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date: 27 October 2021


Abstract and Keywords

This article introduces the main themes and goals of this handbook on global modernisms. The collective goal of the different articles in the collection has been to open a comparative space within Anglophone scholarship for discussion of a wide range of foreign language productions. A good deal of the vitality of modernist studies over the last decade or so has derived from various efforts to destabilize what is meant by “modernism,” and the emergence of what is now commonly called the new modernist studies bears on the kind of definitional complications exacerbated by the global turn in criticism. Comparisons that both enable and derive from the recognition of similarity present a range of theoretical challenges. That is why national literature departments interested in global approaches need to emulate programs in comparative literature, which have long devoted attention to the challenges of comparison.

Keywords: modernist studies, global modernism, literary movements, Anglophone scholarship, comparative literature

The recent global turn in modernist studies has generated a good deal of discussion, much of it in the form of exciting new comparative work, but much as well in the form of cautionary theorizing and anxious questioning. The challenge of defining modernism has been difficult enough when confined to Anglo-American and European traditions, but what counts as modernism when one starts looking for examples from across the globe? What kind of agendas might be encoded in the comparisons required by a global perspective? How does the effort to think modernism globally affect received time lines for the beginning and end of modernism? Is “global” even the right word, or is “transnational,” “planetary,” or some other term more appropriate? This handbook addresses such questions, sometimes directly in the form of theoretical reflection, but more often in chapters grounded in a particular place, problem, or disciplinary perspective.

The volume has been compiled in the belief that this is a good time to bring together not only scholars dedicated to working beyond the national paradigm but also experts working from within diverse national and linguistic traditions. What does the concept of modernism mean to scholars working in Latin American studies, Caribbean studies, Asian studies, and Spanish American studies, and for those working on the Balkans, African literatures, on Turkish, Scandinavian, Russian, and Indian literatures? Is it productive to discuss under the rubric of modernism literary movements that assigned themselves (or later were assigned) different names, be they modernismo, futurisme, modanizumu, moderna, vanguardismo, chủ nghĩa hiện đại, or avant-garde? And how does our understanding of the concept change if we think about film, the most significant and well-traveled art form developed in the twentieth century?1

Our collective goal here has been to open a comparative space within Anglophone scholarship for discussion of a wide range of foreign language productions. (p. 4) Thus while the majority of contributors work in departments of English, contributions come as well from departments or programs in comparative literature, romance studies, Japanese, cinema and media studies, Asian studies, anthropology, Hebrew literature and culture, French, Scandinavian studies, Latin American literary and cultural studies, world cinema, Slavic and comparative literatures, and Chinese. Contributors were asked to introduce literary territory likely to be unfamiliar to the majority of readers while also exploring new critical and theoretical concerns in their fields. Each writer negotiates these potentially competing aims in different ways, but all have been responsive to the suggestion that they seize on opportunities to provide comparative perspectives, whether by identifying charged nodal points in which diverse traditions converge or by throwing out lines of connection to well-known figures on the received maps of modernism that this volume aims to revise.

The Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms does not aim for “complete coverage” of the globe by scribbling over imagined white spaces on the map. The task would be enormously difficult (how could I have forgotten Liechtenstein!) though not necessarily, in theory, impossible. More important, although the notion of the wrongly uncharted contributes to the shape of the collection—hence the inclusion of essays on the Balkans, Vietnam, and South African film, and the absence of contributions devoted exclusively to France, Germany, the United Kingdom, or the United States—a global conception of modernism requires more than the geographical addition of previously ignored or marginalized traditions. On one hand, the historical reality of nations and their institutions still requires analytic attention: the concept of the transnational presupposes the crossing of national borders, and premature nation-blindness fails to acknowledge that too many national traditions have hitherto been left out of the discussion. On the other hand, the transnational turn taking place across the humanities has directed attention to cultural phenomena that otherwise get short shrift within the stubbornly national organization of the modern university,2 for instance what might be called resident-alien modernisms: Yiddish, Hebrew, or Gadže.3 Accordingly, although individual essays within the volume’s ten clusters may concentrate on a single locale, they do so with an eye on that location’s relation to an encompassing “large-scale vision” or “world literary space.”4

The first cluster, “Opening Places, Opening Methods,” underscores how attention to particular places motivates new forms of large-scale vision. In the first essay, Sanja Bahun argues that Balkan literature challenges “the assumption that the definition of modernism requires a developmentalist model of historical progression, from tradition (the period of “other” aesthetic movements) to modernity … (the realm of modernism)”; rather, the compound and multidirectional nature of historical processes, as exemplified in the Balkans, calls out for a “flexible conceptual template … that is constantly redefined by the very object of its inquiry,” a method that might be found, she suggests, in histoire croisée, or crossed history.5 Mary Lou Emery also moves from historical particularity to theoretical and methodological generality, in this instance by arguing that Caribbean modernism offers an emerging vision of “the planetary”—a model of relatedness she adapts from Édouard Glissant and Gayatri Spivak. Taking Claude McKay’s Banjo and Jean Rhys’ Voyage in the Dark as her chief examples, but touching as well on Kamau Brathwaite and Wilson Harris, Emery (p. 5) shows how the plantation’s place in global capitalism reveals links between Caribbean modernism and “modernity’s foundational exchange of commodified human beings.” For Emery, the word global aligns too closely with globalization; the planetary, in contrast, names “a necessarily elusive concept [that] opens imaginative spaces and temporalities from which literature may emerge apart, yet also from, the violent market forces of globalization.” Both essays in this opening section, like many that follow, shuttle dialectically between local complexity and large-scale visions.

