it highlights a world of multiple empires competing through modernization projects that are all at once economic, political, cultural, and technological; and it is these which spawn multiple modernities, each with its cultural and historical distinctiveness. Within such a model we can begin to undo the blindnesses accompanying the many insights of recent scholarship on globalism. Thus, for instance, in The World Republic of Letters, Pascale Casanova constructs a part of this dialectical history, but she mistakes it for the whole. Although Casanova usefully documents the highly competitive nature of an “international literary space” which entails “its own forms of violence,” her study nonetheless suffers from the historical erasures of past literary and political histories in telling a Eurocentric history of literary formations (xii). Accordingly it exhibits the investment in Western “greatness” and “freedom” that inevitably accompanies those erasures—even when it labors strenuously not to do so (11). In a later section of this essay I will discuss nineteenth- and twentieth-century global history in the more fully international and dialectical terms required to supplement her model. First, however, it is necessary to establish grounds for a different historiographic model and to bring forward older histories that put modernist exchanges into proper perspective.
In Explorations in Connected History, Sanjay Subrahmanyam foregrounds the processes generated by ever-unsettled contestations among several world empires, which mutually form those empires. Subrahmanyam draws on archives in several languages to track the complex, mutual effects of political and military maneuvers among Ottoman, European, Safavid, and Mughal empires in the sixteenth century. He traces, first of all, how fifteenth-century Portuguese interventions in the political dynasties of northern India partly enabled the inroads of Mughals there, and he shows how these laid the ground for Portugal’s territorial and trade agreements with the Mughals as the latter expanded their empire southward (all while the Portuguese fostered ideas about fierce Mughal omnivorousness to play off against their own purportedly more honorable practices) (13–14). In subsequent years, to the chagrin of Mughal leaders, the Portuguese negotiated for additional trading powers and port privileges in return for the safe haven they could provide for Mughal pilgrimages to Mecca; and this in turn sometimes led the Mughals to build alliances with the Ottomans so as to safely bypass or undercut the Portuguese.
(p. 674) Not surprisingly then, ripple-effects moved through the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean basin when the Spanish Hapsburgs subdued and annexed Portugal in 1580–1581. Often considered a turning point in the European balance of power, this event did more than affect relations within Europe. It realigned arrangements between Mughals and Europeans even as it affected relations between the Europeans and the Ottomans, for the annexation drained the Hapsburg empire’s military resources and led to their increased readiness to compromise in treaties with the Ottoman empire (Subrahmanyam 46–50). The Ottomans themselves had entered a period of consolidation for several reasons, including unsuccessful territorial wars with the Iranian Safavids, the assassination of the Grand Vizier, and also the entry of new silver and gold from America, which had destabilized Middle Eastern and Eastern monetary systems while enriching Spain and Portugal.
Yet meanwhile the Hapsburgs themselves faced new pressures from the northwest. The English and the Dutch were profiting handsomely and gaining ground, literally as well as politically, in American colonization projects—in part with the help of musket and cannon technologies learned from Eastern empires. At the same time, and partly as a result, they were able to recalibrate trade relations with the Ottomans, in Britain’s case leading to the founding of the Levant Company in 1581. Ironically, the Netherlands and England had turned west in the face of Ottoman and southern European control of the Mediterranean, and yet in turn, leveraged by their Atlantic wealth, they eventually shifted the balance of power in relations with those far-reaching empires, eventually challenging them. Among other contingencies, their larger, more powerful ships, built for Atlantic crossings, entered the Mediterranean and unsettled Ottoman dominance there, as Ferdinand Braudel observes (Mediterranean 607).
Even this brief sketch gives us a sense of the mutually produced, highly contingent, and interactive nature of contemporaneous imperial histories, with their unanticipated, sometimes ironic effects. It begins to expose the flaws in any model that focuses solely on the singular “rise” of Anglo-European empire. It alerts us instead to a multilateral, competitive building of empires. A growing corpus of world historiography like Subrahmanyam’s allows us to see that imperial modernities are fundamentally co-constituted by these exchanges. And it is within these multiple imperial histories that literatures carry out their cultural work, each one developing in volatile relation to the others, a point I will return to in relation to modernism.
Within such an unfolding among empires there is simultaneously another kind of dialectic in play, one which, again, recent historiography brings into clearer view: a “vertical” dialectic, so to speak, spawned by disruptions of empire from within and “below.” Just as histories of multiple and vying empires clarify their interactive co-formations, recent histories of revolution and resistance allow us to see the contestations shaping “modernity/coloniality,” to borrow Arturo Escobar and Walter Mignolo’s formulation, and, in turn, directing the formations of literature.3 In the case of Anglo-European empires, for instance, historians have documented the many slave revolts and indigenous-led battles in the Americas, rebellions in Ireland and India, and Caribbean (p. 675) maroon movements.4 These vertical struggles are carried out within and across the horizontal contests between empires. Thus in the mid-nineteenth century, on one hand, the British battled over trade with the Chinese Qing Dynasty in the Opium Wars, while on the other hand, they helped the Qing put down the Taiping Rebellion, ultimately serving Britain’s own imperial interests in Asia. Likewise, in the Caribbean, Anglo-Europeans encouraged slave insurrections or desertions in rival European colonies in order to weaken these rivals, and during the American Revolution the British did so in attempting to subdue their insurgent colony and rival-to-be. Meanwhile, Haitian and Irish revolutionaries likewise manipulated these rivalries, courting and gaining support from one empire against another. Similarly, in the 1940s the leaders of India’s independence movement extracted concessions from the British under the shadow of Japanese ambitions in the region.
These pitched battles between and within competitive empires have driven the production and shaped the forms of texts. Keeping these contests in mind, we may do better justice to the sources of global movements such as modernism. Yet to appreciate the cultural materials that have arisen within and accrued throughout this long and winding dialectical history of empires, we need to turn back even further. Only then can we assess the sources and conditions for what is typically called Western modernity. Only then can we begin to address the matter of what is original and what is borrowed or belated. And only then can we move beyond these secondary questions of influence toward further interpretation of the many modernisms mapped out in this collection.
