Book Prize

Previous Winners

MSA Book Prize (for a book published in 2019)

Jacob Edmond, Make It the Same: Poetry in the Age of Global Media (Columbia University Press, 2019)

To praise the originality of Jacob Edmond’s account of modern poetry might sound rather ironic given the premise of the book, but the sheer ingenuity on display—as Edmond assembles poets from dozens of countries, poems in multiple platforms, and a dizzying array of technologies—is truly impressive. We now appreciate the unoriginality that Pound intended in “Make it new,” but Edmond shows how poetry can be reproduced, chopped, appropriated, hacked, retranslated, and otherwise remediated in ways that Pound could not have imagined in the pre-digital era. What this introduces, too, is a new velocity of reproduction and reproducibility: poetry circulates unoriginally—yet with great creativity—in an instant, Edmond shows, from the Caribbean to China to Russia to the United States and back in the blink of an eye. And it does so in wildly unexpected circuits: part of the book’s beauty is its ability to unpack putatively high and low forms, from the experimental avant-garde to cutup Twitter poems, in which poetry now travels. But there is nothing either Romantic or romantic about Edmond’s book; instead, it is a canny story of media itself in an age of Western dominance, of poetry’s imbrication in it and response to it, and of authors like M. NourbeSe Philip, Yi Sha, Caroline Bergvall, and Dmitri Prigov—along with many others—formulating and reformulating adaptable poetics that anonymous contributors around an unequal world continue to remix daily. The book therefore takes seriously its work to demystify, through its motif of the paradoxical “master copy,” our own enduring stories of originality that the media environments we inhabit every minute remind us must constantly be rethought.

Benjamin Kahan, The Book of Minor Perverts: Sexology, Etiology, and the Emergences of Sexuality (University of Chicago Press, 2019)

Benjamin Kahan’s book is unlike many in modernist studies. Taking center stage are few major texts or figures from the era, but instead, the “thousand aberrant sexualities” (Foucault) that, over time, were reduced primarily to one all-encompassing, internally contradictory diagnosis of “homosexuality.” Kahan returns to the archives of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century sexology, where a host of charged and divergent figures with sexualities difficult to taxonomize and capture (necrophiliacs, nymphomaniacs, statue-fondlers) were scrutinized in journals and labs alike. This book’s well-researched and theoretically complex account unpacks the ways in which modern queer studies and sexuality studies have drawn on, contested, and revised the notions of emergence itself that were passed down from this era. Kahan engages with Sedgwick’s field-shaping legacy, but his primary focus is a question that Sedgwick did not take up, and that contemporary queer studies had largely avoided because of its implications for right-wing accounts of homosexual origins: the deep history of (pseudo-)genetic theories of same-sex etiologies. This book is a study of patterns, modalities, paradigms, and speciations as much as it is a study of forgotten novels, medical treatises, and psychology manuals. With verve and insight at every turn, Kahan tells the captivating story of figures lost to history, strays who have been cut out from grand narratives because they fit neither comfortably nor even uncomfortably in the ways we think about sexuality in the present. By recovering them, Kahan helps us recover a lost world of thought itself and the bodies that it once located in time and space.

Catherine Keyser, Artificial Color: Modern Food and Racial Fictions (Oxford University Press, 2019)

In Artificial Color, Catherine Keyser brilliantly shows how critical eating studies advances our understanding of early twentieth century racial theories and their centrality to modern American fiction. Keyser assembles a rich archive that includes nutritional tracts, guides for food tourism, and raw food recipes as she demonstrates the depth and breadth of Harlem Renaissance and Lost Generation writers’ engagements with cultures and technologies of food. In inventive chapters on Jean Toomer, George Schuyler, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Zora Neale Hurston, and Dorothy West, Keyser weaves together meticulous historical research, dazzling close readings, and trenchant engagements with contemporary theories of embodiment, materiality, race, and gender. She reveals how, in the era of Jim Crow segregation and the “one drop” rule, writers turned to food to generate alternative racial fictions that exposed the artificiality of whiteness but also the material force of white supremacy. In the process, she traces the racial history of soda bubbles, hydroponics, orange juice, foraged mushrooms, and processed meats as well as their place in the racial imaginaries of early twentieth century fiction. This sophisticated, incisive book explores literature’s capacity to imagine what might be, while detailing the intertwined histories of food and race that determined what was—and is. In our moment of flourishing “foodie” culture, resurgent white nationalism, and expansive Black protest, Artificial Color is a timely and important book.

