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Modernist Networks and the Concept of the Periphery: Introduction to Part II

Modernist Networks and the Concept of the Periphery: Introduction to Part II

We dedicated Dibur’s ninth issue, published in Fall 2020, to “peripheral modernisms,” with a variety of articles rethinking modernism by exploring and sometimes revealing previously unexplored networks of literary interaction. We looked at how modernism is defined when seen from different local perspectives and contemplated modernism’s capacity to blur national, geographical, and linguistic boundaries. These articles gave us a chance to reflect on our own critical language in the field of modernist studies. Various contributors engaged in discussions about the affordances and limitations of the center-periphery distinction, suggesting other models and surveying possible ways of theorizing modernist networks on a global scale. Many contributors studied networks of literary influence and transmission with attention to formal experimentation, montage, and synthesis, which are defining features of modernism, speaking to the enduring promise of inventive formal approaches to literary texts.

These approaches successfully decouple the cherished relationship between form and content and broaden our understanding of form as itself a changing concept, whose conceptual horizon grows along with the networks we discover and foreground in literary analysis. As Jahan Ramazani writes in his contribution on “Form” to A New Vocabulary for Global Modernism, “As we turn a poem over and over, it is likely to reveal a kaleidoscopic range of local-foreign configurations no matter how firmly situated within the local or how foreign its form or content may at first appear.”

Put another way, contributions to our ninth issue made us more aware of the constant recalibration that our concepts experience as we dive deeper into the continuously evolving networks of modernism around the world. We decided to keep the conversation going and give ourselves an opportunity to become even more self-conscious, in the spirit of modernism, about the nature of intellectual inquiry in the field. We are very excited to combine our current issue (no. 10) with the previous one to extend the geographical scope and time frame of the literary networks, as well as to continue our interrogation of the most recognizable critical concepts and gestures in the field.

In our new issue, then, we continue to feature exciting articles, unraveling modernism through interactions in different contexts, genres, and media. We look at Japanese, Argentinian, Turkish, Hebrew, and Yiddish modernisms and expand the discussion to include interactions between literature, journalism, dance, and book illustrations.

In “Newspaper Journalism, Realism, and Modernism in Japan,” coauthors Indra Levy and Tim Kawanishi-Young demonstrate how dominant journalistic conventions in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Japan informed authorial and narrative strategies. More specifically, they focus on the novelists Kanagaki Robun (1829–94) and Kawabata Yasunari (1899–1972) to show how their narrative and figurative style was informed by an active desire “to break the mold of what they saw as the stale literary conventions of their respective eras.”

Natasha Gordinsky, in “The Times We Live In,” examines the Russian-Jewish writer Uri Nissan Gnessin’s literary style and historical awareness through a survey of his peripheral productions such as letters, reviews, and short stories. Using the angle of contemporaneity and focusing on a selection of his early texts — a letter, a literary review, and the short story “Jenya” — Gordinsky conveys Gnessin’s “heterochronous” understanding of the present, which has important bearings on his conception of Eastern European Jewish modernity and Hebrew fiction.

In “Tango, Gendered Embodiment, and Acousmatic Listening in Argentina,” Jessica Berman turns to 1920s and 1930s Argentina to explore the “modernist cultural production of tango” through sound, visual, and textual media. Unpacking the multifaceted relationship between voice, identity, and embodiment, Berman establishes voice as a cultural phenomenon, showing how the culture of Argentine tango facilitates a “fluid, flexible, or potentially transgressive gender attitude.” In the final section, Berman continues her analysis of gender and women’s roles in Argentina by turning to the radio periodicals of the period.

Kenan Sharpe’s article “Combined and Uneven Modernism: Turkey’s İkinci Yeni Poets” turns to one of the most prominent poetic movements, which is often celebrated as the modernist event, in the Turkish poetic tradition. Sharpe situates the İkinci Yeni poets in a specific historical context through painstaking attention to the economic and political conditions in mid-twentieth-century Turkey as well as to the global capitalist system. Sharpe investigates the use of modern and economically charged images (neon lights, nylon, the atom bomb, Cold War consumerism) to show how İkinci Yeni poetry “reveals the particular contours of Turkey’s incorporation into global capitalism.”