Recent scholarship increasingly establishes the ways in which so-called Anglo-European modernity has been formed from the outside in, perhaps even to a degree that evacuates any notion of a native, Western, or strictly “original” modernity, as well as of an “originally Anglo-European” world literary system. To glimpse the depth at which Anglo-Europeans fashioned themselves and “their” modernity out of materials borrowed from the Near East, the South, and the Far East, it is necessary to begin with the medieval period. While such scope may seem far removed from modernism, it provides the perspective we need to think straight about “belatedness,” “borrowing,” and ultimately global literary history. In turn it forces us to reconsider our attributions of Western influence in studies of recent Asian, Middle Eastern, or African literatures, for in some cases the direction of influence is originally the reverse. What appear to be postcolonial borrowings from the West actually carry a longer history: in the longue durée, some experimental genres of stylized love lyric and fractured storytelling as well as sophisticated theories of literary form originated in non-Western cultures and traveled from east to west; therefore when postcolonial writers later take them up again, they are sometimes “borrowing back” those styles (knowingly or not), and extending the experiments that Westerners had inherited from these writers’ home cultures.5
(p. 676) Scholarly studies of medieval literature give us grounds for considering these possibilities. Students of the medieval period have long known that the Anglo-European scholasticists learned most of their Aristotle through Arabic philosophers and translators, but this fact has often been accorded no more than a mention, until the recent work of scholars such as Dorothee Metlitzki, George Makdisi, and Charles Burnett. Likewise, although readers since the seventeenth century have debated the possible Arabic-language influence on the first vernacular literatures of Italy, Spain, and France, few have given this influence its proper due and depth of study, even despite the earlier twentieth-century scholarship of Américo Castro and Richard Nykl as well as the later twentieth-century work of James Monroe, Roger Boase, Maria Menocal, and Sahar Amer.6
In her book The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History, Menocal reminds us, for instance, that in Andalusian Spain of the late Medieval period, Arabic was the language of learning for all three dominant religious traditions—Jewish, Christian, and Islamic—and in turn shaped European literary traditions. The influence of Arabic literature and learning spread northward with increasing rapidity after the Christian reconquest of many Spanish and Italian territories in the later medieval period, as Christian Europeans were able to travel more easily in these regions and benefit from the magnificent libraries and communities of translators in such places as Córdoba and Toledo, which had been patronized under Islamic rule. Scholars from Italy, England, and France traveled to Spain to study texts in Arabic, both secular and religious, including translations of Aristotle and original Arabic science, all while being exposed to Arabic-language poetic, visual, and musical traditions. Anglo-Europeans then carried these new streams of culture back north. Especially worrisome to the high authorities of both Christendom and Islam, scholars were powerfully drawn to the writings of the Al-Andalusian “radical Aristotelians” such as Averroes, who developed rationalist principles and valued the methods of reason, including in matters of faith (the so-called Averronian heresy). These notions quickly infiltrated and electrified centers of learning in France, Germany, Italy, and England. Menocal thus speaks of an Arabized Europe in the medieval period, an influence that mingles with its Latin legacies.
Others have specified this influence especially for English thought and literature.7 In The Matter of Araby in Medieval England, Dorothee Metlitzki not only reminds readers about the pervasive Arab influence on Anglo-European cultures during the era of Crusades—“on military technique, on vocabulary, on food, clothing, and ornamentation” (4). She also tracks the wide range of Arabic texts that reached England, including for instance through the work of the twelfth-century scholasticist, Adelard of Bath. Like others, Adelard devoted himself to the study of Arabic philosophy and science (what he called “Arabicorum studiorum sense”) in order to transmit what he had learned, as he put it, “from Arab teachers under the guidance of reason” and thus to promote the principles of science in Christian cultures, all of which provides an important seed for the later rationalism so often celebrated as “Western” (quoted in Metlitzki 49, 51).
(p. 677) Metlitzki also documents the emulation of Arabic genres of philosophical debate in medieval English literature, deeming it saturated with the “Arabian science that surrounds [it]” (56). Thus for instance she traces the Arabic antecedents for such texts as “The Owl and the Nightingale” [ca. 1186–1216], including the owl and the nightingale’s dialogue about astrology, God, determinism, and the relation between body and soul, right down to the common Arabic conclusion that the heart was the integrating organ. Finally, she points to possible Arabic sources for key English literary forms, such as allegory and the genre of loosely linked didactic tales found in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Arab-Islamic philosophical, scientific, and literary forms thus fed, Metlitzki concludes, “the Western reservoir that supplied vernacular writers” (96). This kind of research begins to rewrite the history of “Western” rational secularism, so dear and central to assumptions about Western peoples’ “modernity.”
Particularly important for modernist literature, scholars have devoted attention to the Arabic influence on vernacular poetry in France, Spain, Italy, and Sicily. Menocal points out that in the early twelfth-century court of William IX of Aquitaine, Arabic language, music, and poetry held a place of honor and pervaded the milieu in which William initiated the vernacular French tradition of troubadour love poetry. He had encountered Arabic arts and literature in Palestine, where he lived for a year after Jerusalem was taken by the Crusades, and through his marriage to Philippa of Aragon (as well as through the marriages of his two sisters to Pedro I of Aragon and Alfonso VI of Castile), which took him to the courts of Andalusian Spain. In the wake of his travels, as well as through the influx of Arabic-language culture more generally, William began to write and patronize “troubadour” courtly love poetry in vernacular French—the self-consciously formal and self-reflexive poetry that later inspired both Romantic and modernist poets, and which even the scrupulously even-handed critic Roger Boase considers to be influenced by Arabic poetics. A similar story pertains in Sicily after it was retaken in the twelfth century by Christians, and especially under the thirteenth-century ruler Frederick II, who is likewise credited with cultivating the turn toward vernacular Italian poetry, some of which likewise emulates Arabic-language themes and forms. More broadly, George Makdisi has studied the ways that the cultivation of the arts in “humanist” Anglo-European courts and universities emulated models first encountered in Islamic and other Eastern empires. The elision of these literary genealogies has ultimately enabled the mis-framing of the relation between Western and non-Western literatures and in turn between modernist and postcolonial literatures.8
If medieval sources seem remote, we might recall that this set of non-Western influences on Anglo-European cultures persisted through the early modern and modern periods. The Islamic influence continues into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries via the Ottoman empire, as established by scholars such as Nabil Matar and Gerald MacLean in the case of England. In Looking East, MacLean explores what he calls “imperial envy” in English attitudes toward the Ottomans, leading to cultural imitations; and, in Islam in Britain, 1558–1685, Matar highlights the fact that some seventeenth-century Puritans and other religious dissenters praised the Ottoman (p. 678) Empire as a proper religious state, insofar as it allowed for liberty of conscience even as it pursued a territorial expansion that supported religious conversion. As J. G. Toomer shows, the seventeenth century saw the founding of Arabist chairs and professorships in universities throughout Europe and Britain. John Milton’s remark that the Ottomans “enlarged their empire as much by the study of liberal culture as by the force of arms” indicates a British interest in the Ottomans as empire-builders, even as it also suggests that British writers sought to emulate that “liberal” cultural and imperial project (quoted in Matar 87). In a similar vein, Daniel Goffman documents the ways that Renaissance Italians imitated the diplomatic institutions of the Ottoman empire, modeling embassies and information-gathering networks after theirs and designating certain kinds of status for foreigners and nonbelievers, practices which helped to stabilize intra-Italian relations and inter-European practices and ultimately led to Europeans’ more effective participation in world politics (61–74). In part under the tutelage of the Ottomans, then, Anglo-European princes learned to speak the lingua franca and act the parts of emerging “liberal” empires, even as, earlier, they had imitated the artistic and scholarly patronage practices of Saracen courts and the Arabic scholars’ cultivation of a scientific body of knowledge. These borrowings allowed them to engage competently—if belatedly—with other empires and, over time, compete successfully with them.
