What is Modernism? (No really.) 1/8

            The introduction to A History of “Modernism” presents various contexts that not only apply to Modernism as definitions but also outline the permutation of each definition throughout the signification process; it could be ventured that Modernism is the diagnosis and not any one of its collected symptoms, just as Sherry argues for a “special present” of which the modernist has been made aware. This term, special present, is involved with recognizing “crisis time and time in crisis,” and Modernism also occupies this tension-point: decadence versus progress. Is the “ache of modernism” growing pain or arthritis? It might not be either and, instead, inhabit the question.

            Society deconstructs time. Time dismantles society. Time itself decays. The reason Modernism proves so difficult to outline lies in how Just Now (as an element of one definition) is transitory and how scholars apply their own ideologies to it over time. I am interested in exploring Modernism as a “no man’s land” and a connecting line across artistic eras. It is somehow both cyclic and new tradition as well as decadence’s potential.

            I approached Modernism: Evolution of an Idea with these questions. As Latham and Rogers focus on Modernism’s development and response, they present ideas put forward in earlier conversations. For example, Modernism is partially a reaction to “the violence of mass identity.” This concept, while politically charged, led into New (again) Modernist Studies, which was self-referential and applied modernist frameworks to Modernism in history.

            (While trying to understand Modernism sort of feels like that moment where you share your screen on Harvey, and it’s this endless cycle,) I have drawn a definition-adjacent conclusion from these two readings. Modernism might be the space in which a person inhabits the present, becoming aware of its unique era, rejecting the mass subscription to past ideologies, and driving toward the next "now" inside a disenfranchised time. Looking back on these first impressions, I barely even addressed the characteristics of Modernist work or how pioneers of the movement approached language.

A History of Modernism - Sherry

Having not had the most experience studying modernism so far, I truly thought that modernism in this context would be an entity that is vague, too abstract, or possessing some other kind of unclear nature. In one sense, I do find it difficult to subscribe to only one definition I've read in this text, but Sherry succeeds in giving the reader a certain freedom to decide, making sure to include ample historical context. From what I've gathered, I think I would choose to view modernism as a force which spans centuries, but never means one single thing. As modernism ages with the generations that study the term, the one trait that can be identified is that it always has this urgency to it. Scholars born centuries apart can understand the "right now" which modernism is concerned with no matter its other subject matter.

 I came to this opinion about it by taking in the various definitions supplied by this work, wherein Sherry points out this urgency with which modernism is always concerned. One quote on p.6 gave a great example of the way modernism can be identified with no matter the specific terms or moment in history. Sherry writes, "and so the verbal token of crisis time - conveying not just the expectation of change or renovation but the feeling of an acute present, a preoccupation with and in a brink instant, of living in a Now explicitly different from a Then or even a Next" (6). This idea was, at least to me, a wonderful way to explain the larger than life entitity that is "modernism." To describe its nature as crisis time, an acute present, and the Now was a nice way to tie its reach together for me. 

Latham and Sherry--An Attempt to Understand (1 of 8)

Sherry and Latham both operate on known ideas surrounding "modernism." While Dr. Latham does state that "there is no such thing as modernism--no singular definition" (Latham 1), he does give a great way of understanding what contributed to this great cacauphony of different styles, ideas, and forms. Meanwhile, Sherry acknowledges the controversy of the word "modernism" itself as he gives a historical framework from which readers can attempt to draw conclusions about modernism.

One thing that I noticed in both texts was the idea that modernists were focused on the present, but not in a urgent or naive way. Instead, the two scholars give these ideas of a long present. Sherry describes this view as "a vision of days winding away into a future that is at once infinite and diminishing, an eternity that is both meaningless and menacing" (7). It seems as though the present is both overwhelmingly arriving constantly, but it is always slipping away. This view of time fits well with many of the things going on historically--everything was constantly shifting from war to peace, from prosperity to depression. Not only were there many events going on, but technology was rapidly shifting and would continue to do so, even until now.

