From Herman Melville’s Queequeg to Ken Kesey’s Chief Bromden, primitive characters have played key roles in literature and have generally emerged as enduring and sympathetic figures. In this book, Gina M. Rossetti focuses on works by Jack London, Frank Norris, Eugene O’Neill, Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Nella Larsen, arguing that primitive literary characters reveal complex and culturally based assumptions.
In the period of 1895 to 1929, Rossetti asserts, the primitive serves as a literary figure whose presence might link naturalism and modernism. Defining the primitive as “the dominant culture’s projection of its internal fear, anxieties, and attractions,” Rossetti explores how the working class and racial and ethnic minorities came to occupy the position of “primitives” and the degree to which more privileged individuals imagined themselves through the lens of this sometimes denigrated and sometimes romanticized Other. For the selected naturalist authors, the primitive is rendered in a Darwinian context, representing a figure whose presence will jeopardize American cultural identity by being evolutionarily inferior.
In modernist literature of the twentieth century, however, the primitive separates from Darwinism and becomes aestheticized. In much of the literature from this period, the primitive functions as a naive posture for the artist to assume in order to escape the complications of modern life.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were a time of growing concern for the “vanishing Anglo Saxon,” and the primitive figure is often linked with theories of race. In this context, the racial primitive reflects the culture’s need for, and perpetuation of, a racial Other who gives body and shape to American identity. The final evocation of the primitive combines both the naturalists’ preoccupation with race-based notions of personhood and the modernists’ desire for a romantic escape.
Whether the primitive is invoked positively or negatively, Rossetti argues, it delineates the limits of American identity and, in the time period covered, often induces a double-edged response. The primitive’s marginality suggests the degree to which authors, privileged and otherwise, rely on its embedded presence in our national literature. Rossetti ultimately demonstrates that the primitive is not static but rather inconsistent and transformational, the source from which many naturalist and modernist texts project their concerns, fears, and contradictions.
Exploring the intersection of ideas about woman, subjectivity, and literary authority, Impressionist Subjects reveals the female subject as crucial in framing contradictions central to modernism, particularly the tension between modernism's claim to timeless art and its critique of historical conditions.
Against the backdrop of the New Woman movement of the 1890s, Tamar Katz establishes literary impressionism as integral to modernist form and to the modernist project of investigating the nature and function of subjectivity. Focusing on a duality common to impressionism and contemporary ideas of feminine subjectivity, Katz shows how the New Woman reconciled the paradox of a subject at once immersed in the world and securely enclosed in a mysterious interiority.
Katz reads Walter Pater's aestheticism in the context of Victorian domestic ideology, a world split between safe interiors and risky exteriors. She uses some of the central debates of the 1890s on women's knowledge and interiority to illuminate fiction by George Egerton, Sarah Grand, and Henry James. She looks at how Lord Jim and The Good Soldier project a universalized masculine narrator against a vision of female subjectivity that is too close for comfort. She also considers Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage and Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway and The Waves /i> as impressionist experiments that explore the complexity of the connection between modernist abstraction and feminine subjectivity.
Sophisticated and tightly argued, Impressionist Subjects is a substantial contribution to the reassessment and expansion of the modernist fiction canon.
The Institutions of Russian Modernism illuminates the key role of Symbolism as the earliest form of modernism in Russia, emerging seemingly ex nihilo at the end of the nineteenth century. Combining book history, periodical studies, and reception theory, Jonathan Stone examines the poetry and theory of Russian Symbolism within the framework of the institutions that organized, published, and disseminated the works to Russian readers. Surveying a wealth of examples of books, journals, and almanacs, Stone traces how publishers of Symbolist works marketed the movement and fashioned a Symbolist reader. His persuasive argument that after its eclipse Symbolism's legacy remained embedded in the heart of Russian modernism will be of interest to scholars and general readers.
This fine collection of essays offers a wide range of new and original perspectives on Strindberg and his relation to modern and contemporary literature. By using Strindberg as a fulcrum or spring board, the volume opens a unique and unusual historical perspective on Europe and European literature. One of the important values of The International Strindberg is that it will appeal to a variety of readers, since the essays cover such a diverse range of approaches. The introduction is particularly impressive because it both sets up the value of looking at Strindberg from a twenty-first century perspective and suggests how that can and should be done. The volume demonstrates the variety of ways in which Strindberg’s work can be seen and discussed in light of twentieth and even twenty-first century literature.