Such a perspective dislodges the positioning of Anglo-European culture as the origin of all things modern, rational, and innovative and begs us to reconsider many of our literary genealogies. It calls for a recharting of the maps and time lines of a world-system of literatures, especially insofar as many critics, including Pascale Casanova, consider the vernacular literature and medieval courts of European princes such as William IX of Aquitaine to be points of origin for “modern” Anglo-European literatures. The Arabic backstory for these vernacular sonneteers and troubadours requires us to rethink not only these poets but also the modernists who were avowedly indebted to them and inspired by their formal innovations, from Mário de Andrade and Mina Loy to Eliot and Pound. Similarly, this long history builds a different framework for any account of secular modernities that claims to be explaining the rise of modernisms; and it might well shed additional light on the religious and secular dimensions of Turkish and Berber modernisms treated here by Nergis Ertürk and Edwige Talbayev, respectively.
Certainly these longer histories of literary influence display the ongoing competitive and mimetic coproduction of cultures within and against the force of empires. It is exactly in such histories that we find strong evidence for Hayot’s suggestion that global cultural history entails a poly-directional “mimetics of desire.” In fact, as Hayot hints, a similar process also characterizes the relation between Europe and Asia. This set of exchanges is likewise worth pausing over if we wish to improve our genealogies of influence.
In his multivolume study, Asia in the Making of Europe, Donald Lach documents the westward travels of Asian goods, arts, and ideas that helped to precipitate the cultural formations we now call modern and European, especially beginning in the later seventeenth century. A small sample includes the study of Asian painting (p. 679) by Leonardo Da Vinci, the practice of quarrying minerals for pottery learned from China, and the “flamboyant Gothic” architectural style known in Portugal as Manueline (for King Manuel) with its echoes of Indian detail. In Oriental Enlightenment, J. J. Clarke continues this project in his study of the eastern sources of early modern Western philosophy, building in part on Raymond Schwab’s Oriental Renaissance. He begins with Voltaire’s remark that “the West owes everything” to the East and works his way forward from the formative impact of Chinese philosophy on the work of Leibniz (who read and wrote extensively about Chinese philosophy, claiming it modeled a natural religion founded on reason), to the Hindu and Buddhist sources of Schopenhauer’s thinking, to the influence of Buddhism on Nietzsche (quoted in Clarke 3). In this light, we might pause before deeming the appeal of Nietzsche for Balkan or Russian futurists a purely “Western” influence.
Yu Liu’s recent book, Seeds of a Different Eden (2008), similarly reveals the extent to which key ideas of the Enlightenment developed in many cases from Anglo-European intellectuals’ tutelage at the knee of Eastern culture—novelists, religious scholars, garden cultivators, diplomats, and emperors. Liu argues that the rage for “chinoiserie” in the eighteenth century is too often reduced to mere orientalism, obscuring the degree to which Western modernity is an outgrowth of Asian ideas in political ethics and the arts. Most to the point here, she follows the ways that “a new English and continental European theory of beauty and art began with the transplantation of Chinese gardening ideas” and eventually prompted groundbreaking, “modern” styles of thought in the Earl of Shaftesbury, Joseph Addison, Alexander Pope, and Immanuel Kant (1). This aesthetic included the idea of organic form, a notion that in China embraced elements of irregularity and a freer, more “natural” play among all parts. While Liu shows the shaping influence of such aesthetics on both the political thought of Shaftesbury and the georgic poetics of Pope, Thomson, and Grainger, modernist scholars will hear its later echoes in the principles of imagist poetry and modernist critics.
Such a reconfigured history of aesthetics has tremendous implications for accounts of modernity and modernism, as I discuss more fully in later sections of this essay but will anticipate briefly here. In a 1997 collection on Tradition and Modernity in Arabic Literature, in an essay titled “Gibran’s Concept of Modernity,” Antoine Karam characterizes the modernity of the transnational Arabic and English-language writer Kahlil Gibran in terms of his emphasis on organic form, tracing this “modern” style in part to his reading of English and American romantic writers. But Liu’s account of the Chinese sources of an aesthetic of organic form would require us to rethink this genealogy. We might find ourselves tracing the “modernity” of Gibran to China and indeed to sources in Arabic culture itself. Likewise, attention to the Asian and Arab sources of Anglo-European cultural forms raises new questions about the critical consciousness attributed to Western modernity and considered central to the so-called Anglo-European Enlightenment, as well as to the modernisms that challenged Enlightenment narratives. As theorists from Theodor Adorno to Jürgen Habermas have explored, the “Enlightenment” public sphere is sometimes surprisingly self-critical, and its intellectual classes sometimes genuinely (p. 680) speak against their own, elite-supported interests. Yet, as I have noted elsewhere, the scholarship reviewed above points toward the ways in which this self-conscious public sphere emerged dialectically through interaction with Eastern and Southern empires and perhaps also emulated the dialectical habits of thought modeled in those cultures.9
These connected histories invite us to adjust our methods and paradigms for the study of modernisms. They establish that global literary histories, of any period in fact, require attention to three intersecting dynamics:
1) the contemporary dialectics of multiple empires
2) the interaction of these inter-imperial dialectics with anticolonial and other dissenting movements
3) the legacies of centuries of inter-imperial cultural accretion that inflect later literature.
In the case of modernisms, this means that we would ideally learn more about the history of empires and anticolonial dissent worldwide, especially since the nineteenth century, and we would think about how literary forms have been shaped by these contests as well as by intersecting class, gender, and religious conflicts. We would then need to do our best to understand how the still-active sediments of older inter-imperial histories exert influence within modernist formations. Doing this work, we will begin to feel the provincial nature of the idea that an originary Anglo-European modernism simply “spread” to the rest of the world, moving outward from one avant-garde, modern core to a ring of belatedly modern peripheries. We might be moved to consider how a range of modernisms occupy, inherit, and express what I will later define as an inter-imperial positionality. In this second half of the Afterword, I explore the backstory for global modernisms within this model, a model which these many essays have inspired and in turn substantiate.
Nineteenth-Century Empires, Plural
The first step in adjusting our historiographic paradigms is to dismantle a lopsided narrative that persists even in our most pointedly postcolonial scholarship and blocks our ability to see the fuller picture: the story of how, by the nineteenth century, Anglo-European empires established “unchallenged dominance” on the world stage. The erasure of contemporaneous empires in more recent centuries seriously distorts any understanding of geomodernisms, not to mention world history. It limits our ability to analyze the contemporary and accreted dialectics that have formed global modernisms.
(p. 681) Consider, for instance, the English-language Wikipedia entries on the nineteenth century, which, although not strictly scholarly, express a popular consensus—and do in fact reflect one dominant scholarly narrative. Following a brief mention of the “collapse” of other empires, the entry under the broad heading “The Nineteenth Century” reports that “[a]fter the Napoleonic Wars, the British Empire became the world’s leading power, controlling one quarter of the world’s population and one third of the land area” (1). Similarly, under the heading “British Empire,” we learn that after 1815, “Britain enjoyed a century of effectively unchallenged dominance, and expanded its imperial holdings across the globe” (1). While it is certainly true that a powerful British empire expanded in the nineteenth century, it is certainly false that it was “unchallenged.” Rather, Britain continually thrust itself forward and was continually pushed back in a world of several competitive empires.