In “Localizing the Pogrom: Jewish Leftist Poets on Palestine, 1929,” Amelia Glaser examines the literary reactions of modernist Yiddish poets to a week of violence in Palestine. Glaser connects the current moment with events that took place in 1929, when Jews around the world faced a decision as to whether to identify with the Arabs who had lost their homes and land or side with the Jews who were victims of violence in British Mandate Palestine. She argues that “an examination of the Yiddish poets who used pogrom motifs to side with the Arabs who waged an anti-Jewish uprising helps us to understand more recent uses of Holocaust memory by activists, often on competing sides, discussing Israel/Palestine.”

Confirming the sweeping influence that the İkinci Yeni style had on the development of a modern poetic sensibility in Turkey, Deniz Gundogan Ibrisim’s article emphasizes the need to rethink Turkish modernism through different affective and historical networks. Accordingly, in “Democratizing the Modern in Contemporary Turkish Poetry,” Ibrisim focuses on two modern women Turkish poets, Elif Sofya and Asuman Susam, to demonstrate how they “expand as well as challenge the modernist event in Turkey,” especially through an ecopoetic impulse.

In addition to these articles, we are featuring a conversation with Chana Kronfeld on some of the main categories explored in our current issue (the concept of the periphery, the margin, and the marginal). This conversation centers on the unique literary and linguistic networks of Yiddish modernism. Explaining the linguistic, historical, and sociopolitical realities that inform modern/modernist Yiddish literature, Kronfeld demonstrates that “Yiddish poets didn’t see themselves as peripheral to anything. They saw their literature as central and they developed an option that was progressive and new in its resistance to the nation-state.” Read together, Chana Kronfeld’s interview and Amelia Glaser’s article demonstrate how Yiddish poetry challenges any simplistic definitions of modernism as either a national or an international movement.

We are trying something new in this issue. In our previous introduction, we had called attention to the importance of recent editorial practices in providing a renewed understanding of the field. Accordingly, we surveyed recent edited volumes, either featuring compilations of academic approaches within modernist studies or collections of modernist artworks and literary texts from around the world. By montaging, compiling, and constantly questioning the established conceptual frameworks, these edited volumes have significant effects in shaping our literary and academic imagination. We thought it was worth following up on this angle and decided to feature an Editors’ Roundtable. This roundtable is devoted to editors of recent academic and literary collections on modernism. The contributions to this section give us a retrospective glance at the process of compiling these edited volumes with the added understanding of how the field has evolved ever since.

This section begins with a conversation by Alys Moody and Stephen J. Ross, the editors of one of the most recent collections of modernist writing : Global Modernists on Modernism: An Anthology (Bloomsbury Academic, 2020). This collection features translations of works associated with modernism in Latin America, the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab world, Turkey, Iran, the Caucasus, South Asia, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, the South Pacific, the Malay Peninsula, and the Ashkenazi Jewish diaspora. As anticipated by its remarkable coverage, this volume is already having a transformative effect on discussions concerning modernism and its aesthetic, geographical, and cultural range. In their conversation for Dibur, Moody and Ross offer conceptual interrogations of various modes of rethinking modernism on a global scale, the Eurocentric power structures which, overtly or implicitly, come to undergird such approaches, and their broader methodology as editors.

Ariel Resnikoff, one of the section editors for Global Modernists on Modernism, writes about his experience of editing the section “Modernism of the Ashkenazi Jewish Diaspora.” In “At the Edges of Yiddishland: Editorial Praxes on the Jewish Translingual Threshold,” Resnikoff contextualizes late-Yiddish modernisms in relation to other modernist threads and geographies. Moreover, he meditates on the myths surrounding the “lives” and “deaths” of the Yiddish language and on the importance of a translational consciousness undergirding Yiddish poetics, “its mixed and mixing dynamics.” Resnikoff brings the fruits of this editorial experience to life by ending his essay with a poetic meditation energized by the “speculative expanded-Yiddish language-scape.”