WINNER: Nadia Nurhussein, Black Land: Imperial Ethiopianism and African America (Princeton University Press)

In this field-changing book, Nadia Nurhussein brings together and reorients a remarkable number of important currents that modernist studies has alternately gathered and overlooked in the past two decades, from global solidarity movements to Black and Black diasporic studies. Nurhussein focuses on the real and imagined state of Ethiopia, an exceptional space in Africa in the early twentieth century that transfixed the minds of many Black writers. To Pauline Hopkins, Claude McKay, George Schuyler, Langston Hughes, and to their white counterparts and to many lesser-known figures, the anti-imperial empire Ethiopia represented a bewildering bundle of contradictions at once Biblical and futuristic. It was an idealized, mystical site that prompted Du Bois’s romantic wonder, the Rastafarian faith, the hypermasculine cultism around Haile Selassie, the dreamworld of Hopkins’s Of One Blood, and far away, even the notorious Dreadnought Hoaxers proclaimed themselves Abyssinians. Nurhussein follows not only the literature, but the vast array of cultural products that African American imaginings of Ethiopia yielded through its putative “originary blackness,” all juxtaposed with their responses to racialized violence in the United States. Nurhussein’s book seamlessly weaves together accounts of wars, philosophy, poetry, the Black press, visual archives, and much more; one is left in awe of the author’s ability to narrate this gripping, expansive story itself. And still, not to be taken for granted, Nurhussein brings to life—right now—her subjects, as agents attempting to work out urgent, complex, and ultimately unresolvable geopolitical contradictions through literature.

Sarah Street and Joshua Yumibe, Chromatic Modernity: Color, Cinema, and Media of the 1920s (Columbia University Press, 2019)

In this dynamic book, Sarah Street and Joshua Yumibe provide a sweeping account of how color became a hallmark of modernity in Europe and North America. While it is a cliché to describe the 1920s as bold and energetic, Street and Yumibe tell a new story about how a color industry involving film, fashion, print culture, architecture, and design changed the look and feel of modern life. Street and Yumibe show that, not only were 1920s films often in color rather than black and white, but also they were at the heart of a set of experiments in color that circulated internationally across different media. One of Chromatic Modernity’s greatest accomplishments and contributions is its comparative approach. In mapping the chromatic culture of the 1920s, it brings together artistic, commercial, philosophical, and scientific ventures; avant-garde and popular cultural forms; various North American and European film industries; as well as multiple mediums and forms of cultural production. From accounts of the hybrid processes of coloring films to analyses of how color became central to emerging aesthetic philosophies and a flash-point in debates about gender, race, sensation, and popular culture, the book’s depth and breadth attest to Street and Yumibe’s remarkable archival research and deft comparative analysis. Street and Yumibe’s exceptional book revises our understanding of 1920s film by showing how central color was to developments in cinema as well as how cinema was essential to modern chromatic culture.

MSA 2019 Book Prize Committee (2020)
Gayle Rogers, Chair
Leah Flack
Elizabeth Sheehan

MSA First Book Prize (for a book published in 2019)

Cahill, James Leo. Zoological Surrealism: The Nonhuman Cinema of Jean Painlevé. University of Minnesota Press, 2019.