In part a legacy of postcolonial studies, this dialectic is fundamental: if transnational analysis is to produce what this volume is calling a global perspective, that perspective must be mobile and continuously provisional. (For me, “planetary” conjures the distraction of the interplanetary, whereas “global” suggests horizons that shift with the curve of the earth and the position of the observer.6) For a global perspective to be something more than “the view from nowhere” that has been attributed to an older understanding of cosmopolitanism, it must be willing to engage in a double movement of acknowledgment and decentering: an acknowledgment of one’s own position and an effort to think beyond it. Hannah Arendt, articulating the ethical and political dimensions of a similar dynamic, has described it as an “enlarged way of thinking” that “needs the presence of others ‘in whose place’ it must think.”7 Enlarged thinking insists on an inescapable web of relations, one in which the communal nature of the self finds analogues on the global scale in the circulation of texts and the interpenetration of communities.8

Janet Lyon’s contribution to the “Forms of Sociality” section explores enlarged thinking by providing a genealogy of cosmopolitanism. Lyon argues that modernist modes of cosmopolitanism serve “to invoke intercultural forms of exchange that could be or might be or shouldn’t be, over and against (or in keeping with) the text’s account of ‘what is.’” Cosmopolitanism thus conjures unrealized possibilities for community that are dialectically engaged by the residual realism of modernism, or “the conditional sense of worldly engagement” that permeates modernist imaginings of sociality. In the same cluster, Peter Kalliney explores intersections between modernism and postcolonial discourse through the figure of Jean Rhys, who began as a Left Bank experimentalist and, after long neglect, was reincarnated as a postcolonial intellectual. The hinge between Rhys’ two identities, Kalliney suggests, has to do with related forms of dissidence, or what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari would consider forms of minorness: “If artists of the Left Bank could offer a hint of life on the other side of respectability, colonial and postcolonial writers were expected to give a glimpse of life on the other side of the imperial divide.”9 Shachar Pinsker’s focus on the European café as a decentered set of migratory, ephemeral sites for Hebrew and Yiddish modernism rounds out the section’s exploration of the ways in which new forms of sociality—usually modes of belonging at a distance—emerge in response to decolonization, globalization, diaspora, and the cultural diminution of the nation-state.

Other clusters also organize essays into broad rubrics that highlight analytic affinities and transnational comparisons. Part V, “Comparative Avant-Gardes,” contains essays on modern Vietnamese aesthetics (Ben Tran), experimental literature in Cuba (Vicky Unruh), and comparative analysis of futurism in Paris, Italy, and Russia (Harsha Ram); the “Temporality” cluster, taking up debates about developmental (p. 6) versus differential models of temporality, features essays on the transformation of French symbolist aesthetics in Berber poetry (Edwige Tamalet Talbayev), Rubén Darío and Spanish American modernismo (Gerard Aching), Richard Wright’s photographs of the Gold Coast (Sara Blair), and the role of mimetic desire in the formulation of Chinese modernism (Eric Hayot). The contingency of these clusters reflects the exploratory nature of the collective project. A reshuffling and recrossing of contributions could produce a coherent yet diverse group of essays on race (e.g., Rosalind Morris, Peter Kalliney, Janet Lyon); another might yield a cluster on spatial models (Susan Stanford Friedman, Shachar Pinsker, Mary Lou Emery); while yet others present new accounts of the relation between postcoloniality and modernism (Kalliney, Blair, Talbayev, Neil Lazarus). The many dialogues among essays suggest the desirability of a hypertext organization: multiple links from essay to essay would underscore implicit and explicit points of contact among them, and the reader interested in following, say, a French thread, might weave her way from Talbayev’s discussion of the transformation of Mallarmé’s symbolist aesthetic in North Africa to Ben Tran’s examination of André Gide in Vietnam to Anna Stenport’s commentary on Gide and Proust in Scandinavian literature and on to the dozen or so essays to touch on Baudelaire. Tracing French symbolism would yield a related but not identical network of connections. As we await the brave new world of simultaneous hypertext publication, the index will have to suffice.

The volume’s emphasis on decentered comparison also means that the focus does not fall on familiar figures who, for a long time, dominated modernist studies. But neither are such figures absent from the scene. T. S. Eliot, for instance, figures in his role as an influential editor in Rebecca Beasley’s discussion of the translation of Russian literature into English (in the “Translation Zones” cluster) and in Gayle Rogers’ essay on the circulation of interwar Anglophone and Hispanic modernisms (in “Locating the Transnational”). Ezra Pound too crops up in many places, as do monumental figures in the Anglo-European canon such as Kafka, Conrad, Brecht, Mann, Joyce, Khlebnikov, Faulkner, and Woolf. But rather than devote an entire chapter to any of them, each “monument” is typically seen on the horizon, from a perspective that knows them, acknowledging their influence without remaining in their shadow. And just as Eliot and company become provisionally peripheral, so lesser known figures (in the North American curriculum) become provisionally central: the Algerian Berber poet Jean El Mouhoub Amrouche in Edwige Talbeyev’s essay, and the Turkish writer Yahya Kemal Beyatlı in Nergis Ertürk’s essay.

The sense of reorientation, or possibly disorientation, produced by what Dipesh Chakrabarty has called the provincializing of Europe, should not be construed as a simple rejection of center-periphery perspectives. Rather than dissolve through the agency of relativization or disappear through the stigmatizing of models of cultural diffusion, concepts of center and periphery still operate in many of the essays, though not in the rigidly binary way that characterized some older ways of thinking about world literature.10 World-systems theory provides a materialist account for why the terms “core,” “periphery,” and “semi-periphery” should still matter: they map the unequal distribution of economic power across the globe; Harsha Ram puts them to good use in his comparative analysis of futurism: “If modernism’s initial orientation (p. 7) was generally centripetal, a gravitation toward metropolitan modernity as embodied by the core nations and cities of Europe, then international futurism pursued a secondary movement that might be seen as a return to the periphery.” Center-periphery models, moreover, are not just materialist methods: continuing interest in center and periphery as tropes has as much to do with cultural processes and strategic defamiliarization. Careful analysis of cross-cultural influences requires attention to the historical experience of “being at the core or on the periphery” that shapes the reception of concepts and texts as they travel, and compensatory attention to authors, texts, and concepts that have previously eluded received categories of understanding (most of which derive from a Eurocentric core) aims to open up the potential for new hierarchies of value by promoting a fresh vision of the cultural field.11

The implied hypertextual chatter among essays here derives in part from design; in part it is inevitable. On one hand, I encouraged collaboration among contributors by posting all drafts to a password-protected website and organizing the writers into reading groups designed to draw out implicit dialogues among essays. In an ideal world, all essays would have undergone radical revision in response to my homework assignment; I am pleased that a good number of contributors incorporated cross-references to one another, and many substantially altered key points in revision. I also enlisted Laura Doyle to write an Afterword, and in “Modernist Studies and Inter-Imperiality in the Longue Durée,” she teases out additional common threads among the contributions while in effect suggesting another grouping, a quite large one, “Inter-Imperiality,” in which she highlights “the legacies of centuries of inter-imperial cultural accretion” that inflect modernism. On the other hand, the interchange among essays was inevitable insofar as the contributors do seem to be addressing a common critical field, that thing we have been calling, for some time now, “modernism.”