This push and pull of time passing by is kind of mirrored in modernist writing styles. Dr. Latham wrote a lot about the importance of literary tradition in modernist literature. The writers were not tied to it in any particular force, but tradition was a way for them to push some boundaries--almost like a visual/textual representation of how time was not stopping but felt so long. Traditional forms from all over were used, but they were adjusted to fit the writers' needs or goals.

Week 1 (1 of 8) Daedalus, Gargoyles, and Criticism

One of the last entries featured in the March 1918 edition of The Little Review–the issue to first publish Joyce’s paramount Ulysses–is a complaint. Under a striking, centered typeface, Anderson and Pound ensure the word “Criticism” is not only apparent but inflated, with the complaint itself ridiculing The Little Review for publishing “pointless eccentricities and gargoyles” (59) for the last many issues. Where the editors ensure they “make no compromise with the public taste” (Anderson and Pound), its inclusion as the sole piece of criticism within the issue, alongside episode one of Ulysses, acts a glaring touchstone for the magazine’s purchase on both owning and breaching convention. 

Episode one of Ulysses may rely on traditional allusions, but its narrative style, stream of consciousness, and juxtaposition of everyday to epic is anything but conventional. Daedalus’ name is contradictory, his inner voice is interruptive, and his metaphors are disrupting (for instance, his comparison of the green pool of bile to the green body of water). In Daedalus’ ubiquitous experiences, like in his observation of the sea as he reflects on his mother’s loss, these strained metaphors elevate the ordinary to degrees of artistic grandiosity, though they are often ones of contradictory fragmentations: the everyday, now the epic, the once mundane–even the weird and gross–now high art. 

Perhaps the reader, whose initials show M.S.E, while attempting to insult The Little Review, stumbled on something far more profound–Ulysses as a kind of literary gargoyle. In architecture, gargoyles traditionally serve a utilitarian purpose: they prevent erosion from the common rainstorm, diverting water away from less stable walls. In doing so, the gargoyle manufactures an inventive storm drain, its mouth plunging water onto the storm-ridden streets, further diverting aesthetic blemishes into a show of architectural beauty. The gargoyle, often a distorted creation of monks, saints, animals, and depictions of evil, juxtaposes classical tradition to the unpleasant and in so transforms utility (the everyday) into dynamic spectacle. Both in its distortion of tradition (blending conventional figures into strange amalgamations) and its diversion and subsequent elevation of the ordinary (rain into makeshift fountains), the gargoyle remains a fitting symbol for this issue, Joyce likewise playing into this paradox. Mulligan’s mannerisms are Mercury’s winged hat; Stephen is Daedalus; the swimming boys, the Ubermensch, and so on. 

One can almost see Ezra Pound nodding his head in selecting this criticism to conclude such a critical issue of this magazine.  

Wk. 14 (7 of 8): Musings on the Intersections of Literary study and Technology

This class has taught me about intersections between different, and what has commonly been thought of, as opposing disciplines. Literature and Technology are two of these disciplines, often kept apart, instead of intersected, the coding activity that we did on periodicals showed me the intersectionality that is part and parcel of periodical studies. From the makers of the MJP site to the other periodical websites that you prescribed to us, they would not be possible without technology. Why then, is a more robust technical knowledge not integrated within the English Literature degree? I feel that English Literature students, humanities students in general, are taught to fear the technical world, to think of it as their enemy. When really, what they should be taught is to think of the technical world as their ally. I love the field of English literature, and I love books, but I can't help but wonder after reading the readings for this week if our profession wouldn't be taken more seriously by outsiders if there was a more recognized technical element to our scholarship? A common misconception of English Literature scholars is that they just sit around all day and read numerous books, of course, this is not true, but the integration of technical skills would make our profession seem more relevant to the current time. Ironically, in job interviews, or for companies that are hiring, an employee who is both well written and well-spoken, seems to be valuable skills that are sought out by many employers. So, if this is the case, why do outsiders tend to think of the English literature field as irrelevant? How would requiring that every English Literature student, Undergrad, and Graduate, take a one-semester coding class change this perception? 

