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What we’ve enjoyed this week, #5

Your weekly round-up of the best modernist (and modernish) links from around the web, chosen by the editors of The Modernist Review.

Trouble at the mill
David Romero stumbled across a closed factory in Maryland. Here’s what it taught him about a lost economic moment, as told by Russell Shorto at The New Yorker.

Modernism rediscovered
See California modernism anew through the lens of the prolific Julius Shulman at It’s Nice That.

Lauren Elkin on walking Bloomsbury
BBC Radio 4 are currently serialising Elkin’s new book Flâneuse. Listen to this extract on women walking in Bloomsbury, and then cook sole in white sauce (to be eaten, of course, alone in one’s room).

Putting up the (Basil) Bunting
“Basil Bunting’s poem ‘Briggflatts’ has been hailed as the successor to Ezra Pound’s ‘Cantos’ and T. S. Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets.’ Bunting himself, meanwhile, has been almost forgotten.”

Modernist music, BBC-style
How Delia Derbyshire brought modernist music to the mainstream through her work with the BBC.

And, finally, some good news for these dark times. . .
. . . as research shows that readers live longer.

Read all of our recommendations here.

Seen something great on modernism? Drop a line to editors@themodernistreview.co.uk

What we’ve enjoyed this week #4

Your weekly round-up of the best modernist (and modernish) links from around the web, chosen by the editors of The Modernist Review.

We’ve enjoyed…

 

Get ready to Rhys
A reading week dedicated to Jean Rhys will take place this September. More details here, and you can take part using the hashtag #ReadingRhys. We’ll be joining in, of course.

Anyone for a trip to Berlin?
The Berlinische Galerie has just launched this terrific-looking show all about Dada.

Music to our ears
We enjoyed this piece about jazz and modernism.

Olympic fever
Celebrate Rio 2016 from afar with a photogallery of the best modernist architecture in the Olympic host city. Then enjoy some great modernist design in these Olympics posters of years past.

Thinking it over
Writer Meg Rosoff made a short programme for Artsnight this week, featuring Eimar McBride on creativity and the unconscious.

Every weekend: your weekly round-up of the best modernist (and modernish) links from around the web, chosen by the editors of The Modernist Review. Read them all here.

Seen something great on modernism? Drop a line to editors@themodernistreview.co.uk

The London Mercury and the Scourge of the Blagueurs

Sir John Collings Squire (1884-1958), best known as an editor, a satiric poet, a parodic speech-maker, a lover of stout ales, and as one very well-accomplished in the field of general bluster, was from 1919 through 1934 the editor of the London Mercury, a widely-read literary magazine featuring reviews, news, and short original works. The magazine was noted (and at times denounced) for its more conservative approach to the literary scene of the time; Squire and his colleagues were not keen on Modernism, nor upon the sometimes less overtly Modernist but still distinctly modern works of the Bloomsbury Group, and the Mercury offered a venue in which work of an older style could still be published and discussed. The personal and professional feuds that developed between the new-wave literary scene and what one Bloomsbury wag described as “The Squirearchy” are deeply interesting, and had a considerable impact upon the formation of what we now consider to be the period’s literary canon.

In one of his editorial notes in the Feb. 1920 issue of the Mercury (1.4), Squire writes rather scornfully of the “experimental” verse being turned out by what he called the Futurist-Vorticist-Cubist type. I won’t go into detail about the specific poems (many of them quite shockingly though unsurprisingly weird) that he lambastes, as that’s rather beside the point, but what matters from our perspective is the brief mention he makes of Blast, the very influential (and extremely short-lived) Vorticist periodical put out by Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis and others. It lasted for two issues — the declaration of war in 1914 saw many of its contributors forced into other lines of work, and at least two of them (T.E. Hulme and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska) would be killed in action.

In any event, Squire looks back fondly upon Blast‘s demise, it having stood for many of the things he found most tiresome, but he offers a sort of lament all the same: in its death, he writes, it “[gave] place to countless smaller magazines and books.” This was the culture of the “Little Magazine” that flourished in this period; Ford Madox Ford’s celebrated English Review is one such example — a small periodical founded by, edited by, and largely beholden to a single figure’s tastes and ideas. These smaller magazines made their way along by constantly referring back to one another; the authors had feuds and denounced one another; they reviewed and condemned each other’s works; and so on.  Such magazines fed upon one another; they “attach[ed] themselves to anything which [would] give them publicity,” as Squire concludes.