That this would be so was not a foregone conclusion. A good deal of the vitality of modernist studies over the last decade or so has derived from various efforts to destabilize what is meant by “modernism,” and the emergence of what is now commonly called the new modernist studies bears on the kind of definitional complications exacerbated by the global turn in criticism. These complications include the issues of temporal delimitation (when was modernism?), the geographies of modernism (where was modernism?), modernism’s conceptual contours (what was modernism?), and its motivations (the historical, cultural, and individual whys of modernism).

From Old Modernism to New

The impetus for the new modernist studies drew on diverse sources but was largely motivated by critics’ desire to revitalize a field that had fallen into disfavor.12 In the American academy, modernism as a field of study and historical period (roughly 1890–1945) was firmly entrenched by 1960, when Harry Levin, in a nostalgic and (p. 8) celebratory account of Stephen Dedalus as prototype of the modernist artist, published “What Was Modernism?” The formal complexity and pervasive irony of modernist texts was also well suited to the New Criticism, which had proved useful as a classroom technique during the postwar boom in university enrollment. Yet the fortunes of modernism differed from place to place and depended as well on its institutional context. By 1960, the great majority of British writers had turned against what was perceived as the politically irresponsible aesthetic experimentalism and cultural elitism of 1920s, but this was less true for writers and artists in the United States and in many postcolonial nations, where modernist forms were often turned to political ends.13 Although British and American academic criticism lagged behind poets and novelists, the critical tide eventually turned against modernism (though undergraduate courses in the field continued).

The initial critical construction of Anglo-American modernism as a realm of giants—the men of 1914—rendered the relatively new field ripe for criticism of its apparently masculinist, elitist, and authoritarian bearings. Taking up such a critique, postmodern literary criticism contributed to a devaluation of modernism in the literary marketplace while also laying the ground for its renewal. Emphasizing process and play, postmodernism in literary studies carried forward the anti-monumentalism of postmodern architecture, but it also morphed into a form of multicultural critique that found a perfect target in the early canon of modernism, taking the notoriously illiberal politics of Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, W. B. Yeats, and T. S. Eliot as representative of the whole. Postmodernism shook up that canon, opening it to new voices, and subsequent studies of modernism have become much more attentive to a wider range of authors and texts. At the same time, postmodern critics’ tendency to equate formal experimentation with a retreat from history also fostered distrust of formalism and the correlative doctrine of aesthetic autonomy (a suspicion later reinforced by Pierre Bourdieu’s influential sociological account of the “taste” for modernism as a form of class distinction).14 By the 1980s, the study of modernism had become relatively suspect, especially on political grounds.

Of course some writers, as opposed to the field, were less suspect than others. Joyce tended to get a pass for several reasons. Deconstruction found his textual play congenial, as did the linguistic turn in psychoanalysis; this was unsurprising, insofar as both Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan were profoundly influenced by Joyce. Joyce also benefited posthumously from his abject status as a lower-middle-class Irishman: it could only redound to his credit that Pound and Eliot were horrified by his shabby shoes. Moreover, Joyce’s resistance to colonial oppression while writing exclusively about Ireland from a position of exile made him, as Colin MacCabe (1988) was the first to declare, “the very prototype of the postcolonial artist” (12). Beginning in the 1970s, Virginia Woolf also thrived. Prior to the rise of feminism, female writers did not receive a great deal of attention in a male-dominated academy, and Woolf was explicitly excluded from the early modernist canon by at least one influential champion of modernism, Hugh Kenner.15 Because of the efforts of leading feminist critics such as Carolyn Heilbrun, however, Woolf reentered discussions of modernism and ultimately earned the status she currently enjoys as a major figure.16

(p. 9) The new modernist studies emerged in part as an effort to restore the value of modernism by rejecting the opprobrium cast on it by the rise of literary critical postmodernism, and there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the effort was successful, from the establishing in 1994 of a journal devoted to the field, Modernism/modernity, to the founding in 1999 of an organization, the Modernist Studies Association, whose membership has steadily grown. The feminist revision of the canon has continued, with writers such as Mina Loy, Rebecca West, and Willa Cather coming back into play (though not yet, it seems, Dorothy Richardson), as have other phases of expansion: ethnic studies focused attention on writers such as Henry Roth and Richard Wright, race (completely ignored in the earliest discussions of modernism) has become a significant concern, and transnational studies have rediscovered early twentieth-century border-crossers (or, as the Anglo-Saxon called them, mearcstapas), such as Rabindranath Tagore and Mulk Raj Anand.17 Most recently, attention has turned to the place of new media such as film and radio in the emergence of modernism, in part because of the general cultural turn that has taken place across the humanities and social sciences,18 but also because the highly mediated nature of symbolic systems and social existence in the early twenty-first century, brought into sharp focus by the rise of media studies and information theory, has prompted interest in genealogies of art as mediation.19

Part IX, “Film as Vernacular Modernism” takes up one aspect of the new interest in media by testing and extending Miriam Hansen’s concept of Hollywood cinema as vernacular modernism. Hansen’s contribution aims to lay the ground for a transnational history of film by looking at examples of Chinese and Japanese films of the 1930s; Manishita Dass shows how ambivalence about Indian’s new urban spaces—“at once the site of India’s colonial subjection and the embodiment of modernity’s emancipatory promise”—was projected onto the figure of the woman in Hindi films of the 1920s and 1930s; and Rosalind Morris explores South African appropriations of film noir, or “the vernacularization of noir stylishness in South Africa,” through the figure of the tsotsi, “not merely a gangster…. an icon of masculinity … of youthful insouciance … of autonomy that is yet in need of recognition.” The notion that Hollywood cinema should count as a form of modernism—a claim that has not gone unchallenged—provides an index of how much the field has changed in recent decades.