Do not mistake Zoological Surrealism: The Nonhuman Cinema of Jean Painlevé for a niche author-study or for a peculiar footnote to a familiar art movement. This elegantly written, wide-ranging yet meticulous, constantly surprising work by James Leo Cahill shows how an extraordinary collaborative oeuvre of weird documentary emerges within French cinema to flood with sudden light a teeming, unexpected life at intersecting discourses and institutions of modern science, technology, art, pleasure, and violence. In Painlevé’s photographic entanglements with laboratory dogs, fashionable crabs, and enamoured seahorses, familiar ideas of what constitutes modernist cinema, modernist nature, and modernist social vision all suffer a sea-change, into something rich and strange.

WINNER: Cloutier, Jean-Christophe. Shadow Archives: The Lifecycles of African American Literature. Columbia University Press, 2019.

Shadow Archives: The Lifecycles of African American Literature by Jean-Christophe Cloutier is an original exploration of the creation, silent waiting, and spectral existence of African American writers’ archival legacies. The author delivers on a great number of levels, recounting a suspenseful scholarly story of his excavations within archival collections. These led to the discovery in 2009 of Claude McKay’s once-lost satirical novel Amiable with Big Teeth (written in 1941), which Cloutier then co-edited and published in 2017 and, later, of the uncatalogued manuscript for Ann Petry’s The Street (published in 1946). Cloutier’s description of the precarious trajectories of letters, notes, and manuscripts through time, in turn, leads to a powerful argument about African American authors’ archival sensibilities and their own inherent understanding of their fragile legacies. A significant contribution not only to modernist studies but a number of constituencies in the humanities, Shadow Archives enacts and argues for immersive engagements with archival labyrinths as a way to forge new disciplinary futures.

Davis II, Charles L. Building Character: The Racial Politics of Modern Architectural Style. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019.

Building Character: The Racial Politics of Modern Architectural Style is a compelling, erudite, and timely book by architectural historian Charles L. Davis II. Using the concept of character as an interpretive lens, Davis presents fascinating images and analyses of racial contents that have, until now, been missing from modernist and architectural debates. Moving from the Aryan character of Viollet-le-Duc’s Swiss huts and the ethnographic rationalizations of Dresden-based architect Gottfried Semper’s scientific rubrics, to an analysis of the whiteness of Louis Sullivan’s architectural designs for Chicago’s German Jews and William Lescaze’s New York City public housing towers, Davis launches a vital critical conversation about the historical integrations of race and style theory. In so doing he challenges us to discover more principled interpretations of the racial assumptions of organic architectural and modernist traditions.

Ehlers, Sarah. Left of Poetry: Depression America and the Formation of Modernist Poetics. University of North Carolina Press, 2019.

In Left of Poetry: Depression America and the Formation of Modern Poetics, Sarah Ehlers asks what makes a political poem: is it an inherent quality or is it reader-ordained? Ehlers’s superb study responds to this question, leading readers to a set of writers for whom poetic and political revolutions were not mutually exclusive: pro-Communist Left authors in the Americas working during in the 1930s, including Langston Hughes, Muriel Rukeyser, Genevieve Taggard, and Jacques Roumain. Moving through these figures’ employment of documentary and lyric modes, Left of Poetry crystallizes how politically engaged poetry surges from the immediacy of racial and economic struggle, and a particular understanding of the historical. In the exploration of these dynamics, Ehlers proposes new directions for historical poetics, while shedding light on a body of work consistently ignored by longstanding literary-critical canons. In multiple and often surprising ways, Left of Poetry cleverly examines the annals of the past to address our own tempestuous political present.

Hankins, Gabriel. Interwar Modernism and the Liberal World Order: Offices, Institutions, and Aesthetics after 1919. Cambridge University Press, 2019.

In his Interwar Modernism and the Liberal World Order, Gabriel Hankins brings a revelatory perspective to the interwar kaleidoscope of modernist politics by turning the axis of reference from familiar contests between left and right social formations, to the shifting, conflicted juggernaut of modern liberalism. Here, liberalism sheds its often evasive, monolithic skin and opens up to rigorous study, via its transnational institutions, of an innovative and unsettled world order having profound interactions with literary culture. Hankins’ judicious historicist and materialist accounts of writings by such canonical figures as Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, and W. E. B. Du Bois, and provocative readings of many less read and remembered others, open new windows on the commitments and struggles of modern literature. The book changes what the political looks like and means for modernist studies.