Wk. 15 (8 of 8) : The complicated and multifaceted nature of the archive and its relevance to time

The combination of this week's readings, and today's class discussion, greatly expanded my notion of what the archive is and what it contains. I had always thought of an archive as a historical repository of historical memories, depicted through: art, books, poems, personal portraits, personal items, etc. that were from the past. Today, I found out that there are traditional archives like that, but also, unconventional archives that do not deal with artifacts of the past. For instance, social media is a type of archive, even though it doesn't house historical objects, it is a system that houses information that can be accessed by others for viewing. This made me think about the influence of time and the archive. How does time influence the relevance of certain kinds of archives and their respective receptions? How relevant is a historical archive about the history of papyrus paper relevant to a 21st-century culture that is obsessed with technology? Why do we still need to know about paper? To me, the very presence of these historical archives answers that question in a positive sense, to borrow from Foucault's "The positivity of a discourse (pg. 126), the fact that historical archives still exist despite our ever-increasing digitization of culture, speaks to its importance and relevance. Without these archives, how would we physically experience times of the past that have shaped the culture and society that we currently find ourselves in? I see a totality within the archive that contributes to the present. To move forward, we have to know how we started, where we come from, and the origins of events. The archive serves this monumental function of educating us about this information. 

My next question is: based on the regulation and repression of certain archives and their containments, like books on sexual orientations that Mikala mentioned today, affect how we see and think of the archive? How do we fill in the gaps (what Foucault calls "the aporia" ) of this missing or as is the case today in many instances, the erased history? Even though archives are categorized by their specific containments, there is a totality of the way in which the function of all archives is, on some level, to house memory, information, documents, objects, etc. in a preserved fashion. I am interested to see how the notion of the archive will change as our relationship with technology changes. Could Instagram be the next new archive of social media data and information in the next 20 years? Only time will tell. 

 

No More Experts

So, last week wasn’t actually my last blog post. I apologize for the premature fanfare. No one is more disappointed than I. Anywho, I’m interested this week in Derrida’s construction of the physical archive as a displacement of certain psychic prejudices and consignments. Derrida observes that the archon inevitable installs themselves as a kind of administrator of culture, an extension of the State’s need to classify, order, and categorize cultural material, a recuperation of civil law which imposes vast and horizontal taxonomies of experience. To what extent does the archive play an active role in establishing those taxonomies which render the dynamism of experience inert? Derrida sites the liquidation of stable generic categories as essentially unorderable. If generic deconstruction is insurmountable, “order is no longer assured” (5).

I wonder how Derrida’s challenge to generic purity applies to periodization. Are you periods out of touch with the generic slippage archival efforts have exposed? As I pick my exam fields, I’ve sort of been conditioned to choose periods based on the skills they provide. To oversimply to the periodic taxonomy to an absurd degree: Nineteenth century is for the novel, modernism is for media tracking media proliferation, and contemporary is for deconstruction. Despite our efforts to deconstruct the canon and the traditional archonic procedures around the emergence of post-colonial reason, our periods have largely remained the same. Look, grad students aren’t stupid. We see what’s happening in the academy. The mission of the expert has failed. The interdisciplinary challenges of modernity have exposed specialization and mastery as illusory. I’m not sure that’s a positive development, and I’m not ready to turn the academic process into a cafeteria line, picking and choosing as we go, but it’s a concern I have. If I earn an academic job, will it be as an expert, or as a mere citizen of an ecology of art that has become overgrown and wild?

Proximity

One concept I found running through our readings was the idea of proximity. In the opening of Archive Fever, Derrida stresses the importance of the archons (the magistrates, the law makers, guardians, the conceptualizers, interpreters) being in physical (topo?) proximity to the objects in the archive and that others do not have this proximity (I think this is the idea of politics—power-- and the archive). He refers to this as “localization” (2).