Interventions into Modernist Cultures is a comparative analysis of the cultural politics of modernist writing in the United States and Taiwan. Amie Elizabeth Parry argues that the two sites of modernism are linked by their representation or suppression of histories of U.S. imperialist expansion, Cold War neocolonial military presence, and economic influence in Asia. Focusing on poetry, a genre often overlooked in postcolonial theory, she contends that the radically fragmented form of modernist poetic texts is particularly well suited to representing U.S. imperialism and neocolonial modernities.
Reading various works by U.S. expatriates Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein, Parry compares the cultural politics of U.S. canonical modernism with alternative representations of temporality, hybridity, erasure, and sexuality in the work of the Taiwanese writers Yü Kwang-chung and Hsia Yü and the Asian American immigrant author Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. Juxtaposing poems by Pound and Yü Kwang-chung, Parry shows how Yü’s fragmented, ambivalent modernist form reveals the effects of neocolonialism while Pound denies and obscures U.S. imperialism in Asia, asserting a form of nondevelopmental universalism through both form and theme. Stein appropriates discourses of American modernity and identity to represent nonnormative desire and sexuality, and Parry contrasts this tendency with representations of sexuality in the contemporary experimental poetry of Hsia Yü. Finally, Parry highlights the different uses of modernist forms by Pound in his Cantos—which incorporate a multiplicity of decontextualized and ahistorical voices—and by Cha in her 1982 novel Dictee, a historicized, multilingual work. Parry’s sophisticated readings provide a useful critical framework for apprehending how “minor modernisms” illuminate the histories erased by certain canonical modernist texts.
In Intricate Thicket: Reading Late Modernist Poetries, Mark Scroggins writes with wit and dash about a fascinating range of key twentieth- and twenty-first-century poets and writers. In nineteen lively and accessible essays, he persuasively argues that the innovations of modernist verse were not replaced by postmodernism, but rather those innovations continue to infuse contemporary writing and poetry with intellectual and aesthetic richness.
In these essays, Scroggins reviews the legacy of Louis Zukofsky, delineates the exceptional influence of the Black Mountain poets, and provides close readings of a wealth of examples of poetic works from poets who have carried the modernist legacy into contemporary poetry. He traces with an insider’s keen observation the careers of many of the most dynamic, innovative, and celebrated poets of the past half-century, among them Ian Hamilton Finlay, Ronald Johnson, Rae Armantrout, Harryette Mullen, and Anne Carson.
In a concluding pair of essays, Scroggins situates his own practice within the broad currents he has described. He reflects on his own aesthetics as a contemporary poet and, drawing on his extensive study and writing about Louis Zukofsky, examines the practical and theoretical challenges of literary biography.
While the core of these essays is the interpretation of poetry, Scroggins also offers clear aesthetic evaluations of the successes and failures of the poetries he examines. Scroggins engages with complex and challenging works, and yet his highly accessible descriptions and criticisms avoid theoretical entanglements and specialized jargon. Intricate Thicket yields subtle and multifaceted insights to experts and newcomers alike.
In what marks an exciting new critical direction, Rebecca Stanton contends that the city of Odessa—as a canonical literary image and as a kaleidoscopic cultural milieu—shaped the narrative strategies developed by Isaac Babel and his contemporaries of the Revolutionary generation. Modeling themselves on the tricksters and rogues of Odessa lore, Babel and his fellow Odessans Valentin Kataev and Yury Olesha manipulated their literary personae through complex, playful, and often subversive negotiations of the boundary between autobiography and fiction. In so doing, they cannily took up a place prepared for them in the Russian canon and fostered modes of storytelling that both reflected and resisted the aesthetics of Socialist Realism. Stanton concludes with a rereading of Babel’s “autobiographical” stories and examines their legacy in post-Thaw works by Kataev, Olesha, and Konstantin Paustovsky.