Micir, Melanie. The Passion Projects: Modernist Women, Intimate Archives, Unfinished Lives. Princeton University Press, 2019.

A heroic recovery of queer feminist literary history and criticism, Melanie Micir’s The Passion Projects: Modernist Women, Intimate Archives, Unfinished Lives celebrates women’s defiant literary and personal commitments in the face of ongoing erasure from the annals of modernism. Beautifully written, ferociously researched, energetically argued, this study documents, interprets, and theorizes a modernist genre out of the intimate, private biographical acts of lesbian and queer writers Radclyffe Hall, Una Troubridge, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Hope Mirrlees, Alice B. Toklas, among others. Reading biography as an activist genre undertaken in late career by queer feminist writers, The Passion Projects discovers in unpublished, unfinished, curated, collated, forward-looking works by women the ghostly materials awaiting discovery in the future of this book.

MSA 2019 First Book Prize Committee (2020)
Kristin Bluemel, Chair
María del Pilar Blanco
Glenn Willmott

2019 MSA Book Prize for for an edition, anthology, or essay collection

WINNER: Ned Blackhawk and Isaiah Lorado Wilner, eds., Indigenous Visions: Rediscovering the World of Franz Boas (Yale UP, 2018)

Franz Boas has received considerable attention from scholars in recent decades, so his roles formulating the disciplinary methods of anthropology, countering pseudo-scientific racisms, and mentoring a highly diverse and influential group of intellectuals are well known. However, this extraordinarily well researched volume edited and introduced by Blackhawk and Wilner demonstrates that Boas’s work accomplished so much, in large part, because it emerged out of a remarkably broad assemblage of Indigenous collaborators and because it formulated agency rather than passivity regarding the knowledge production of colonized and dispossessed peoples. In viewing Boas as a globalist thinker through his engagements with Native peoples, the contributors to this volume pose ambitious, fresh insights regarding the implications of Boas’s work across disciplinary boundaries and geographic regions, including Europe, African, and Latin America. Far from a celebration of Boas, essays also point to many new lines of critique in his work, including his assessments of Indigenous peoples’ futures. Approaching Boas as a theorist, practitioner, and facilitator of globalist inquiry, this scrupulously researched, richly evidenced, lucidly written volume challenges existing views of the politics and poetics of anthropology in a timely, illuminating way for 21st century discussions of global, regional, and local cultures for a wide range of disciplines.

Elsa Högberg and Amy Bromley, eds. Sentencing Orlando: Virginia Woolf and the Morphology of the Modernist Sentence(Edinburgh University Press, 2019)

Focused on Woolf’s ludic Orlando– the first scholarly collection to feature Woolf’s tongue-in-cheek experiment with biography and love-letter to Vita Sackville West—Sentencing Orlando ventures into new methodological terrain, taking impetus from “the historical and subversive force” ascribed to the sentence in Woolf’s work. As Woolf notes in “Craftsmanship,” “Thus one sentence of the simplest kind rouses the imagination, the memory, the eye, and the ear – all combine in reading it.” The volume’s sixteen contributors engage Orlando at the level of the sentence, close reading the form and structure of Orlando’s “wild” sentences “in the wider context of modernist aesthetics.” Each essay takes a single sentence from Orlando as a point of departure. The volume’s pathfinding work is undertaken on the context of the aesthetic turn in modernist scholarship and what Marjorie Levinson calls “activist formalism” – seeking to “reinstate close reading both at the curricular center of our discipline” and emphasizing the pleasure of the text as a precondition to criticism. As the editors note, “Sentencing Orlando makes a case for pleasurable, critical explorations in form in modernist fiction that begin at the level of the sentence” and “propose(s) a creative model not only for research, but also for classroom engagements with literature – one that cultivates a slow, deep … immersive reading practice that our digital age persistently undermines.” Individual essays address topics such as lesbian eroticism, allusion, intertextual echoes, allegory, pastoral, narratology, spirituality, and colonial violence.