There is also the nomological aspect of the archive which I think means how the archive is ordered and governed (or maybe what order and governance emerges from the archive? Both and?). The concept of consignation touches on this as well. And as Derrida is talking about limits—what is included/excluded, interior/exterior—he’s essentially discussing the conceptual thinking and decision making about what is proximal to the archive. “Where does the outside commence?” (8). Which then sets up the the idea “No archive without outside” (11).

This is what struck me about Freud’s note about “nothing” that Derrida discusses (8) and the preface from Freud’s father (23). What is useless? What is exterior to the archive? These moments push on and challenge the limits of what should be included in the archive--just as the “Exergue” does. It serves as a paratext, a “prearchive a lexicon” (7). It’s a question of function, really—if they belong within the limits (if they are conceptually proximal to the archive which the implication is that they are), what do these moments/texts then do? This gets to the heart of the first 23 pages which is all about the tension between the death drive (erasure, loss, forgetting) and conservation for the future (preservation, continuance, remembrance). At once the archive is dependent on proximity (physical but more than that conceptual closeness) and distance; and the archive itself is the agent that creates its own proximity and its own distance. The space between is where the archive is born: “the archive takes place at the place of originary and structural breakdown of the said memory” (11).  The “breakdown” to which Derrida refers is a location, a place, where proximity is brought into question. The archive is it's own thing, really. It doesn’t solve the issue of breakdown because the death drive is important and necessary, nor does it inhabit/recover the “originary.” It’s close to the place of breakdown and the originary (proximal), but still separate from it.

Le fin

As I type this final blog entry, I hesitate. Each letter that I’ve programmed into my fingers’ memory, each typographic symbol on my keyboard, smacks me. When I write by hand, which I rarely do, I am effectively drawing. Preverbal decisions are made: “should I cross my ’t’ before or after the sentence?”; “I meant to write an ‘a,’ but the tail is too long: it looks like a ‘q’. I should erase.” Grammatical expression (spelling out the thought) is a dial-up simulacrum of speed—the speed at which those thoughts about how I'm writing are processed by the brain, that is. Here, our clunky grammatical expressions draw attention to the writer’s (drawer’s) ability to encode the text legibly for readers. It’s semantic.

A pen out of ink leaves its mark: a reader can envision a manuscript's ink fade as the pen traces from letter to letter until at last! The ink is renewed, stark and jet. Material conditions like this second example, perhaps more than the semantic, undergo dramatic changes that affect how typists type, writers write. I don’t mean to sever semantic from material considerations completely: they are, as a reflection of us, surely entangled (Hillis 2016). I only suggest that this blog post is a record—not of my hand or fingertips; not of my tremors or mistakes made in dried ink. I can't tell how many times I have clicked the backspace key while trying to write this post. It's less laborious to erase self-perceived mistakes by pounding my right pinky on the backspace key than it is by erasing physically on paper. To me, this feels like converting the writing process into a zip file.

By those terms,

1) is there a program that documents every keystroke I make on this computer?

2) What does lossless literature look like? 

 

The physical vs. the abstract (8/8)

What we read for this week, specifically Dr. Drouin's Surrogate and Voss and Werner's Toward a Poetics of the Archive, has me thinking about special editions of books, or more specifically, the Limited Editions Club that ran its course from 1929 to 1979. This book club printed special editions of canonical works and commissioned famous illustrators and painters (Picasso was commissioned for one) to create art for their respective books. Their most famous production was likely Ulysses, for which Matisse was hired to illustrate. Of the 1,500 copies produced, Matisse and Joyce signed 250 of them. The copies remaining on the internet are selling for upwards of $4000, and I find it insane that someone might want to buy an NFT, a digital and non-palpable thing, for more than triple the price of a rare find that will only increase in price... Or will it? Are there no wealthy Joycians itching to get their hands on a copy? "Every act of copying creates an effigy: a likeness, portrait, or image that lacks the character of the original yet stands in for our pursuit of it," says Drouin, and I wonder how this might relate to things like limited editions of texts, because although these objects lack the historicity of the original, do they not embody an altogether different kind of historicity? 