The similarity of this to modern blogging is notable, wouldn’t you say? I would.  The only real difference is the possibility of real-time reader comment rather than much-delayed letters to the editor, and even that is not so much a difference of kind as it is of degree.

This brings us to the reason for this post.

In denouncing all of the above, which bears in its culture and its conduct so much that is now common among bloggers, Squire needed something to call them to distinguish them from periodical contributors generally. He unaccountably settled upon the epithet blagueurs. Let that sink in.

Squire’s emphasis in this was primarily upon the (to him) unappealing nature of the material being published, whether it be the font-based shenanigans of a Marinetti or the inarticulate noise-words of some of the verslibrists being reviewed by F.S. Flint in The Monthly Chapbook. He could not easily believe that many people sincerely enjoyed such poems, and still less that the artists were sincerely producing them. He viewed it as japery, fraud — the work of “tricksters” and “jokers”. Blageuers means exactly that. That it should end up sounding so much like the term chosen to describe a similar sort of personal periodical production a century later is remarkable. Nothing at all beyond a coincidence, but remarkable.

About the author

Nick Milne is a part-time professor in the University of Ottawa’s Department of English. His research focuses on Modern British Literature, with a particular emphasis upon the intersections of historiography and literary scholarship in the study of the First World War. He is a regular contributor to Oxford’s First World War centenary blog, WW1C, and his work has appeared in Slate,Tin House, Canadian Literature and the Bull Calf Review. He can be found on Twitter at @1stWorldWarrior.

What we’ve enjoyed this week

After a glorious few days, London is suddenly grey and rainy. Here’s what we’re curling up with on the sofa.

Modernist architecture in the world’s most oppressive state?
Asmara, capital city of the famously repressive Eritrea, is making a bid for UNESCO world heritage status. The Economist investigates the colonial roots of its modernist architecture.

From the archives with RTÉ
If you’ve not yet checked out RTÉ’s Century Ireland website yet, it’s worth doing. We love this letter of recommendation for an architect who was part of the team to rebuild Dublin after the Easter Rising, but there’s plenty of material to dig through.

What’s going on with minimalism?
Fashion, food, furniture: it seems the revival of minimalist aesthetics is everywhere. But what happens when minimalism becomes a lifestyle?

Two takes on Georgia O’Keeffe
We loved the Tate Modern’s Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition, running until October 30.

Read a review over at the Financial Times, and then explore the work of Petra Collins, a young videographer who the Tate have invited to respond to O’Keeffe’s work for the exhibition.

Modernist Cultures: Modernism and Dance
The “Modernism and Dance” issue of Modernist Cultures is currently free to read over on the Edinburgh University Press website (we particularly enjoyed Michelle Clayton’s essay, “Modernism’s Moving Bodies”).

And finally. . .
. . . does anyone want to buy us this?

Every weekend: your weekly round-up of the best modernist (and modernish) links from around the web, chosen by the editors of The Modernist Review. Read them all here.

Seen something great on modernism? Drop a line to editors@themodernistreview.co.uk

Review: The Secret Agent, episode 2

Helen Saunders, King’s College London

A PhD is a difficult thing to do for a number of reasons. One of the struggles is the feeling of guilt whenever you want to read something outside your (hyper–) specific area. We all have gaps that we’re desperately trying to hide and fill at the same time, ever aware, as teacher used to say, that we must do better.

The subtext of the above paragraph, if you hadn’t quite got it already, is that I crammed The Secret Agent about six years ago and haven’t ever had a chance (made the chance?) to go back to it. So my review cannot – wouldn’t want to be, anyway – a list of comparisons between the TV adaptation and the novel form. Not least because, as far I can I see, the mini-series stands up well enough on its own as a fine example of Sunday 9pm BBC period drama.

thesecretagent1

As always with the Beeb, the technical effects were extremely good. In Episode 2 (see our review of Episode 1) sound was used extremely well, such as in the anxious thundering in Verloc’s ears as he entered and then very quickly left the pub post-bombing, or when he looked down, guiltily, on Stevie’s body at the morgue. The sound of the shovel going into the ground as Chief Inspector Heat prepared Stevie’s body for that same location was also well done. By contrast, the silence in which Winnie Verloc stumbled aimlessly, following the news of her husband’s activities, was extremely powerful.

Winnie, though having little to add to the plot of this episode, was immensely important in its final scenes, generating much of the emotional drama. I work on fashion so I was bound to notice the abundance of textiles: as Verloc returns from the bombing, Winnie was to be found doing needlework at the table, emphasizing her agency-less situation and dependency on her husband (the refrain “Verloc has been good to me” and variants thereof litter her dialogue).