Heather Cass White, Ed. New Collected Poems: Marianne Moore (FSG, 2018)

Marianne Moore is one of the most important and innovative poets of the 20th c., but her idiosyncratic practices of revision and omission have made it difficult for scholars to organize and access a comprehensive collection of her groundbreaking work. Heather Cass White’s New Collected Poems finally provides us with such a collection, consisting of all of Moore’s poems as originally published followed by a lengthy essay detailing and discussing Moore’s later revisions and suppressions. Expertly annotated with notes by both Moore and White, and elegantly designed by FSG, New Collected Poems is the definitive edition of this remarkable poet’s work and therefore a necessary component of any library of modernist poetry. In restoring the original published versions of these poems alongside a chronicle of their later revision, New Collected Poems will spur new appreciation of and scholarship on this unique inimitable literary artist.

2019 MSA Book Prize for an Edition, Anthology, or Essay Collection Committee
Loren Glass, University of Iowa (chair)

MSA Book Prize (for a book published in 2018)

WINNER: Lyndsey Stonebridge, Placeless People: Writing, Rights, and Refugees (Oxford UP)

Lyndsey Stonebridge’s profound, moving and timely book combines a critique of the human rights regime with a reinvestigation of literary modernism and modernist humanist thought. With eloquence and tenacity, Placeless People reveals how modernist assessments and lived experiences of statelessness and rightlessness force us to rethink what we mean by the ethics and practice of human rights today. Marrying close reading, archival insight, and in-depth understanding of the theory and practice of human rights, the book tackles one of the most urgent contemporary issues while shedding new light on past contexts. Stonebridge leads us patiently through a compelling series of mid-twentieth century texts and the experiences of or relating to placelessness that informed them: Hannah Arendt’s writings on human rights, Kafka’s novels as a form of fiction perfectly corresponding to the demise of rights and Brecht’s definition of the refugee as a “a messenger of ill tidings”; George Orwell’s 1984 as haunted by the ill-fated voyages of refugee boats at the beginning and in the aftermath of the Second World War; Simone Weil’s political-theological identification with the rightless and its legacy in the early 1950s films of Roberto Rossellini; Samuel Beckett’s work with the Irish Red Cross and his denouncement of facile humanitarianism; Dorothy Richardson’s journalistic writing on mass displacement and Thedore A. Morde’s 1950 documentary Sands of Sorrow; and W. H. Auden’s late 1930s poems juxtaposed to Yousif M. Qasmiyeh’s poetry of the borderline from the 2000s. Constructing deep-time links between extraordinary texts created by people in extraordinary circumstances and tracing the consistent failure of governments and international policy to address the scandal of statelessness and paradoxes of citizenship, Stonebridge’s Placeless People demonstrates powerfully why impassioned readings of modernist texts and contexts continue to matter.

Sara Blair, How the Other Half Looks: The Lower East Side and the Afterlife of Images (Princeton UP)

Sara Blair’s How the Other Half Looks takes on near mythic proportions as it recounts, in energetic, sometimes urgent prose, the social dynamics and aesthetic experiments that made the Lower East Side the iconic American site of alterity. It was here, where successive waves of immigrants met and were scrutinized by their Other Half, that the dynamic, heterogenous life of modernity, bristling with ambition and newfound hope yet rife with poverty, vice and crime, was made visible. Blair combines an ethnographer’s attention to telling cultural details, a historian’s zealous love for unvisited or misunderstood archives and a critic’s alertness to the meaning and force of images to convey, often with visceral intensity, how the Lower East Side felt as well as looked to the artists, photographers, writers and social reformers who were born or gravitated there to apprehend, but also to help shape modern America. These pages testify to the iconographic power of the Lower East Side, the allure it exercised over visual artists, themselves iconic, like D. W. Griffith, Paul Strand, Walker Evans, and Ben Shawn, and writers like Stephen Crane, Abraham Cahan, Henry Roth, Allen Ginsburg, Leroi Jones and Gary Shteyngart intent on capturing the roiling life of the newest Americans who had not yet shed their past nor made their future. In Blair’s commanding and always subtle commentary on the images generated in this quintessential American space of encounter, the Lower East Side emerges as a fundamental crucible for the forging of American modernity.