A brief qualifying clause several pages into the article on British Empire allows a fleeting glimpse of this fact: “Victory over Napoleon left Britain without any serious international rival, other than Russia in central Asia.” Shortly thereafter in a section on “Rivalry with Russia,” the actual situation is allowed into view—directly contradicting the article’s original topic sentence. We learn that “during the 19th century Britain and Russia vied to fill the power vacuums that had been left by declining Ottoman, Persian, and Qing Chinese empires” (9). Finally acknowledging the historical fact of a pitched and fairly even battle between the British and the Russians, this sentence meanwhile, with a flick of the wrist, both erases the considerable parts eventually played by Germans, Prussians, and Austro-Hungarians in this contest and veils the process whereby all of these empires, in a shifting history of alliance and rivalry, worked avidly to undercut the trade dominance of the Qing empire and to eat away at the borders of the Ottoman empire. Rather than merely filling a “vacuum” left by the inevitable decline of decadent empires, the reach of these several empires into Ottoman and Qing territories entailed nearly constant diplomatic pressure, manipulation of alliances, military conscription, and bloody battle. Then, too, the claim that “victory over Napoleon left Britain without any serious international rival” quietly implies that the British alone defeated Napoleonic France, erasing the crucial Russian defeat of the French in 1812, which decimated Napoleon’s “Grand Armée” and helped to make possible the British triumph (a situation repeated in World War II).
Yet the narrative of unchallenged British dominance still shapes Anglophone literary scholars’ accounts of the nineteenth century; and in turn it threatens to warp our understanding of the imperial and anti-imperial politics of geomodernisms. It also leads us to speak of “the” Anglo-European core and a circle of peripheries and semi-peripheries when in fact the nineteenth-century globe was shaped by far-flung multiple empires, multiple cores, all vying over multiple “peripheries.” In such a world, the very “peripherality” of many locations was contingent, a function of shifting borders defined and redefined under successive seizures by antagonistic empires. Is Odessa a periphery? Or a nodal magnet of banking, culture, and power? It depends on which empire, and which moment in the nineteenth or twentieth century, you’re reading about.
(p. 682) Edwige Talbayev speaks intriguingly in her essay here of “the European center and the many territories lying on its peripheries.” Notably, she does not say “the European center and its peripheries,” although our habits of mind might lead us to read her sentence that way. Instead the sentence quietly suggests that there is something—in fact, territories—beyond Europe’s peripheries. Our questions about geomodernism change when we pause to ask, what are these unspecified territories beyond European empires? Another kind of world emerges when we start to see that some of them are also empires, and, like the French and British, very powerful, aggressive empires. Taking in this fuller dynamic of world politics and economics, we encounter a different dialectical field, one differently driven by art and war, differently haunted by terror and beauty.
And the fact is that in the nineteenth century the British were still relative newcomers to the dynamics of competing empires in Asia (other than India), the Pacific, and Africa, and they feverishly pursued a place for themselves in these regions. We might recall that in the second half of the century, the British engaged in half a dozen expansionist wars in the East and the South, including the Crimean War (1853–1856), the decade-long Anglo-Maori War (1860–1872), the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–1880), the Zulu War (1878–1881), the First Anglo-Boer War (1881), the Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885), and the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899–1901). Add to this the deployment of troops for uprisings throughout their colonial territories—such as the Sepoy Rebellion in India (1856) and the Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica (1865)—and we begin to grasp the constant warring required for their position. Far from being a settled world order blessed by a Pax Britannica, the constantly shifting alliances and battles of the nineteenth century among the Russians, Turks, Chinese, French, Germans, Prussians, British, and eventually the Japanese, meant that the British and many others were in battle for as many years as they were at peace during the second half of the nineteenth century, often at multiple battle sites.
In the later nineteenth century, this heightening of inter-imperial battle and competition was propelled by a range of events, including the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian war, the emergence of Japan, the United States, and Germany as industrializing world powers and territory seekers, and the Long Depression of 1873–1896. Marked initially by the collapse of the Vienna Stock Exchange in 1873, the Long Depression played an important catalyzing role, for it developed into a catastrophic worldwide deflation, causing starvation, unemployment, and bankruptcies in every empire. And, in turn, this Depression motivated all of the empires to seize and secure new territories for new markets and cheap labor, especially in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific. While appropriately explained by Marxist economists as fostering an incipient turn from industrial to finance capitalism, it is also important to consider the ways that the Long Depression was both precipitated by imperial agents (for instance insofar as Napoleon’s war with Prussia and the Germans helped to cause it) and in turn prodded the drive for further imperial aggression as well as new imperial finance strategies. Thus, for example, both Russia and Britain opened banks in Persia in this period. And thus does capitalism develop: through a (p. 683) mutually catalyzing dialectic with the driving, channeling, clashing forces of competing empires.
Under these conditions, in the final decades of the nineteenth century there was a “scramble” for Asia as well as Africa—and a scramble in Asia, inasmuch as Russia and Japan parried with each other and several Western empires (including eventually the United States) for dominance over Chinese port areas and islands as well as independent Pacific islands. The steady pressure of these wars in Africa and Asia prompted the movement toward conscription and the increased financing of mobilization plans in Britain and Europe as well as Japan, all of which fed the bellicose, warring imaginary that Patrick Brantlinger in Rule of Darkness and Cecil Degrotte Eby in Road to Armageddon have tracked in later nineteenth-century British literature and popular culture. The Anglo-Boer Wars particularly brought new ruthless tactics into the realm of possibility and the public consciousness, including the British creation of concentration camps and the murder of civilians through the authorized burning of crops and villages. Of course these expansionist wars had arisen amidst and in dialectical relation with the accompanying class struggles of the nineteenth century (as so clearly exemplified by the Paris Commune of 1871, a working-class uprising precipitated by the Prussian and German defeat of France), and these class struggles were another problem that imperial conscription helped to “solve.”
The resulting sense of world upheaval—later expressed in Yeats’s reflection that “the center cannot hold”—was heightened by the fact that this imperially organized and pervasively embattled world was also becoming more visible to citizens and subalterns. The nineteenth century saw massive investments in infrastructure, including in railroads, canals, shipways, radio, photography, and telegraph cables, all of which dramatically expanded the movement of news and information as well as of goods and armies. Readers on one side of the world learned with startling speed about war, disaster, and destruction on the other side. Nor did one need to be literate to share in this new global order: by the later nineteenth century, the battle- fronts of such conflicts as the Crimean War were photographed and thereby made newly visible to civilian eyes. Anyone who saw or read the newspapers would have had a sense of world turbulence, of violent invasions, rebellions, and reprisals. Although in the twenty-first century we are jaded by these daily reports of violence and insurgence, the first decades of exposure to this reality seems one likely source of a new and anxious world consciousness.