Further, images of these rare editions are sparse. We are not allowed to see what lies within--we have not paid the very high price, which makes me think that these items, opposite to digital surrogates, do not "become levelers of class inequalities among researchers," or "allow access for those who cannot afford to travel to the archives that house rare artifacts" (279). These rare editions are special cases of art, because we know that they exist out there, and we know that it's probably much harder to see one of these than it is to see the Mona Lisa (unless you don't want to wait in a ridiculous line). This, however, begs the question of desirability. Has the Mona Lisa lost some of this because of the crowds waiting to take selfies with her? Have our interests drifted away from holding, preserving, and investing in rare things and drifted toward more profitable, digital, and immediate fancies? Why buy an old dusty book when you can be the owner of digital photo of Spongebob or a psychedelic monkey?

Please don't roast me for my limited NFT knowledge... I just haven't been able to get the concept out of my mind since we started discussing digitization and archives, and I wanted to find a way to bring it up in the discourse! I also wondered if anyone else had been thinking about these concepts in relation to the physicality of art and books versus what is currently highly sought after. All this to say, though, is that I don't think we'll ever not value the physical things. We've just found another medium, I guess. 

The Surrogate of The Seven Arts-wk 15

While reading Dr. Drouin’s “Surrogate” article, it was hard not to think about our midterm projects. Although his focus is on the physical impact of BLAST, and the “physical experience of reading…necessarily contributes to the interpretation of its content,” I was thinking about how our midterm project transformed for me during its different phases (280). I spent roughly 10-12 hours with my primary material The Seven Arts in its digital format before going into the archive for it. I did content analysis, close reading, background information, and image analysis. In short, I felt like I had a pretty solid understanding of what this magazine “was.” Despite this, I found that my language to describe its audience was more vague than I’d like. It was not until I visited the archive and interacted with the source material that I felt an immediate connection to the intent of the magazine. I could get all the quantitative information that I wanted or needed from online: content, dimensions, etc. However, I could not feel the pages or print. By physically interacting with The Seven Arts, I was able to understand the everydayness of its intended audience through the pulpy paper, the letterpress pages, and the individually curated covers. It would never have occurred to me to suppose that any circulated magazine would take the time to individually hand-draw their logo on each copy of their magazine. That is what they did, though. Each copy truly is unique and intentionally created—not just mass produced by machine.  The Seven Arts was created in order to call out the artistic from everyday individuals, and it emulated that with its materiality. Born digital (or only digitally findable) materials miss out on the opportunity to connect with the senses in the same way. 

Verner and Ross (Blog 8 of 8)

Time is very important to all of us, but it is not often we get to think very deeply about what it will mean in the future, or for archiving. In the article, Verner and Ross talked about the poetics of various ideas, including the idea of the poetics of colonization of America. I was wondering if in a hundred, a thousand, or 5,000 years from now will these categorizations stick? Will they mean the same thing to people, or will they re-invent the past? 

With the advent of technology, the terminology is changing faster everyday, and it is hard to keep up. Today’s labels may become yesterday’s card catalogues. Whoever is controlling the catalogue/archive will get to decide what to keep or edit, or even delete. Even the words we leave behind may be changed or interpreted as something far beyond what we meant or dreamed. I wonder if this will lead to digital ‘tugs of war’ between archivers who want to leave their fingerprints on what we write to also leave their own marks and ideas. I do fear for what could be lost, but also hopeful for what could be accomplished with the vast amount of data that will be collected. Every archiver may emphasize some subjects over others, it is interesting to speculate how every decade these trends could change based on popular opinion or global events. 

In a sense, the archiver has the chance to shape history with human hands and their choices. We will need to evolve along with the technology created and interact with it now that the Pandora’s box has been opened. Human history is full of chaos and questions, some of which we can answer, some that are debated, and some giant holes that may never be filled in. Will the people thousands of years from now be able to look back and see things clearer than we can? Can we predict what will happen based on the past and present, or will the truth of the future never come to light in our lifetimes? 