Kaira M. Cabañas, Learning from Madness: Brazilian Modernism and Global Contemporary Art (Chicago UP)

In Learning from Madness Kaira M. Cabañas provides an inspiring case study of a Brazilian modernism that developed in dialogue with the creative work of psychiatric patients. Focusing on the work of two psychiatrists—Osório César and Nise da Silveira—who created painting studios for their patients from the 1920s to 1960s, Cabañas argues that in contrast with similar experiments in Europe, in Brazil patients’ works were critiqued as art and, in fact, played an integral role in defining aesthetic modernism. Such art produced in and around psychiatric institutions resonates still in Brazilian popular culture today and has played a role in introducing a distinctive Brazilian modernism as a global modernism on the contemporary global art exhibition circuit. The latter sections of the book shift attention to how such art is curated in exhibitions and the politics of doing so. A blend of art history, transnational art theory and curatorial studies, this book by Cabañas works to undo some persistent modernist myths about authorship, creativity, the status of art and the legibility of the global through what she terms the “common creativity” of psychiatric patients and the critics and curators who engage with their work. This is a must-read for anyone trying to think through the complexities of curating and narrating a doubly-marginalised art practice as a form of global modernism. Cabañas carries out her study with nuance and delicacy, and raises a challenging set of questions that will inspire future scholarship.

Martino Stierli, Montage and the Metropolis: Architecture, Modernity, and the Representation of Space (Yale UP)

Martino Stierli’s Montage and the Metropolis is a landmark contribution to our understanding of relationship between the development and representation of urban space and the category and practice of montage. Engaging history and theory of architecture, photography, film, literature, historiography, and popular visual culture since the late nineteenth century, Stierli’s thoroughly researched and beautifully illustrated book reassesses the category of montage as not only a dominant modernist compositional principle but also a way to think about embodied moving through space more generally—a key strategy for the production of meaning, adopted by multiple constituencies. With its wide international scope and inspiring attention to detail, Montage and the Metropolis continuously surprises the reader. It segues from photomontage (in range from early photography to dadaists, futurists, and Soviet constructivists), through film theory of Sergei Eisenstein, Mies van der Rohe’s spatial experiments, to Rem Koolhaas’s use of literary montage, while engaging a further cohort of artists, writers, filmmakers and architects such as Paul Citroen, László Moholy-Nagy, George Grosz, Hannah Höch, Fritz Lang, expressionist poets, El Lissitzky, Dziga Vertov, Karl Moser, Le Corbusier, Sigfried Giedion, Emilio Ambasz and many others. The result is the path-breaking repositioning of montage as not only a key modernist concept but also a sociohistorically embedded living practice that both results from and shapes our new ways of seeing, cognizing, and experiencing space.

MSA Book Prize Committee (for a book published in 2018)
Sanja Bahun (chair), University of Essex

MSA First Book Prize (for a book published in 2018)

Lucia Allais, Designs of Destruction: The Making of Monuments in the Twentieth Century (University of Chicago Press)

In the stunning Designs of Destruction: The Making of Monuments in the Twentieth Century, architectural historian Lucia Allais, with breath-taking—but wholly realized—ambition, provides a fascinating and path-breaking approach to global architectural history, and in particular postwar urban architecture, through the construction and preservation of monuments. Showing how architectural practices have been entwined with what she calls monument discourse, she casts new light on how our collective memory is constructed, via detailed accounts of everything from the obliteration that occurred in the Second World War to the role played by international bureaucracy. The book is designed with panache and imagination, guiding the reader through the vast material that has been marshaled here, moving from the interwar period, to the seismic shock of WWII, and culminating in a revelatory discussion of the Temple of Abu Simbel in 1968. This is a work that is hard to pin down; Allais ranges across diverse topics of media history, preservation, and international governance, but all with a lightness of touch and a seductive prose style that belies its huge contribution to media history, the study of material culture, and the history of modernity.