Earlier in the episode she mentioned that she’d sewn Stevie’s address into his coat lining, should anything happen to him. As well as giving the naïve viewer a helping hand (might something happen to the cast’s most vulnerable character?!), this second piece of fabric became a plot and emotional lynchpin later on, when the Chief Inspector extracted it from Stevie’s remains – there is no more accurate word – at the morgue and used it to link Verloc to the crime.

The moment when the Inspector examined Stevie’s body was perhaps not quite as powerful as it might have been. It served the necessary plot point cited above, but was nowhere near as emotionally powerful as the earlier scene in which he shoveled Stevie’s body out of the crater left by the bomb’s explosion in Greenwich Park, mere feet from the Observatory. This scene, featuring a younger, mustached, immature police officer, who vomited at the sight of the body which had previously been hidden under a sheet, illustrated the timeless corporeality of terrorism. The vulnerability of Stevie’s body and the inevitability of his death was suggested earlier on when Michaelis (and the viewer) watched, through the kitchen window, Verloc slap Stevie: this rehearsal of violence was, if brief, alarming and portentous.

Moments such as these were occasionally let down by some inconsistencies. When the Professor boasted very loudly to the Inspector on a crammed omnibus about his plans, surely the other passengers could hear? They should have been panicking long before the Professor actually pretended to set off the bomb. When he was taken to the police cell and the Inspector’s junior pushed his eyes into his head, surely his eyes should have been more bloodshot after? (At least I think this is what happened: I confess to watching this scene from behind a pillow, my impression of it aided by an overactive imagination and the conspicuously loud squelching noise the producers dubbed this scene with.) When Winnie and Comrade Ossipon took tea, there was no logic to people in the background wearing their hats on or off. Finally, as Fern Riddell noted on Twitter, the insult “prick” is anachronistic.

These relatively small niggles, however, should not distract from what is a fine yet horribly prescient mini-series for our own times. Winnie’s childlike wish to ignore the horrid reality of Verloc’s actions (asking him in the small hours of the morning if he is going to collect Stevie – when better to do your share of the childcare?) is both laughable and yet sadly understandable. While the producers could not have known how many terrorist attacks would be taking place in the weeks leading to and during the broadcasting of this mini-series, its timing is acutely relevant. There was at least one moment in the dialogue that appeared to voice contemporary concerns about treatment of terrorists, when the Inspector told his lackey not to squeeze the Professor’s eyes too hard for fear of making a martyr of him. These sad points made, The Secret Agent is still a thrilling, emotional, angry piece of broadcasting that should be enjoyed.

About the author

Helen Saunders is PhD student in the English department at King’s College London, researching the representation of fashion in the works of James Joyce. She has been awarded scholarships to study in Dublin and Trieste and previously convened of the postgraduate research group within the English department at King’s. Helen teaches on the ‘Writing London’ BA course also at King’s and on the university’s ‘Literature in the City’ summer school programme. She is a postgraduate representative for the British Association of Modernist Studies and has published in James Joyce Broadsheet and Irish Studies Review. Her Twitter is @helenkatebooks.

Review: The Secret Agent, episode 1

The BBC’s newest adaptation of Joseph’s Conrad’s The Secret Agent sets out the task of making itself relevant to a modern audience. With the plot of the novel revolving around bomb plots, espionage, surveillance, and terrorism, the parallels are striking. However, a short list of minor alterations should be noted. Adolf Verloc’s forename has been altered to Alfred, and his French background is erased. The gregarious and spherical Michaelis is now famished and shy. The previously unnamed foreign power orchestrating the attack is named as Russia. Whereas Conrad’s novel maintains ironic distance from definitive and essentialist taxonomisations of subjects, this production is more than happy to present the terrorists as the scruffy and anti-social European outsiders, and the English police as crusaders for good. It would seem that the writers share Stevie’s ‘ideal conception of the metropolitan police as a sort of benevolent institution for the suppression of evil’[1], whereas the novel takes great pains to display that the state too is dependent upon violence, secrecy, and intimidation.

thesecretagent1

Whilst attempting to draw parallels between the novel and contemporary global politics, this adaptation ultimately fails to convey both Conrad’s and our own modernity. Most notably the constitutive role of terror in forming and policing modern subjectivity. Without this insight the programme is caught interpreting the novel through the generic conventions of the police procedural. This is The Secret Agent told through what Mr Vladimir refers to as the ‘ready-made phrases’ of newspapers, the familiar contemporary media narratives of rapid radicalization, maladjusted individuals, and death cults. [2]