A Rise and Fall in Novels

While reading Graphs, Maps, and Trees by Moretti, my attention was caught by the fact that he discusses the rise of the novel in Britain, and the fall of the novel in Japan, France, Italy, and Denmark. That is not to say that there was not a fall of the novel in Britain, or a rise in the other countires, but that way Moretti presents the information is the most important to him, and that is was caught my attention. Why is the rise of the novel in Britian more important than the fall, and vice versa in the other countries? Moretti does point out that many of the times that the novel fell in either production or popularity had a political origin, but he also acknowledges that is not the case in every instance. However, given the fact that paper has continuously been one of the first resources limited during war I wonder how many other countreis that are not discussesd by Moretti had this fall of the novel and what they would add to the dataset he has already formed. Would the results stay the same or would they vary in some capacity?

The Canon or the Archive

This is my last blog post of course work. I read many of these articles for my some of my first blog posts during my first semester at TU. Now that I’m feeling misty-eyed and nostalgic in the JJQ, I’ve decided to reflect. Having just left my MFA at the time I read these articles the first time, I was disillusioned with the creative writing world, especially about what I had called at the time the current-ification of art. That I read and loved Joyce and other modernists was always seen as an eccentricity, some kind of mental block that had cleaved a difference between the other students and myself. One MFA candidate would periodically invite me over to her house, where she’d hand me a book or two published in the last three years. I’d promise to read it, but I knew I wouldn’t. I never gave any of them back until our MFA was over, and we were moving away. I handed back a couple dozen books I never opened. I had just finished War and Peace and I had begun Finnegans Wake for the third time.

When I read these the first time, I don’t think I understood them. When we talked about the archive, I conjured up discussions of the canon I had during my MFA. We’d always talk about the canon with a special intensity, as though it were some hulking monster just outside the conference room where we had class. Saying the words James Joyce would strengthen it. We would die right there in our chairs, dead-white-man’d to death. I don’t mean to dismiss the relevant and necessary conversations about inclusion and representation of historically marginalized literature. Still, I grew weary of those conversations that seemed so sentimental. What were we really talking about? Was I reading all the wrong books? Was I going to be left behind by all the books that will be published this year and the year after, etc.

I understand the archive differently now. If a discussion of the canon was always theoretical, ideological, and an exertion of the mind, the archive is about materiality, the actual physical processes of collecting, keeping, restoring, and excavating. It’s a marriage of past and present. It resists current-ification, by bringing to light the old work that is restored and reintegrated by our newest solutions to the old problems. It’s important to remember that digital does not mean non-physical or immaterial. The digital condition is only a displacement of the physical, not an abolition of it.  

Interpretations (or not)

This week's readings drove home the point that digital humanities is helpful in its numbers and graphs and pure, cold data. And while I agree with Franco Morretti's assertion that "data is ideally independent of interpretations," I think it is human nature to start trying to fill in the blanks data leaves us ("Graphs" from Graphs, Maps, Trees 9). Why else would it be interesting to see the graphs Moretti includes in his book? Why else is it compelling? Moretti certainly recognizes this as well, but I keep thinking about what these graphs might suggest than just economic downturns or war (though these are incredibly important factors not to be discounted). What about the spread of ideas or inventions? It would be an easy assumption to believe that colonial influence brought about these sharp rises in novel publications--that the printing press is being exchanged at points of contact around the world. Yet the fact that Japan follows so sharply on the heels of Britain's novel production, while Italy and Spain (closer in region) are much, much slower to increase production. In a colonial viewpoint, then, it is perhaps a point against British imperialism or colonialist interference. In that same point, it is interesting that Nigeria's novel production rate rises sharply as Nigeria becomes its own country and no longer a British colony. In this example, like Japan's, there is the interesting corralation of data that collaborates how these countries might have operated around British influence or despite of it. 

Still, data isn't necessarily meant to be interpreted. The hypothesis that come from data, however, are endless and generate testing grounds for how digital humanities can help the field of literature studies.

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