Michaela Bronstein, Out of Context: The Uses of Modernist Fiction (Oxford University Press)

In this assured and elegant book, Michaela Bronstein asks us to consider what power the past holds over the present, and the shifting relation of the present to the past. For her, our collective desire to place the objects of our study in their proper historical order deserves more scrutiny: in doing so, our desire is to nail books down, to confine them, and to restrict them. Bronstein subverts the images of orderly inheritance that pervade modernist studies: as readers, we turn and ‘chase the dead’; they chase us in turn. Out of Context is an imaginative and idiosyncratic recasting of modernist literary history from the perspective of the reader and critic, throwing open the questions of what we do at all when we formulate such histories, and examining the idea of the trans-historical with fresh vigor and perspicuity. Her method is to put canonical modernist tests into new relations with contemporary works—her pairings are Henry James and James Baldwin, Joseph Conrad and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and William Faulkner and Ken Kesey—and these encounters, generating revelatory close-readings, wholly succeed in making us consider anew the chronology of influence and the possible role of modernist novels as providing “tools for a new era.”

Jesse Schotter, Hieroglyphic Modernisms: Writing and New Media in the Twentieth Century (Edinburgh University Press)

With a wonderfully lucid style, Hieroglyphic Modernisms deciphers the hieroglyphs at the heart of literary, cinematic, and digital modernism. Schotter argues that modernist theories of media depended on the Egyptian hieroglyph to explain the affordances of new technologies like film and to renew the possibilities of older ones, such as print. Hieroglyphs, even when mystified and misinterpreted as a purely pictorial language, enabled Euromodernists and postmodernists to recognize and experiment with the hybrid nature of writing. Schotter’s superb readings of Vachel Lindsay, Sergei Eisenstein, Virginia Woolf, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, Ishmael Reed, and others show how the perceived visuality of the hieroglyph shaped modernist conceptions of literary character, narrative form, cinematic style, and postwar computing. Yet, what makes this work truly stand out is Schotter’s refusal to stop at generative Western misconceptions of non-Western writing systems; instead, he brings the hieroglyph back to Egypt with analyses of early novels by Naguib Mahfouz and Tawfiq al-Hakim and the 1923 Egyptian film, In the Land of Tutankhamen, to offer compelling insights into Egyptian modernism’s own imagining of its ancient past. Breaking new ground across national and media traditions, Schotter’s book is sure to shape future conversations on modernism and comparative media studies.

Kate Stanley, Practices of Surprise in American Literature After Emerson (Cambridge University Press)

Shifting our attention from a poetics of shock to a more temporally capacious understanding of surprise, Kate Stanley’s ambitious study asks us to rethink several of the core assumptions underwriting nearly all accounts of modernist aesthetics. Practices of Surprise offers a fresh perspective on the paradoxically shopworn belief that modernism is defined by the ambition to make it new, suggesting on the contrary that the crucial goal for an important strain of literary modernists was the more challenging project of making it new again: how to teach their readers to prepare themselves to continue to be surprised by their texts and by the world. Rather than halting time or spatializing the temporal, Stanley illuminates the many ways that literature might stitch moments of aesthetic perception into the lived experience of their readers in temporally complex ways. Stanley traces a revealing genealogy of pragmatic modernism, highlighting a line of influence running through Emerson to Baudelaire and Proust and back to the American modernism of Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Nella Larsen, and John Cage. An important work of affect theory as well as a compelling example of pragmatist pedagogy, Stanley’s book lives up to its commitment to the belief that books can teach readers to see things in surprising ways.

