When is Modernism?



Does the label “modernism” apply only to works published at a certain point in time? Or is modernism an aesthetic value that can apply more widely? In this podcast, the organisers of recent conferences on modernism discuss the difficulty of defining the period. [MP3 version]

Most people associate modernism in literature with the early years of the twentieth century, and with major writers such as T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. But the word “modernism” is an ambiguous one. Does it denote a particular period in history? Does it describe a unique style of writing? Or does it mean anything which happens to be modern in its worldview, even things written today in the twenty-first century? Questions like this were explored by two conferences organised by the Department of English Studies, both of which sought to expand the horizons of modernism beyond its traditional figures.

Efface the Traces! Modernism and Influence” set out to uncover some of the concealed ways in which modernist writers were inspired by wider culture, and in turn how modernists have unexpectedly influenced authors in the present. “Maverick Voices and Modernity, 1890–1939” sought to shift the focus of attention onto some of the lesser known names of literature in the period.

This podcast features three of the organisers of these conferences as they reflect on the challenges and questions that they raised. Avishek Parui and Michael Shallcross are PhD researchers who co-organised “Efface the Traces.” Drawing on this conference, in the podcast Avishek and Michael express a desire to trace the broader effects of modernism, both globally (encompassing writers from India or South America) and temporally (so that a contemporary writer like Martin Amis could arguably be considered to be modernist in style, if not in his period).

Avishek and Michael are joined by Tony Patterson (formerly of Durham and now at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah), who is the author of Mrs Grundy’s Enemies: Censorship, Realist Fiction and the Politics of Sexual Representation. Tony co-organised “Maverick Voices and Modernity.” As Tony argues in the podcast, by focusing specifically on modernity rather than modernism we may be better able to consider writers who were popular at the time and who offered an influential response to the conditions of modern life, even if their works are not necessarily so experimental as those we associate with the canonical modernist authors.

In addition to this podcast, reports on both conferences are available to download via READ. In relation to “Maverick Voices and Modernity,” Koenraad Claes focuses especially on panels relating to modernist poetry; Luke Seaber considers some of thehistorical contexts of modernism and its connections with popular culture; and Nathan O’Donnell highlights some of the neglected authors who were resurrected by the various speakers. Holly Phillips’ comprehensive report on Efface the Traces! Modernism and Influence is available here.

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One response to “When is Modernism?

  1. Pingback: Guest Blog: Martians, Modernism and Martin Amis | Interesting Literature·

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