In “Reports from an Outpost of Modernist Studies,” Andrew Reynolds and Bonnie Roos write about their experience of editing Behind the Masks of Modernism: Global and Transnational Perspectives (University Press of Florida, 2016). In addition to framing the piece around their own “peripheral” position and experience in academia, Reynolds and Roos offer a compelling account of the choices and negotiations that went into the editing process and “the rationale behind their use of masks as a unifying thematic thread.” This contribution offers readers a distinctive opportunity to rethink concepts and categories associated with modernism. One of the most important questions raised here concerns the privileging of formal experimentation, characteristic of many works of Western modernism, and the consequential sidelining of “works written with a clear imperative, an agenda, to convey a message,” even when this approach is necessitated by the social and political context.

“Modernism and Its Concepts” features a conversation between editors Eric Hayot and Rebecca L. Walkowitz and our coeditor Melih Levi. Hayot and Walkowitz are the coeditors of A New Vocabulary for Global Modernism (Columbia University Press, 2016), which brings together “essays organized by intellectual keyword, or concept, rather than by geography or national literary history.” This edited volume has a unique status in modernist studies because it is devoted to deconstructing and reconstructing certain concepts which gain prominence when we approach modernism on a global scale. Rigorous interrogations of concepts as diverse as alienation, animal, copy, form, library, slum, and puppet transform the paradigmatic definitions and conceptualizations of modernism. In this conversation, Hayot and Walkowitz continue this conceptual examination by reflecting on the field of modernist studies today and the proliferation of concepts used to model and describe the global range of modernism.

Finally, Mark Wollaeger and Matthew Eatough each describe their work as editors exploring “the geographic and temporal scope of modernism” in The Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms (Oxford University Press, 2012). In “Central Issues in Studies of Modernist Peripheries,” Wollaeger reflects on the center-periphery debate, the relevance of modernist studies today, and the modes of literary inquiry that may impact “the future of modernist and literary studies in the university.” In “Global Modernisms Reconsidered,” Matthew Eatough interrogates the implications of the core/semiperiphery/periphery model. Rather than cornering debates in the field into geographical binaries, Eatough emphasizes unevenness and relationality as concepts which can advance more nuanced considerations of the global networks and manifestations of modernist style. Eatough subsequently grounds these discussions in a brief evaluation of South African modernism and the Sestigers.

In our previous introduction we had found inspiration in Ilan Stavans’s personal meditation on modernism and emphasized the importance of such personal and autobiographical interventions in the field, especially since discussions based on reified academic categories and geographical distinctions run the risk of forgetting how voice and lived experience are at the core of literary production. In the current issue, we are featuring a thrilling essay by the scholar and author Saikat Majumdar, “The Unmade Self.” Describing childhood as “the otherness that was once our self,” Majumdar recounts his encounters as “an aspiring writer in the colony” with the iconic bildungsromans of the Western modernist tradition. This early encounter gradually becomes more layered and complex, as Majumdar goes on to recount his experiences in graduate and MFA programs in the United States, while developing his own craft as an author and while reading works by the Kannada novelist U. R. Ananthamurthy and the Urdu writer Sadat Hasan Manto. These experiences inspire a rethinking of the cherished conventions of the bildungsroman established by his early and formative exposures to Western modernism.

Barbara Mann’s essay, “The Materiality of the Book in Yiddish Modernism,” concludes the issue by drawing our attention to the materiality of the peripheral modernist book. “Yiddish book art,” Mann argues, “exemplifies how sacred Jewish forms shaped secular cultural expression for twentieth-century artists and writers in a variety of geographic and linguistic settings.”

We are very excited to be continuing the conversation on peripheral modernisms with a new issue that brings together a wide variety of perspectives and approaches to modernism: academic, personal, essayistic, editorial, and poetic. The diversity of styles and modes of inquiry represented in this issue will, perhaps, bring us even closer to the ambitions and grammars of modernism, which was, after all, heavily invested in unsettling widespread perspectival systems and habits. It is our hope that this dual issue on peripheral modernisms will unravel previously unexplored networks of modernism and encourage our readers to rethink the established conceptual paradigms in the field. end of article