Yet periods of rapid change inevitably generate new questions without necessarily settling old ones. Douglas Mao and Rebecca Walkowitz have summed up the transformation of modernist studies under the rubric of an “expansion” taking place along three axes—temporal, spatial, and vertical (737)—and the term “expansion,” regardless of vector, conjures questions about modernism’s global turn that have been debated under the rubric of imperialism. As Laura Doyle and Laura Winkiel observe in their introduction to Geomodernisms, a pioneering collection of global approaches to modernism, “the globalization of criticism, like that of trade, inevitably sends forth the specter of appropriation”; and yet, they continue, “if we step back from cross-cultural conversations about ‘modernism’ under the assumption that ‘the Western,’ English language economy defines and holds the conversation (p. 10) utterly in its grip, we collude in another way in an ideology of dominance” (6). Sharing the belief that “there is no pure path to be taken,” the present collection aims to unfold the value of these conversations, essay by essay. Or to put the case in more positive terms, the contributions here, which extend and reflect on the three-way expansion mapped by Mao and Walkowitz, demonstrate the value of impurity.20

Cultural Expansion: Modern or Modernist?

Although the first two modes of expansions are most obviously implicated in the global turn—the “when” and “where” of modernism cannot be separated from the “what”—so too is verticality, the notion that modernism should not be restricted to high culture. As a result of vertical expansion, in Mao and Walkowitz’s summary, “once quite sharp boundaries between high art and popular forms of culture have been reconsidered … canons have been reconfigured … works by members of marginalized and social groups have been encountered with fresh eyes and ears … scholarly inquiry has increasingly extended to matters of production, dissemination, and reception” (“The New Modernist Studies” 737-38). Vertical expansion—another expression of the cultural turn—characterizes many of the essays in this volume, from the film cluster to Eric Bulson’s essay on little magazines as a “world form.” Bulson’s essay raises, if only in passing, the main challenge to definitions of modernism posed by the cultural turn when he refers to a little magazine published in Ghana as “modern but not necessarily modernist.” The relationship between “modern” and “modernist” is clearly fundamental to the field, but as modernist studies takes on the methodological force of decentering modernism, of refusing, that is, to circle around the same limited set of canonical texts, criticism has not really confronted the full implications of asserting a distinction between the two.

In his 1987 lecture “When Was Modernism?” Raymond Williams embraced the distinction between modern and modernist for purposes that were at once analytic and political. Criticizing the narrowness and elitism of the modernist canon as it was constructed in the 1950s and 1960s, Williams does not object to modernist artifacts per se, as Georg Lukács did from a Marxist perspective in “The Ideology of Modernism” (1957). Rather, he criticizes the process of canon formation that made certain works—the “high” modernist ones—stand in for the era’s whole.21 Thus he argues not so much against modernism as for a recovery of “the modern” from the ideologically constrained category of “the modernist.” On one hand, then, the new modernism’s characteristic move, exemplified in the subtitle of Michael North’s Reading 1922—“a return to the scene of the modern”—can be seen as fulfilling (p. 11) Williams’ desire for a more culturally inclusive mode of analysis. On the other hand, if the notion that modernism defined itself against the perceived threat of contamination by mass culture needed revision (primarily to acknowledge complex forms of interchange between high and low),22 the inevitable swing of the pendulum away from excessively selective definitions of modernism presents its own analytic challenges.

In particular, the cultural turn, while enormously fruitful, has also had the effect—or, depending on the critic, the unintended consequence—of erasing the distinction between modern and modernist. The majority of contributors to this volume share the belief that in a time of rapid change along the lines mapped by Mao and Walkowitz, it makes sense to hold on to the distinction, not in order to preserve, as was once the case, an honorific status for modernism, but rather to continue the process of defining a field of inquiry that is sufficiently shared to make rigorous analytic discussions possible. In literary historical terms, the concept of modernism clearly has traveled the globe, transmitted through widely disseminated texts and transformed through multiform acts of translation and cultural consumption.23 Yet the sea changes effected through the agency of reception as a mode of production—repurposings, creolizations, indigenizations and the like—do not obscure what Wittgenstein called the family resemblances that make multiple modernisms recognizable as members of a class.

For some critics, the cultural turn, along with the rapid multiplication of geographical and temporal coordinates, nevertheless seems to be making “modernist” dispensable. But if modernism is simply, as some have argued, the expressive dimension of modernity,24 and if modernity itself is defined very broadly, the utility of the term “modernist,” as opposed to “modern,” begins to fade. At the 2010 meeting of the Modern Language Association, this issue came to the fore during a session (sponsored by the Modernist Studies Association) designed to explore what it means to “do” modernism when the field is changing so rapidly. During the question-and-answer session, the panelists were asked whether modernist studies could do without some long-standing points of reference, such as modernism as a crisis of representation, as anti-realist or experimental, and whether there is any value in identifying particular aesthetic forms or techniques as intrinsically modernist, such as collage, montage, interior monologue, or the day-in-the-life novel. The questions were meant as a provocation to what seemed an unstated ideal of unboxedness, a conception of modernism liberated from definitional corners and dead-ends. There was insufficient time, of course, to thoroughly debate such questions, but despite some cautious intimations from the audience that, in the words of E. M. Forster, “We must exclude someone from our gathering, or we shall be left with nothing” (37), some panelists engaged in a bravado refusal of limits, one professed no longer to care about distinctions between modern and modernist, and the session concluded inconclusively.