Yet these new forms of simultaneity were double-edged swords, for the same technologies of communication and travel that served empire eventually also enabled international awareness, organizing, and protest. Virginia Woolf observed in 1927 that each person in London was “linked to his fellows by wires which pass overhead, by waves of sound which pour through the roof and speak aloud to him of battles and murders and strikes and revolutions all over the world” (“Narrow Bridge of Art” 222). Meanwhile, from a radically different position, Frantz Fanon noted, “In spite of all that colonialism can do, its frontiers remain open to new ideas and echoes from the world outside. It discovers that violence is in the atmosphere, that it here and there bursts out, and here and there sweeps away the (p. 684) colonial regime” (Wretched 70). Recently scholars such as Priyamvada Gopal and Elleke Boehmer have documented the ways that independence movements in Ireland, Africa, India, and the West Indies formed coalitions, read each other’s newspapers, and gained knowledge and inspiration from each other. These lines of communication made possible the political networks leading to communist international congresses and the pan-national or pan-ethnic congresses, such as the series of Pan-African Congresses held in Europe between 1919 and 1945. In part prompted by these subaltern groups (rather than, as is often assumed, the other way around), Anglo-European ex-colonial administrators, such as Virginia Woolf’s husband Leonard Woolf, began to write critiques of what Woolf called economic imperialism, and writers such as Mark Twain helped to found the U.S. Anti-Imperialist League, in part to protest the annexation of the Philippines. At the turn into the twentieth century, the movements of and against empire became increasingly active, visible, and globally interconnected.
Modernists created art oriented toward this global world. Or, perhaps more accurately, this world forced modernist art into being. As established so powerfully in this volume, avant-garde literary and artistic movements, which mingled closely or loosely with political movements of all stripes, arose around the world. In his brief “Note on Modernism” in Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said observes that modernist styles arose “as more and more regions—from India to Africa to the Caribbean—challenge[d] the classical empires and their cultures” (190). Said speaks of multiple empires and in doing so points the way toward an inter-imperial framework for the study of global modernisms.
Seen in these terms, the nonsynchronous time lines of different modernisms (which after all, from the perspective of the twenty-first century, do not appear so very different) can be explained not only as the uneven histories of centers and semi/peripheries but also as the plain old different histories of multiple empires, and of the different social, economic, and linguistic hierarchies created within each empire. Such hierarchies have meant that, within all empires, some writers and artists have had access to the means of production first—the wealth, education, and print or paint—that allowed them to express this situation in fractured, hybrid, or innovative forms before many others. Yet the anxious vision of a fractured “modernist” world, with its discrepant time lines and perspectives, was always already “known” among the dispossessed and simply awaited the emergence among them of artists with access to print or other media. In fact, instead of considering early canonical Anglo-European and Anglo-American modernists the world pioneers, it might be fair to say that they grasped the world situation belatedly at the turn of the century—as compared to the long-standing knowledge of the many thousands living in colonial territories or repeatedly invaded and disenfranchised communities.
(p. 685) It is this broader history that, to my mind, the neologism geomodernism helps to foreground. Even adding “global” as a modifier of “modernism” can leave intact the habit of thinking in national or isolated terms and fail to highlight these modernisms’ foundational interdependence. In contrast, geomodernism helpfully indicates several key dimensions in one noun: the geopolitical history to which all modernisms respond, the transperipheral and international exchanges within which they take shape, and the long global history that has prepared their emergence. The term geomodernisms would thus encompass literatures arising in multiple sites under the diverse, interacting conditions of multiple empires and multiple resistance movements since the later nineteenth century, conditions which are intensified by new technologies of finance, travel, communication, labor, and war. In this definition, the phenomenon of geomodernist literature is historically specific yet its forms are internationally and culturally diverse, as they disrupt national and cultural literary histories in ways befitting their location.
The essays here contain material that helps to flesh out this picture of geomodernisms, particularly of the simultaneously inter-imperial and anticolonial contests that have generated them. These essays also give us hints of the much older materials sedimented within this literature. Culling examples from the essays, this section of the essay focuses on the ways that geomodernisms labor in the volatile space between or among contemporaneous empires; and the final section will consider the ways that geomodernisms carry the intercultural accretions of empires past.
To aid this discussion I use the term “inter-imperial positionality,” a variation of Bahun’s helpful notion, introduced in her essay here, of “artistic interpositionality.” I suggest that, insofar as geomodernisms arise within a competition among contemporaneous empires—which create a deeply and materially felt if not absolutely determining condition of their production and coproduction—they may be said to navigate an “inter-imperial positionality.” That is, the term inter-imperial positionality serves to name the multi-sided, high-stakes political pressure under which writers and artists, and to some degree all of us, operate. Although an inter-imperial positionality has very likely shaped texts for millennia, I would argue that geomodernists operate more self-consciously from this position: due, first of all, to the new global forms of rapid communication, finance, and travel; and secondly to the high numbers of uprooted persons created by the escalating invasions, wars, anticolonial resistance, and pogroms of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Under these conditions, with a heightened, more pervasive sense of embattled interpositionality, each geomodernist text and aesthetic movement maneuvers between “its own” empire, so to speak, and other people’s. Or at least, this is the provisional model I am proposing, as suggested to me by these essays read together with the histories of empire and culture outlined above. My suggestions are meant to be illustrative, exploratory, and speculative, simply to stimulate further discussion.
This inter-imperial, positional consciousness may shape the work of artists as different as Italian futurists and Chinese filmmakers, yet it is perhaps easiest in this context to begin by revisiting familiar Western postcolonial scenarios. Thus we might consider the Cuban geomodernists discussed here by Unruh and Aching, (p. 686) who expressed their resistance to Spanish empire under the shadow of a U.S. empire standing in the wings—the latter offering to help in Cuban liberation but simultaneously jockeying for an imperial foothold of their own (the oldest trick in the inter-imperial playbook). This position of Cuban writers heightened the stakes, multiplied the political divisions, and perhaps generated the dodgy, multi-tonal, and purposefully elusive avant-garde forms described by Unruh in her opening pages.
In the Caribbean more broadly, artists, writers, and thinkers may have had an especially heightened sense of inter-imperial positionality because of the concentrated, deadly competition in those islands among the French, British, Spanish, and U.S. empires. It may in part be this volatile history that turned postcolonial Caribbean writers, from Glissant to Harris, toward what Mary Lou Emery characterizes as their planetary vision. Meanwhile, this kind of intensive inter-imperiality (and we could think of the Balkans as well) might also be operative in the situation in Vietnam, described here by Ben Tran, so that we might ask how the comparable pressures created in the Pacific world by the presence of Russian, Japanese, French, and U.S. empires intensified Vietnamese geomodernists’ conflicting allegiances to sexual and Marxist politics and their polemical debates about literary form.
Xudong Zhang perhaps reveals a similar, more implicit negotiation in his essay here on Lu Xun, the celebrated writer of modern Chinese vernacular. In Zhang’s reading, Lu Xun crafted his fiction simultaneously against ancient, imperial Chinese linguistic forms and in those forms exactly against Western cultural and economic incursions. Would it be fair to say that in Ah Q—The Real Story, Lu Xun develops a sort of imperially Janus-faced and parodic fiction, looking not only inward and outward but also toward encroaching empires East and West? Might it be that the picaresque travels of Lu Xun’s rogue-protagonist, Ah Q (who Zhang reads as a “rogue signifier”) allegorize the rogue’s travel within and between empires on a once-secure, yet now-unraveling silk road? Could this framework supplement explanations for why this tale lent itself to adoption as national identity myth even as it parodies myths of identity, as Zhang observes?
