Modernist Objects

BookModernist Objects

Modernist Objects

Clemson University Press: Seminal Modernisms


January 5th, 2021



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Modernist Objects: Literature, Art, Culture is a unique mix of cultural studies, literature, and visual arts applied to the discrete materiality of modernist objects. The simultaneously physical and ideological nature of objects has made them remarkably transparent to critical inquiries into their aesthetic, political, social, historical or philosophical uses and meanings. This book identifies three processes at work in the apprehension of objects in poetry, prose, visual arts, culture and crafts. If the first instinct of the modernist novelists and playwrights was to object to the realist tradition of objects as more or less stable inherited signifiers, they felt themselves equally free, we find, to take up humanity as their object. The human body, emotions and mind were endowed with newfound plasticity, and it was now the artist’s and the writer’s task to fashion them after their own image, mobilizing and expanding them through objects seen as relational and connective catalysts for the modernist subject. Finally, the futile and decorative object is explored. From Baroness Elsa performing the commodity fetish to Jean Rhys performing the dissolution of the self in a frenzy of sartorial ornament, the agency of surface detail (misplaced, proliferating, or repurposed) is made manifest and given free play.

Author Information

Noëlle Cuny teaches translation and Anglo-American literature and culture, currently supervising student research on Woolf, Joyce, and on objects in modernism. After extensive work on the body in the novels D. H. Lawrence and on disciplinary hybridity in modernist writing, she became interested in the material conditions of the literary canonization process, namely, the magazines—first Lawrence’s own (very) little magazine, then the later and more ambitious J.M. Murry ventures: the Athenaeum 1919-1921 and the early years of The Adelphi. Xavier Kalck teaches American literature and translation at Sorbonne University in Paris. He specializes in twentieth-century poetry and modernism’s unacknowledged trajectories – second-generation modernists and the post-WWII efforts to revive and rewrite the modernist tradition. His current research projects revolve around the experience of reading as an all-inclusive material practice.