If continued attention to the distinction promotes analytic rigor, the question of how best to rethink, explore, and challenge the boundaries between modern and modernist remains. Reluctance to attach any formal criteria to a definition of (p. 12) modernism no doubt derives in part from a residual notion that questions of form may threaten to reinstate a limited canon of difficult works, but attention to form clearly does not entail limitation of any kind, even if, in times past, attention to form tended to correlate with a high valuation of particular kinds of form. The “Forms and Modes” cluster speaks to such issues. It begins with Sarah Lincoln’s discussion of magic realism as a modernist mode that emerges in South America and Nigeria from similar material conditions, in particular the kind of hyperinflation associated with oil-based economies. Bulson’s analysis of little magazines as a form that mediates between global and local also appears in this section, along with Jahan Ramazani’s exploration of creolizations of modernism in Caribbean poetry. Ramazani discusses, among other things, “the modernist concept of poetry as a personal verbal rite” and bricolage as a modernist form. Essays in other clusters also address matters of form without making purely formalist claims. Vicky Unruh retains an emphasis on experimentalism in Cuban literature, Harsha Ram shows how what has often been understood as key formal feature of literary modernism—literariness—emerges from a specific set of historical pressures, and Anna Stenport’s hugely informative essay on Scandinavian modernism observes that Eyvind Johnson, “credited with introducing the stream of consciousness technique to Swedish literature,” drew on the formal innovations of Gide, Proust, Joyce, and Faulkner.

What is needed, then, is not a static definition that attempts to specify the sine qua non of modernism, but something more like, as I suggested earlier, Wittgenstein’s family resemblance, a polythetic form of classification in which the aim is to specify a set of criteria, subsets of which are enough to constitute a sense of decentered resemblance. While some criteria undoubtedly will be formal—fragmentation as a marker of modernism is not likely to go away anytime soon—others will be more conceptual or historical, such as Perry Anderson’s compelling claim that modernism is catalyzed by “the imagined proximity of revolution.” Equally important will be the need to remain sufficiently attentive to the definition of interdependent terms to ensure that what Hayot calls the “intercontamination of terms”—which is, after all, fundamental to the differential logic of definition—ends up working toward the production of new knowledge. Nor should key terms, such as experimentalism, be allowed to remain excessively narrow.25 As Hayot’s salutary injunction to rethink modernism from “from the ground up” suggests, we need to proceed as if we do not already know what modernism is in order to develop a truer account—even as (always the kicker) logic requires some idea of what we are looking for before we can start. Relying solely on received criteria will not work, but that doesn’t mean that all the older criteria were wrongheaded. If, for instance, formal criteria are entirely ruled out, the definitional challenge is simply displaced, without being simplified, onto the problem of modernity: are there alternative modernities, or only, as Fredric Jameson has argued, a singular modernity?

The Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms does not aim for finality in such matters. Rather, it throws into relief what is at stake in various unresolved questions. Taking up the question of alternative modernities, for instance, Neil Lazarus, writing on African literature, offers a persuasive clarification of Jameson’s argument (p. 13) in A Singular Modernity in order to counter the arguments for the pluralization of modernity that have been championed most influentially by Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar:

Jameson understands modernity as representing something like the time-space sensorium corresponding to capitalist modernization. In this sense, it is, like the capitalist world system itself, a singular phenomenon. But far from implying that modernity therefore assumes the same form everywhere, as Jameson has sometimes mistakenly been taken to suggest, this formulation in fact implies that it is everywhere irreducibly specific. Modernity might be understood as the way in which capitalist social relations are “lived”—different in every given instance for the simple reason that no two social instances are the same. Jameson emphasizes both the singularity of modernity as a social form and its “simultaneity.”

Attempts to pluralize modernity, in this argument, fail to take into account the concept of uneven development: “singularity here does not obviate internal heterogeneity and … simultaneity does not preclude unevenness or marked difference.” Or, in Jameson’s words, “modernism must … be seen as uniquely corresponding to an uneven moment of social development, or to what Ernst Bloch called the ‘simultaneity of the nonsimultaneous’ … the coexistence of realities from radically different moments of history—handicrafts alongside the great cartels, peasant fields with the Krupp factories or the Ford plant in the distance” (Postmodernism 307). The desire to postulate alternative modernities presupposes an “original” modernity formed in Europe that must be subjected to Eurocentric critique, but as Harry Harootunian has observed, the notion of a European origin inevitably entails the notion that modernity elsewhere is both “belated” and “derivative,” “a series of ‘copies’ and lesser inflections.”26 Rather than accept the logic of original and copy, Jameson’s account of a singular modernity, as elaborated by Lazarus and Harootunian, aims to acknowledge difference and heterogeneity without instituting the hierarchical relations that follow from the positing of an origin.27 As Lazarus, citing Harootunian, writes: “the specific modes of appearance of modernity in different times and places—St. Petersburg in the 1870s, say, Dublin in 1904, Cairo in the 1950s, a village on a bend in the Nile in the Sudan in the 1960s—ought to be thought about not as ‘alternative’ but as ‘coeval … modernities or, better yet, peripheral modernities … in which all societies shared a common reference provided by global capital and its requirements.’”

Following a similar line of thought, Sarah Lincoln argues that what constitutes modernity for Jameson is “above all the impulse to make sense of—to document and to order or aestheticize—the disruptions, dislocations, and disjunctures brought about by modernization itself. Neither material transformation nor innovative aesthetics, ‘modernity’ signifies instead the attempt to reconcile the two, to bring together ‘modernization’ and ‘modernism’ under a common conceptual and affective umbrella.” Some may object to any model that implies a form of economic determinism. But if such elaborations of Jamesonian thinking insist on global capitalism as a common frame of reference, they also leave room for the reciprocal influence of culture and economics. Again, Lincoln and Lazarus don’t end debates about modernity—or about matters of form. Indeed, they clearly diverge on the second (p. 14) issue. Lincoln cites “the disruptions, dislocations, and disjunctures brought about by modernization itself”; older, formalist accounts of modernism often used similar terms to describe its aesthetic qualities. Does shifting the concept of disruption from the domain of the aesthetic to the material constitute a correction, an overcorrection, or a displacement? For Lazarus, modernism clearly does not entail a particular set of formal qualities; rather, any cultural production that attempts to grapple with the realities of modernization might qualify as modernist.