Might we also ask whether the African tsotsi figure reborn in South African cinema, discussed here by Rosalind Morris, could be understood comparably: as a figure making a spectacle of the need to maneuver one’s way through this inter-imperial positionality. In this case, might we say that the trickster/gangster figure of the tsotsi operates in the alleyways of empires, so to speak, including as created by the competitive interactions of long-standing African states, European empires, and an emerging U.S. presence, and eventually amid post-apartheid ANC aspirations to be a player on the world stage. In such a reading, the tsotsi seeks to extract profit from all of these players in the “great game” while also eluding them all, by way of a highly styled, empire-counterpointing, ultra-masculine outsiderness.
The experience of Jews at the turn of the century, as recalled here by Shachar Pinsker, diverges significantly from postcolonial models of literary negotiation with empire(s); and yet, given the many “ethnic-cleansing” projects that have emerged in the last century, it might offer a second, equally paradigmatic variation (p. 687) on the condition of inter-imperial positionality. As Pinkser details, especially during and after the 1880s, the Jews of the Russian Empire fled pogroms or simply sought to settle outside the shtetels, migrating west to central Europe, where they gathered in cafés to reimagine Yiddish and Hebrew literary forms. Yet they also encountered hostility or exclusion in these places, including, for instance, the cities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose “acceptance” of immigrating Jews sometimes irritated locals even as it also sometimes served Austro-Hungary’s own imperial interests in its competition with Russia and Western Europeans.
The very space of the café—what Pinsker, following Edward Soja, analyzes as a “thirdspace”—may be understood as one that enabled a creative, collective response to this volatile interpositionality, all of which in turn shaped the styles and tones, as Pinsker’s material hints, of their portraits of café life. (In this light, one could wonder if the Ottoman tradition of the coffeehouse, borrowed by AngloEuropeans, had earlier arisen exactly as a “thirdspace” in the Ottomans’ highly multicultural populations.) Likewise, the streets cruised by the tsotsi may qualify as such a thirdspace within empires. And perhaps, too, the operations of little modernist magazines could be understood to “cruise” and constitute this interpositionality, sometimes shaping it to articulate transnational and cross-racial visions of Western imperial renewal (as in the case of Waldo Frank, Victoria Ocampo, and Ortega, as analyzed by Gayle Rogers), and in other cases structuring it to realize a non-imperial global vision (e.g., in the transnational dialogue fostered by the “Letters to the Editor” column of Transition, as studied here by Eric Bulson).
We may see other indicators of the sense of uncertain inter-imperial positionality in Ertürk’s observation that in the early twentieth century, from Turkish writers’ point of view “both ‘Turkey’ and ‘Europe’ [were] sites of cultural crisis.” (Evidence of the European sense of crisis is amply attested to by the immediate and wide interest in Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, mentioned by Gayle Rogers here.) Ertürk argues that for some Western and for many “conservative” Turkish writers, modernism “was less a positive historic-aesthetic current than a space or even an abyss of socio-historic uncertainty.” We might need to pay another kind of attention to this sensibility in Turkish writers’ texts when we recall that it was not only Western Europe that “steadily encircled and encroached on [the Ottoman Empire]” at the turn into the twentieth century. Russia continued to do so as well. And Anglo-Europeans encroached on the Ottomans both with and against the Russians.
Might this multisided dynamic make some difference to how we think about Turkish poets, including their engagement with an instrumental modernity—which could be considered Russian and Ottoman as well as Anglo-European? Might the same be said of the Scandinavian modernisms described here by Anna Westerståhl Stenport, for certainly the Scandinavian countries also occupied a troubled position among the “Great Powers” of Germany, Russia, Britain, France, and Austria-Hungary (and here too we might recall that Georg Brandes, a key promoter of Scandinavian modernism, traveled to and wrote about modern Russia as well as about modern Western Europe).
(p. 688) Alluding to Casanova’s model, Harsha Ram tells us that the futurists “displayed a hypertrophied awareness of the competitive and hierarchical nature of the international literary system.” It may be that the futurists’ contradictory and vehemently masculinist manifestos are the hyperbolic expression of a pervasive anxiety about the pressures, dangers, and inescapability of inter-imperial positionality. Since we know that two world wars killing tens of millions did indeed erupt, it seems quite possible that, at the turn of the century, Jews, Pan-African Blacks, Turks, Cubans, Scandinavians, and Vietnamese all felt themselves at the edge of a geopolitical abyss. We might recognize this awareness as a broad psychosocial condition, affecting the intertwined worlds of literature and politics. It might be closely linked with what Sartre deemed the “nervous condition” of the colonized and which I have elsewhere analyzed as a nervous post/coloniality felt in different ways by both colonized and colonizer.10 Thus we might wonder if Nietzsche, whose writings inspired many futurists, might himself have been writing under the pressure of this inter-imperial nervousness and ressentiment, as suggested for instance in his correspondence with Georg Brandes, in which the two share their chagrin at the censorship or dismissal of their books in both the German and Russian empires (Brandes 95). Futurism in turn might emerge simply as the most extreme expression of a widespread, panicked urgency about the question of which new or old empires would triumph in a world of unstable alliances and encroaching battles on every side, the awareness of which was quickly globalized, as Marinetti remarked, by techno-modernity’s “wireless imagination” (quoted in Ram).
Whether or not this reading of futurism is persuasive, Casanova’s and Ram’s observations about the hyperawareness of a literary global competition can encourage us to notice how inter-imperial contests have shaped these and have led to a set of erasures in the literary realm parallel to what has occurred in the historical realm (affecting, unfortunately, Casanova’s own Franco-centric account). As Bahun observes, French avant-gardists, for instance, initially acknowledged influence by and collaborations with Balkan modernists but in the end wrote these connections out of their biographies and lectures. Similarly, Anglophone critics have until recently ignored the formative connections between Hispanophone and Anglophone geomodernists. Fortunately, the essays in this volume contribute to recent scholarship that writes these connections back in.
Yet at the same time, the valuable vocabulary of core, periphery, and semiperiphery used by both Casanova and Ram may need adjusting insofar as it can elide the fact of plural empires. We need a global historical paradigm that does justice to the vying empires’ that have generated multiple, contemporaneous cores with their several peripheries and semi-peripheries—and have in turn shaped the competitions and connections among geomodernists. On one hand, Ram troubles Casanova’s claim that the French core of the literary world-system exercised a “complete dominance” that went “unchallenged” (Casanova 72, 67) by revealing a Russian effort to challenge that dominance. Yet on the other hand, he retains the model of a unicentric, Western European core, casting Russia and (p. 689) Italy as “two key semi-peripheral states of Europe” and suggesting that early twentieth-century Russian writers struggled against this position when they “suddenly claimed … core-status.” In fact, the Russian empire had core-status, a fact better appreciated then than now. In the later nineteenth and early twentieth century, political commentators therefore spoke of the “great game” of competition between Anglo-European and Russian empires. This history may well explain why, as Ram points out, “the Russian futurists went considerably further than their Italian counterparts in undermining the principles that gave the European literary center its authority.” That is, instead of laboring from behind to “seize the monopoly over literariness itself,” Russian writers were laboring to maintain what they and others considered their noble place among the several world traditions, each of which willfully claimed a monopoly over literariness itself. The monopoly is to some degree in the eyes of the beholder, and while well-known writers in each empire might have strongly cross-identified with the language of another empire, particularly Parisian French, they sometimes did so from a strong sense of their own long-standing imperial claim to literariness.