The decision to portray the character of The Professor not as a diminutive American but, rather, as a disgruntled former laboratory technician is instructive of this production’s politics. In the novel, the Professor’s power stems from his ordinariness, he walks the streets of London ‘unsuspected and deadly’.[3] He is dedicated to no political cause but only to the perfection of murder. Ian Hart’s Professor is a scruffy misfit whom the police discover and immediately hunt. The effect here is to lump the Professor in with Ossipon, Jundt and co. as easily discernable miscreants. It should also be noted that the writers felt it necessary to add a scene in which The Professor vets Verloc to see if he has the courage to carry out his attack. This is nowhere present in the novel. Indeed, the Professor is decidedly neo-liberal in his commercial enterprises, declaring ‘[m]y absolute rule is never to refuse anybody’.[4] The effect of this additional scene is to once again convey terrorism as the acts of individual persons, as a form of evil that is chosen. What is lost here is the exceptional nature of the Professor as a very different form of terror, one that would find fulfilment in Hiroshima and Auschwitz. To deny him this privileged position within the narrative is once again to ignore the complicity of state institutions and individuals in this violence. Conrad’s novel, however, implicates the institutions of the police and state with terror whilst also indicating the role that the anarchist terrorist plays in policing the state of affairs he wishes to destroy. None of this insight or ambiguity is to be found in this latest iteration.

Notes

[1] Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale, (London: Wordsworth, 2000), p.127.

[2] ibid., p.32.

[3] ibid., p.220

[4] ibid., p.55.

 

About the author

Will Simms is a Doctoral candidate at The University of Manchester. Currently, his research focuses on the relationship between legal and literary discourses in the early 20th century. His PhD thesis analyses the texts of Franz Kafka, James Joyce, and D.H Lawrence in relation to legal trials, specifically trials for obscenity. Theory and praxis of transgression, literature’s potential as resistance to power formations, and the role of gender in policing subjectivities, all play a role in his research. His interests also include psychoanalysis, queer and feminist theories of sexuality, as well as the work of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault.

Twitter Handle: @wdsimmsEsquire

What we’ve enjoyed this week

Your weekly round-up of the best modernist (and modernish) links from around the web, chosen by the editors of The Modernist Review.

We’ve enjoyed…

“A Room of One’s Own” for Today’s Artists
An NYC exhibition tracing Woolf’s legacy on contemporary artists.

African Modernism
William Harris in Review 31 discussing architecture, colonialism, and modernism.

Vanessa Bell to break free from Bloomsbury group in Dulwich show
Exciting news – Bell will have her own show at the gallery next year. Kudos to the gallery for another female artist exhibition: it’s currently showing the work of Winifred Knights.

Shock of the New: Los Angeles vs. Modernism
How was modernism received and enacted in the city, described in 1950 as “vulgar, extroverted, spontaneous, energetic, proudly unsophisticated – Los Angeles discouraged a civilized sense of art historical continuities.”

A Cherokee Fashion Designer Who Mixed Native Modernism with Midcentury Trends
Profile of Lloyd “Kiva” New and his career as a fashion and textile designer.

What we’ve enjoyed this week

Your weekly round-up of the best modernist (and modernish) links from around the web, chosen by the editors of The Modernist Review.

We’ve enjoyed…

Death by prefix? The paradoxical life of modernist studies
Everyone’s already talking – or tweeting – about it, but Gayle Rogers take on that perennial question, “what is modernism?”, for the LA Review of Books is a must-read.

Industrial Sublime: How New York City’s Bridges and Rivers Became a Muse of Modernism
Over at Brainpickings, Michelle Lego explores how a city inspired a generation.

Joanna Walsh at the Irish Times
On the Irish Times Books Podcast, Joanna Walsh talks about the experimental short story, women writers and erotica. Tell your boss it’s research and you can pretend it’s SFW.

How Dada fathered modernism
The New York Times‘ critics consider the legacy of Dada. Make a coffee, put on your best cone hat, and dive in.

Forget the Barbican – it’s all about Wandsworth
At Wallpaper, Caragh McKay unearths the forgotten modernism of a London housing estate.

The Ackroydon Estate, Wandsworth.

The Ackroydon Estate, Wandsworth. Photo: Municipal Dreams

Plus the post we want someone to write…

Discuss.

Seen something great on modernism? Drop a line to editors@themodernistreview.co.uk

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Set up and hosted by the British Association for Modernist Studies, The Modernist Review is designed to provide a platform for scholars and others with a keen interest in modernism to share new and emerging work.

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