Here I would want to intervene in order to delimit the potentially huge historical expanse of modernization by citing Laura Doyle, who, acknowledging that the “inter-imperial positionality” she understands as fundamental to modernism has “very likely shaped texts for millennia,” nevertheless argues that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, modernists operate “more self-consciously from this position” owing to, among other things, “new global forms of rapid communication, finance, and travel,” and “the high numbers of uprooted persons created by the escalating invasions, wars, anti-colonial resistance, and pogroms.”28 Like Doyle, most of the contributors to this volume presuppose something like what Mao and Walkowitz refer to as a “core period of about 1890 to 1945” (738), even as they are willing to identify other instances of modernism coming either earlier or (more often) later. Thus the annus mirabilis of French modernism, 1857, gets renewed attention from contributions that return to reworkings of Les fleurs du mal and Madame Bovary; a famous year in Anglo-American modernism, 1922, gets new entries (Lu Xun’s Ah Q–The Real Story was serialized in Beijing and the Turkish Republic was founded); Jahan Ramazani writes about Christopher Okigbo’s “Heavensgate” (1962); and Sarah Lincoln analyzes Ben Okri’s Stars of the New Curfew (1988). It is the persistence of conceptual affinities and various formal preoccupations that makes the identification of instances of modernism outside the temporal core both possible and increasingly uncontroversial.

Yet the comparisons that both enable and derive from the recognition of similarity (and, one is obliged to say, from difference) present a range of theoretical challenges. It seems clear, for that reason, that national literature departments interested in global approaches need to emulate programs in comparative literature, which have long devoted attention to the challenges of comparison.

Comparison and Appropriation

In her contribution on comparativity, Susan Stanford Friedman argues that studies of modernism on “a planetary scale” require “a more sophisticated discourse of comparison” in order to avoid homogenizing the local in the name of a universal modernism. True to this aim, the global analyses conducted here aim to develop more accurate accounts of cultural productions in particular locations by understanding (p. 15) them as part of more inclusive systems of exchange, circulation, and multidirectional flows. Global comparisons of this sort can turn certain assumptions upside down. Peter Kalliney, commenting on Jean Rhys, notes that “the association between elite literature and dissidence was a staple of modernist ethnographies,” but that linkage, so familiar to modernist studies, is utterly severed in Turkey, where, as Bahun observes, cultural and political conservatives found great utility in modernism’s “invocation of suppressed cultural and linguistic models.” Ertürk follows up: “to attend to the connection between literary modernism and conservatism in Turkey is … to turn from the assimilative search for reflective mimicry of European modernism to the complex and contradictory dialogues that constitute such formations to begin with.” Nevertheless, efforts to reduce the distortion produced by exclusively Eurocentric categories of analysis do not easily exorcize, to return to Doyle and Winkiel’s phrase, the specter of appropriation.

In a special issue of New Literary History on comparison, R. Radhakrishnan articulates the fundamental concern: “comparisons are never neutral: they are inevitably tendentious, didactic, competitive, and prescriptive. Behind the seeming generosity of comparison, there always lurks the aggression of a thesis.” And yet, he continues, “if comparative studies are to result in the production of new and destabilizing knowledges, then apples and oranges do need to be compared, audaciously and precariously” (454). Radhakrishnan resists facile suspicion of comparison by emphasizing the “double consciousness” necessary to effective comparison: “on the one hand, act as though the comparison is being made in an ideal world and at the same time deconstruct such an idealist ethic in the name of lived reality and its constitutive imbalances” (459). This handbook accepts comparison as both necessary and valuable, but it also tries to respond to anxious fears about comparison’s covertly Eurocentric project by promoting this sort of double consciousness; it aims as well to counter concerns about the potential homogenizing effects of critical discourse by sharpening the terms of comparison.

One cluster—“Whose Modernism?”—gathers essays that directly confront the collection’s paradoxical goal of being comparative and precomparative at once. Xudong Zhang’s “The Will to Allegory and the Origin of Chinese Modernism” undertakes a rereading of Ah QThe Real Story, a novella extremely well known in China and “firmly established [for the Chinese reader] on the very top of the totem pole of national allegory” as a specifically Chinese form of modernism, even though it would be difficult to extract from it “evidence of textbook features of modernism, including the usual suspects of metaphoric depth, formal disruption and distortion, aesthetic intensity.” What makes Ah Q modernist for Zhang is the way its concern with the Confucian doctrine of the rectification of names—the notion (to simplify) that proper naming is fundamental to social harmony—ends up replicating a form of modernism as linguistic rebellion by turning European modernism inside out: “The most ruthless modernist aesthetics can be found not in the usual domain of stylistic choices or technical innovations, but rather in an extra-aesthetic decision, namely the rejection of the temptation to associate or identify, safely and comfortably, with an extraneous but prevailing system of names (p. 16) and words, form and narrative—namely, the discursive and institutional framework of modernism as a purely literary and aesthetic norm.” Lu Xun’s modernism, far from being absorbed into a European model by aping it, is specifically Chinese in the way that it refuses modernism through a modernist form of refusal. Zhang himself mirrors what he sees in Lu Xun in his rigorous use of European theory, from Walter Benjamin to Fredric Jameson, to isolate what is least European in Ah Q. Zhang’s essay can also be seen as an implicit response to Eric Hayot’s injunction that “to think seriously about Chinese modernism means negotiating the very conceptual framework through which the history of literature emerges, as though from the history of a void, into the possibilities of thought.” Zhang’s essay is one kind of dialectical attempt to do so.

Also in the “Whose Modernism?” section, Jessica Berman’s essay on the fiction of Mulk Raj Anand takes up the challenge of negotiating the undeniable fact of European influence on Indian fiction and the need to understand these novels on their own terms. Complicating the supposed binary between modernist and indigenous, Berman points out, as did Salman Rushdie before her, that “modernism seems already to inhabit the early twentieth-century Indian novel in English as it comes of age, rather than belatedly appearing … in the post-independence period.” Instead of seeing Indian modernism as a “secondary formation” in relation to the imperial metropolis, Berman grasps them as interrelated, coeval productions: “Indian narratives in English of the late-colonial period reveal strikingly innovative approaches to the twin problems of subjectivity and political engagement that at the same time also interact with the European literary tradition and challenge our preconceived notions about what modernism can be and do.” Berman’s essay shows not only how Anand appropriated particular modernist techniques toward specifically Indian ends but also how that process of cultural appropriation reveals European modernism to have been more politically engaged than some versions of postmodern critique would have us believe.