In this adjusted account of the dynamics of international literary competition, we might then detect the notes of competition inflecting British translations of Russian literature, treated here by Rebecca Beasley. The fact that this engagement with Russian literature was played out in relation to French literature, as Beasley notes, suggests that it displays one dimension of Britain’s own interpositionality in a world of multiple empires and its awareness of France and Russia as geo-imperial as well as literary rivals. In turn, we might focus more on the fact that some of the Russian literature celebrated and translated in this period, such as Tolstoy’s fiction, centered on the very wars that variously pitted Russian and several Western European empires against each other, such as in the Crimean War and the Napoleonic Wars. Perhaps British writers were drawn to Russian literature in part for this reason. And lest such literary competition seem trivial next to these military contests, we might recall the importance of literature in empires’ colonizing projects, as documented so well by Gauri Viswanathan in the case of India, and indicated long before by John Milton’s expressed admiration for the literary disseminations of the Ottomans. It mattered to Britain as an empire (as it did to France, Germany, Russia, China, Japan, Brazil, and the United States) that its literature be recognized on the world stage. In this context, British writers’ simultaneous praise and criticism of Russian literature strategically placed the British reader in the position of global judge, occupying a preeminent position from which to mark the limits as well as the powers of Russian empire.
In referring to the “geo-cognitive liminality” of the Balkans, Bahun draws our attention to an important symptom of this inter-imperial condition—one that has affected our literary histories. Bahun highlights the puzzling liminality of a territory as central to world history as the Balkans, and in doing so she points toward a new theorization of such so-called semi-peripheries, helping us to see that they are actually the in-between zones of world empires. Always off to the side, at the edge of the visible, a region such as the Balkans occupies the effaced ur-ground of empires, (p. 690) the place of their disavowed adjacency to and vulnerable engagement with each other, the site where they are most invested and most defended—and, as we can see in retrospect, most blind. In this sense the geo-cognitive liminality of battles and battlegrounds between empires (such as those between Russia and Britain on the terrain of the Balkans) constitutes a condition of empire, a key instrumental turn of mind rather than a marginal phenomenon. We might consider it analogous to the cognitive liminality of women in men’s consciousness, as analyzed by feminists: in this analysis women are the unseen figures on which the world depends for reproductive and productive power and over whom it battles for control. Such an erasure may likewise be paradigmatic in the realm of imperial politics—a geo-existential maneuver in the “psyches” of empires. Projecting a vision of benevolent and global “unchallenged dominance,” an empire erases key sources of its power, including those resource-rich zones seized through violence; and it meanwhile minimizes the creative, potentially competing presence of laboring others who live in that zone or liminal position. Literary critics risk repeating these distortions when we focus solely on Anglo-European empires.
These erasures of non-Western cores and empires operate temporally as well as spatially, affecting our accounts of who borrows what from whom. Thus we come to a second methodological task: to notice how geomodernisms labor to manage the deep historical accretions of criss-crossing empires. Attention to inter-imperial global history can open our eyes to the literary influences that have indirectly, over generations, shaped geomodernisms and to later strategic elisions or recuperations of these influences. In light of the revised southeast-to-northwest movements of thought and aesthetics I outlined earlier, the essays here raise a rich range of new questions, a few of which I will explore in this last section. Even more so than those raised in the previous section, these questions are guesses-at-questions from someone whose main expertise is Anglophone literatures. Again, the aim is to generate further discussion.
When the Turkish novelist Recâizâde Mahmut Ekrem writes in a mixture of Ottoman Turkish and French in his novel’s fictitious (mis)translations of French Romantic and Ottoman court poetry, as detailed here by Ertürk, might he also be referencing the layers of contact-zone past by which Islamic/Ottoman literature and culture influenced French literary forms? Might he even have in mind the influence of Arabic and Mediterranean-world poetries on the metrics and themes of both French Romantic and modernist poets, via troubadour poetry? Instead of merely borrowing French forms and innovations, is it possible that Ekrem is intuiting, or even signaling, the dialectical co-formations of Islamic and French linguistic and literary traditions—and of the interacting empires within which they were written? Likewise, when the Turkish modernist poet Yahya Kemal speaks of his “homecoming” to the Turkish through the “Frank,” could he possibly be gesturing toward an actual history of Ottoman-to-French (p. 691) influence as much as he is enacting a contemporary French-to-Turkish influence? In these cases and others, what blind spots might be removed when we attend to the Arabic or Ottoman sources of Anglo-European styles of thought from the medieval period forward, as documented by Metlitzki, Makdisi, Menocal, Monroe, Matar, and others?
Similar questions emerge from Talbayev’s analysis of the Berber poet, Jean El Mouhoub Amrouche and Neil Lazarus’s discussion of the Syrian poet Adonis. Like the Balkans, the Maghreb region of north Africa was for many centuries a strategic and contested zone whose Berber populations underwent “successive experiences of colonization,” as Talbayev notes, from at least the Roman Empire through the seventh century Arab conquest, to waves of Christian European conquest all the way to eighteenth- to twentieth-century occupations by the French and British in competition with each other. (In reviewing this history, Talbayev reminds us that St. Augustine was a Berber from what is now Algeria but which was then part of the Roman Empire.) Writing in a period of French colonialism, and given a classical education in French schools, Amrouche became deeply interested in the poetry of Mallarmé. Talbayev analyzes the ways in which he appropriates Mallarmé’s theories of pure poetic form for his celebration of traditional oral Berber poetry. In light of the long history of cultural interaction and of critics’ analysis of the influence of Hispano-Arabic metrical forms and themes on the tradition of French poetry, is it possible to revisit Amrouche’s counterpointed interweaving of French and Berber poetic principles? If Amrouche is aiming to establish, as Talbayev suggests, the coeval formation of poetic forms, could he implicitly or unconsciously be registering this old history of European-Arabic-African inter-animation? Likewise, in light of that same influence of Arabic forms of poetry on French lyric poetry, how might we reframe the poet Adonis’s remarks, as quoted by Lazaraus, that he came to appreciate the “modernity in Arabic poetry” by reading it in relation to Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Rimbaud?
Or, from a different angle, when we take stock of the old and new migrations affecting literature, might we recast our descriptions of the influence of “Western” thinkers on non-Western geomodernisms? What difference does it make when we recall that Henri Bergson—whose philosophy of time had so much influence on the Turkish and Berber authors discussed by Ertürk and Talbayev—was the son of a Polish-Jewish father and an Irish-British Jewish mother, and was given a Jewish education? What gets lost when we subsume Bergson’s empire-weighted, multicultural lineage within characterizations of him as simply a “Western” thinker? In a similar vein, as noted earlier, given that the philosophies of will developed by Schopenhauer and Nietzsche were foundationally influenced by Buddhism, do we want to continue to characterize their influence on Russian or Georgian modernists as strictly Western?
And might some of the “pioneering” “Western” modernists be sensing—and sometimes censoring—these same inter-imperial “interanimations”?11 Gayle Rogers’s essay here suggests that Waldo Frank, Victoria Ocampo, and Jose Ortega y Gasset were among those attempting to reestablish these inter-animations (albeit (p. 692) with mixed intentions), insofar as they champion Spain and ultimately “America Hispana” as the most fertile ground for a solution to the crisis of the West. Frank, for instance, calls for recognition of Spain and the Americas as the sites of a “Symphonic history” in which “Berber Phoenician, Arabic, Jewish, Moorish elements … [have mixed] with Germanic and … Celtic strains” (Rogers). Meanwhile other writers, faced with the crisis of “the West” and apparently harboring a deeper discomfort with these old inter-imperial formations, revert to an aggressive redrawing of boundaries and hierarchies. The dream of ethnic purity that often accompanied futurist visions, and the political triumph of which, in the form of fascism, eventually wiped out the relatively benign visions cultivated by Ocampo and Frank, may reflect a desire to leave behind all of the crossings sedimented within a long history of conquering and cultural fusion in which Westerners were latecomers and imitators.
The fraught global interconnectedness among geomodernists and across empires reflects a condition that is both deeply ancient and strikingly contemporary, an old dialectic which, however, was dramatically intensified in the early twentieth century. Perhaps this history is part of what Richard Wright sought to capture in his photographs of Gold-Coast Africa, which self-consciously convey what Sara Blair here deems a “generative uncertainty.” Especially in his photograph of an Ashanti chief, Wright seems to give visual expression to the impacted history in which an old African modernity inhabits a (de)colonized, contemporary kingship and unbalances Wright’s American (anticolonial yet imperial) gaze. This seemingly paradoxical combination after all only continues a history of “uncertain” inter-imperial acts of critical translation. And like Wright, the twenty-seven critics in this collection perform their own precarious acts of interpretation and translation, amid a past and a present of global empires.
Literature’s enmeshment in these conditions is not an embarrassment, a diminishment, or an oppression, merely. Insofar as an inter-imperial order of things is ancient, this political dimension is an aspect of literature’s (and all art’s) ancientness. Indeed the history of contesting and interacting empires seems to have been an intertextual source for literature for thousands of years. To say so is not to naturalize empires but to install them as foundational, in life and in literature.12 The disjunctures among empires and the violence within them have perhaps precipitated that fragile cosmopolitanism or planetary consciousness that seeks to reach across them, even as empires’ battles and ideologies have also spawned a whole array of masculinist or strident cosmopolitanisms. Geomodernists of all stripes thus join generations of writers who have sometimes unwittingly taken up an ancient legacy of embedded imperialisms and counter-imperialisms in an effort to expose, transcend, or leverage the condition of inter-imperial positionality. Ultimately it is this dialectical world history, political and aesthetic at once, that these twenty-seven Escheresque vignettes of geomodernism beckon us to investigate.
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(1) . Laura Winkiel and I introduced the term “geomodernisms” in our collection with that title in order to highlight the geopolitical and global orientation of many modernisms. Later in this chapter I further stipulate my usage of this term (see pp. 27–28).
(2) . See Doyle, “Notes Toward a Dialectical Method” and also other essays in the Global Circulation Project (GCP) of the online journal Literature Compass. This important project promises to have a dramatic impact on international conversations about literary genealogies around the world and in different periods.
(3) . Escobar and Mignolo are members of a working intellectual group on colonialism, and they each use the compound phrase “modernity/coloniality” in separate publications. The phrase aims to distill the insights of postcolonial thinkers by highlighting that, as Mignolo points out, “There is no modernity without coloniality, because coloniality is constitutive of modernity” (Mignolo xiii; also see Escobar 21).
(4) . For further discussion of this point, see Doyle, “Geomodernism, Postcoloniality, and Women’s Modernism.” The historiography I have in mind includes work ranging from early studies by C. L. R James and Herbert Aptheker to more recent scholarship such as Mukherjee, Blackburn, Linebaugh and Rediker, and Viola. Viola may well lead to reconsiderations of the fact that the Soviet Union inherited an empire, complete with unrest in its peripheries; and it operated, under the banner of communism, in ways barely distinguishable from imperialism—at least from a peasant’s point of view.
(5) . Of course, whenever one looks more closely, one sees that even these “origins” have traveled from and been transformed through other sites. This account of uncanny returns draws from a larger book project.
(6) . On the debates over what is sometimes called the “arabist theory,” see Boase on the courtly love tradition, Monroe particularly on Spain, and, more recently, Amer on French medieval literature.
(7) . In addition to Metlitzki, see Burnett. For discussion of later periods, see Toomer, Russell, Matar, and MacLean.
(8) . Davis tracks the widespread inscription of an epochal division between feudal and modern, recently perpetuated (as she shows) by thinkers as different as J. G. A. Pocock and Antonio Negri. The division between feudal and modern ramifies into corollary divisions between secular and sacred, democracy and hierarchy, innovative and traditional—all of which come to serve oppositions between west and east, or between Anglo-European and Arab, Persian, or Asian. In light of Metlitzki’s and Menocal’s scholarship, it becomes clear that this feudal/modern division thus also enabled the elision of a foundational, catalyzing role for Arab-Islamic culture in the West’s intellectual, artistic, and political “progress.”
(9) . See my discussion of this point in “Notes Toward a Dialectical Method.” These influences would include, first of all, the borrowing of specific practices including everything from diplomatic embassies and resident status laws that stabilized matters of identity and difference within the empire, to the organic understandings of ethics in the political world tracked by Liu and Clarke, to the coffeehouses of the Ottoman world where such matters were debated among “the people” and which were copied in England (a source for English coffeehouse culture only glancingly noted by Habermas in his discussion of them [32–43]). Second, there is the likelihood, as many writers notice in passing, that the self-conscious and critical nature of the public sphere arose in part from Anglo-Europeans’ increasingly common encounters with the people and arts of very different, highly “advanced” or “modern” cultures, which were sometimes perceived as imperial and religious superiors. Several contributions to this volume make clear that this effect operated as a catalyst for ostensibly “Western” modernism even as it had done for “Western” modernity, a point I will return to later. And third, the energy of critique may also have arisen in the face of the violent resistance and the insistent questions of the colonized. That is, we might ask when and how this public sphere is an expression of the metropole’s own “nervous condition,” both its decentered relation to home and its effort to address or evade the pressure of anticolonial sentiment and rebellion. Again in this case, several essays here establish this element as a catalyst for modernism as for modernity.
(10) . For fuller discussion of “post/coloniality” and the nervous condition, see Doyle, “Geomodernism, Postcoloniality, and Women’s Writing.”
(11) . It is perhaps not coincidental that the concept of literary inter-animation was developed by the Russian scholar Mikhail Bakhtin (The Dialogic Imagination).
(12) . It might be fair to say that empires have been the most potent defining force in our relation to what Agamben calls “bare life” in that empires have long deemed themselves the “sovereign” mediators of one’s relation to survival and the “right” to life. Agamben’s analysis focuses on the sovereignty of law and the (de)racinating modern state, but attention to empires, especially their plural co-formations, brings into view the volatility and contingency of this claim to sovereignty, including the fact of all subjects’ actual or potential inter-imperial positionality.