“Whose Modernism?” concludes with Neil Lazarus’s essay on African literature, but the fundamental concerns of this cluster circulate throughout the volume. Gerard Aching explores the poet’s death in Rubén Darío’s most famous short story, “El rey burgués” (The Bourgeois King), in order to take on “the most frequently mentioned critique of the modernistas in Spanish American literary history,” namely, debates about “excessive” imitation of European models. Nergis Ertürk explains how “the problem presented by the idea of ‘Turkish modernism’ is not merely that of the recovery of an excluded object”: “it involves the very possibility of addressing the absence of an ‘authentic’ Turkish modernism within national-critical discourse itself”; and in “Japanese Modernism and the ‘Cine-Text’,” William Gardner’s analysis of Kitagawa Fuyuhiko shows why one of his most famous poems, “Rush Hour”—“At the ticket gate a finger was clipped off with the ticket”—cannot be reduced to an imitation of Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro.” Indeed, Gardner doesn’t even make the comparison—an index, perhaps, of how far criticism of Japanese modernism has come since (only a decade ago) Western critics could casually deem it “a failure” in comparison with European originals29—but I suspect those who teach imagism may well do so in the future.

(p. 17) Finally, readers will find that while critical distance from the text varies a good deal in this collection, many contributions engage in close reading. This is by design. Franco Moretti has called for distant reading, a self-consciously polemical inversion of close reading, as the key to studying world literature because “it allows you to focus on units that are much smaller or much larger than the text: devices, themes, tropes—or genres and systems” (“Conjectures on World Literature” 57). Gleefully welcoming the disappearance of the text, Moretti makes a good case for distant reading as the only way to carry out his particular project, a mapping of world literature that uses world-systems theory to uncover laws of evolution governing the development of genres and modes across the globe. This mapping relies on new critical synthesis of existing scholarship in English on a wide range of foreign language productions. But critical pushback has thrown into relief the magnitude of the losses entailed by this approach. One is loss of attention to the historical roles played by specific languages within globalization, in particular what Jonathan Arac has called “the unavowed imperialism of English” within Moretti’s “monolingual master scheme” (44). Distant reading ignores the kind of long-term consequences of linguistic change that Ben Tran discusses in Vietnam—in this instance specifically written language—where the French government’s promotion of romanized Vietnamese script displaced the character-based writing systems of classical Chinese and the ideographs of demotic Vietnamese script, or, to turn to a more well-known example, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s return to Gĩkũyũ from English, which he considered a means of decolonizing the mind (see Lazarus). Granted, this handbook is written in English and discusses many works in translation, but contributors often pay attention to linguistic complications that resist easy translation, and in doing so press distant reading back to a middle distance that permits a truer account of the object. I think here of one of the writers whose relative absence from this collection pains me the most—Joseph Conrad, whose Marlow thinks he sees “ornamental balls” on stakes along the border of Kurtz’s compound until his binoculars reveal the ornaments to be human heads. Modernist perspectivism has its limits.

A second loss entailed by resolutely distant reading has to do with the value of aesthetic particularity. Although Moretti associates close reading with the American academy and a highly limited canon of close readable texts, Haun Saussy, in a two-pronged argument against purely thematic readings (“the constant pedagogical temptation in world literature”) and for close attention to form, has observed that “formalist reading is a great dissolver of canons”: “If all works of literature share a set of characteristics which it is the business of literary theory to explore, then any work, read with enough attention, is as good as any other.” (14, 17). Not everyone will accept Saussy’s claim that literariness is the proper focus of comparative literary theory, but the disciplinary force of his argument—that is, his willingness to say what he thinks that specifically literary analysis ought to be doing—speaks to another of Arac’s worries about Moretti’s sociological approach: “what can the future hold for a mode of critical performance that is losing its home base? Must it learn the arts of diaspora?” (45).

(p. 18) The Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms aims to stimulate new ways of thinking about such questions, typically by grounding them in specific comparative relationships, and often by posing new questions in response. Consensus has neither been sought nor found, but in closing I think the contributors would agree on at least two things. First, in the words of José Martí, “to know diverse literatures is the best way to liberate oneself from the tyranny of any of them.”30 Second, if modernist studies is to remain coherent as it expands through comparison, continuing efforts of recursive definition must accompany its expansion. Bringing together a wide range of perspectives, this collection aims to deepen our understanding of modernism by self-consciously unraveling the edges of the field.

Works Cited

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(1) . Literature provides the main focus of this handbook, but four of the twenty-seven essays focus on film and one analyzes photography.

(2) . Key early contributions to the transnational turn include pioneering work on the economics of globalization by David Harvey, as well as more culturally oriented work, such as Appadurai, Modernity at Large (1996); Moretti, Modern Epic (1996) and Atlas of the European Novel (1998); and Robbins, Feeling Global (1999). Recent overviews include Jay, Global Matters (2010) and the excellent collection edited by Connell and Marsh, Literature and Globalization (2011).

(3) . This list is not meant to be exhaustive. Conceivably, formations such as Chicano/a or Gastarbeiter (guest worker) modernisms might fall into this category. For Yiddish and Hebrew modernisms, see, in addition to Shachar Pinsker’s essay in this volume, Schachter, Diasporic Modernisms. For the relevance of the construction of the Gypsy to modernism, see Lyon, “Gadže Modernism.”

(4) . The phrase “large-scale vision” is associated with the world-systems theory of Immanuel Wallerstein; see Palumbo-Liu, Robbins, Tanoukhi, eds., Immanuel Wallerstein (9–10). “World literary space” comes from Casanova (1–6). Although this volume does not collectively endorse any particular system—for constructive critiques of Casanova’s important though controversial book, see Ram, Bulson, and Friedman—many essays implicitly share the sense in the editors’ introduction to Immanuel Wallerstein (10–12) that the best approaches to global analysis aspire to a systematic conceptualization that preserves the value of contingency.

(5) . To date there is no widely accepted English translation. For the concept of histoire croisée, see Werner and Zimmerman, who note that, like other relational approaches, the method is attentive to a “multiplicity of possible viewpoints and the divergences resulting from languages, terminologies, categorizations and conceptualizations, traditions and disciplinary usages” but places particular emphasis on “what, in a self-reflexive process, can be generative of meaning” (31–32). They also invoke related approaches in the social sciences that have been called “shared history,” “connected history,” and “entangled history,” though mainly in order to define what distinguishes their own approach.

(6) . For a good account of the importance of “placedness” to the kind of comparative analysis practiced in this volume, see Doyle and Winkiel’s introduction to Geomodernisms, 1–4.

(7) . Arendt, “The Crisis in Culture,” quoted by Benhabib, Situating the Self, 9. See also Benhabib, The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt, 185–93.

(8) . I am indebted to Berman, Cosmopolitan Communities, 13–15, for alerting me to Arendt’s relevance here. See also Cuddy-Keane on the reversal of perspectives within global modernism, especially 547–48.

(9) . For the concept of minor literature and its relation to modernism, see Deleuze and Guattari, Kafka.

(10) . For reflections on the concept of world literature that inform my thinking here, see Damrosch (1–36).

(11) . I draw here on Marjanen’s thoughts on histoire croisée; the quoted phrase is from page 244.

(12) . See Mao and Walkowitz, Bad Modernisms, 1–8.

(13) . On the British postwar rejection of modernism, see Sinfield (182–202). On postcolonial reworkings of modernism, see Gikandi, who argues that “it was primarily … in the language and structure of modernism that a postcolonial perspective came to be articulated and imagined in literary form” (420), and Ramazani’s more politically pointed claim: “To insist, in the name of anti-Eurocentricity, that Euromodernism be seen as an imperial antagonist is to condescend to imaginative writers who have wielded modernism in cultural decolonization and, ironically, to impose as universal a Eurocentric standard: the antimodernism of postwar American and British poetry” (448).

(14) . See Bourdieu, Distinction, especially the first chapter (published in French in 1979 and translated into English in 1984). For modernism and autonomy, see Ram’s contribution and Goldstone.

(15) . In The Pound Era, he refers to Woolf only glancingly in order to mock her cultural pretensions and the quality of her mind (443, 553); in A Sinking Island, he devotes more attention to showing that she is not a modernist but “a classic English novelist of manners” (175), and not a very good one. Granted, Kenner, for all his excellence as a reader of other modernists, had a blind spot on matters of gender as large as the Atlantic, but his disregard for Woolf typifies the gender bias exemplified in the canon in the early 1970s.

(16) . But see Silver for the way later culture wars in the humanities shaped the versions of Woolf that were allowed to circulate in the university and in popular letters.

(17) . The bibliography here is potentially massive, so let me just point to Sollors, Ethnic Modernism, and note that 1994 saw the publication of three major publications on race and modernism; North, The Dialect of Modernism; Doyle, Bordering on the Body; and the first issue of Modernism/modernity.

(18) . Discussions of the cultural turn begin in the early 1990s but typically trace the development to earlier moments. See, for instance, Lentricchia and McLaughlin on the new essays in the second edition of their Critical Terms for Literary Study: “they reflect the cultural turn in literary study, long ago predicted in the work of Kenneth Burke, for which literary works are cultural practices that relate in complex ways to other cultural practices” (ix). Jameson’s The Cultural Turn was published in 1998 but includes essays published as early as 1983.

(19) . See, for instance, Wollaeger, Modernism, Media, and Propaganda, and Goble, Beautiful Circuits.

(20) . For related collections contributing to the global turn, see Brooker and Thacker, Geographies of Modernism, and Eysteinsson and Liska, vol. 2, which includes “case studies” on Brazilian, Australian, Catalonian, French, and Spanish-American modernisms, as well as a fourteen-part section entitled “Borders of Modernism in the Nordic World” that ranges over additional locales.

(21) . Although Williams’ critique here dovetails with the postmodern multicultural critique, he is explicitly concerned to reject any understanding of the postmodern as coming after modernity and therefore existing outside of history, when in fact, for Williams, we still swim in the currents of modernity, however “late” those currents might be in relation to the waves of history still tumbling forward from the Enlightenment.

(22) . The classic work on modernism as a defensive response to the encroachment of mass culture is Huyssen’s After the Great Divide. For its mutant middlebrow cousin, more invested in condemnation than analysis, see Carey, Intellectuals and the Masses.

(23) . Like histoire croisée, Mieke Bal’s theory of traveling concepts emphasizes self-reflexive definitions in the context of intercultural analysis and therefore has promise as a methodological tool for modernist studies. See Bal’s “Introduction: Travelling Concepts and Cultural Analysis,” in Travelling Concepts, ed. Goggin, 7–25.

(24) . See, for instance, Friedman, “Periodizing Modernism,” 432–35.

(25) . See Berman’s contribution, which develops R. K. Narayan’s (non-formalist) observation that “we are all experimentalists.” See also Miller, Accented America, who argues that too narrow a definition of experimentalism has failed to register the kind of experiments with idiom that he sees as fundamental to a broader grasp of American modernism (esp. 24–7).

(26) . Harootunian, History’s Disquiet, 62–63, quoted in Lazarus, “Modernism and African Literature,” 233. The Lazarus quotation at the end of this paragraph also cites these pages from History’s Disquiet.

(27) . Compare the brief critique in the introduction to Immanuel Wallerstein, ed. Palumbo-Liu, Robbins, and Tanoukhi: the concept of alternative modernities “properly rejects the stigma of cultural inferiority imposed by developmentalism, but also disguises the severe political, social, and economic hierarchies that continue to structure the world” (9).

(28) . And Janet Lyon’s essay on cosmopolitanism in this volume: “Late nineteenth- and twentieth-century incarnations of cosmopolitanism share with modernism many of the same conditions of possibility, including accelerated globalization and burgeoning world market systems, imperial crises and the falling dominoes of decolonization, and new networks of mass media and mass transportation, all of which, in various combinations, contributed to expanded zones and concentrated experiences of intercultural contact.”

(29) . For a brief history of the critical reception of modanizumu in the West, see William Tyler’s introduction to Modanizumu, esp. 6–14.

(30) . “Conocer diversas literaturas es el medio mejor de libertarse de la tiranía de algunas de ellas.” My translation.