WINNER: Robert Stilling, Beginning at the End: Decadence, Modernism, and Postcolonial Poetry (Harvard University Press)

This major publication gives new and global life to decadence. Robert Stilling argues that aestheticism and literary decadence, movements deeply associated with the decline of European empires, provided a rich source of inspiration for postcolonial writers and artists ranging from Agha Shahid Ali, Derek Walcott, and Wole Soyinka to Yinka Shonibare, Bernardine Evaristo, and Derek Mahon. What initiates this colloquy is the shared conviction that only a decadent poetics could capture the historical sensation of “beginning at the end.” Stilling beautifully describes how decadence allowed these figures to mediate between the desire for an autonomous individualism and the demands of burgeoning cultural nationalisms, which saw collective futures arising out of Europe’s fall. Individual chapters inventively pair fin-de-siècle and postcolonial writers, and offer masterful co-elaborations of artifice and beauty in the contexts of globalized industrialization and underdevelopment. By moving across Oscar Wilde and Ali, J.K. Huysmans and Evaristo, Henry James and Mahon, Stilling shows readers how a comparative and transnational approach to modernism can challenge the usual before-and-after of literary history and the critical shorthand we use to distinguish periods and styles from one another. This is a deeply learned and original work that shows the necessity of bringing modernist and postcolonial studies together.

Sara J. Townsend, The Unfinished Art of Theater: Avant-Garde Intellectuals in Mexico and Brazil (Northwestern University Press)

In this outstanding book, Sarah J. Townsend uncovers a series of fascinating stories from the early twentieth century histories of the Mexican and Brazilian avant-gardes, stories centered on impossible performances and events that never happened. Rather than cast the incomplete and unrealized visions of the artists and intellectuals it describes as failures, The Unfinished Art of Theater suggests instead that their unfinishedness provides an important opportunity to reconsider the association of the avant-garde with performative immediacy. The institutional weakness of theater in Mexico and Brazil, two countries on the semi-periphery of global capital, make it emblematic rather than exceptional of the temporal complexities of modernity. Townsend complicates standard theories of the avant-garde that associate it with rupture and refusal, underscoring instead the imbrication of vanguard aesthetics with experiences of dependency, belatedness, and the many contradictions generated by the uneven development of capitalism. Drawing on an impressive range of archival evidence and written with a rare combination of storytelling and theoretical savvy, Townsend’s book is a major intellectual history of the unfinished business of modernity.

MSA First Book Prize Committee
Brian Glavey, chair (University of South Carolina)

MSA Book Prize Winner (for a book published in 2017)

The Modernist Studies Association awards its Book Prize to Christopher Reed's Bachelor Japanists: Japanese Aesthetics and Western Masculinities (Columbia)

Bachelor Japanists is a deeply researched, beautifully written, rewarding account of Western connoisseurs’ engagements with a Japan of their wishful imagination across almost a century. As we travel from Paris in the second half of the nineteenth century, via early-twentieth-century Boston, to Seattle in the 1940s and 1950s, we meet an arresting range of ‘bachelors’—not always unmarried, and, indeed, not always men—who found in Japanese culture whole new ways of being and seeing. Reconstructing in compelling detail such estranging and emancipating encounters in what is among many other things a tour de force of cultural-historical storytelling, this original, assured, and independent-minded book takes seriously not just the pitfalls of fantasy but also its potentially life-changing pleasures.

Eric Bulson, Little Magazine, World Form (Columbia)

Two decades after the founding of the Modernist Journals Project, the archive of modernist little magazines seemed settled, the protocols for studying them established. Eric Bulson’s Little Magazine, World Form dramatically alters this consensus, by expanding the field far beyond the dense population of European and American magazines, and by foregrounding the formal and material particularity of the medium. Opening the field to the discursive procedures of media studies and world literature, two fields that have much to learn from each other, Bulson shows the form of the little magazine to have been as globally consequential as that of modernism, as it has been heretofore understood. Bulson honors the familiar story of the little magazine as the engine of international modernism, while also emphasizing equally critical instances of magazines’ failure to circulate, their exile, immobility, untranslatability, postcolonial failures or refusals of cultural reciprocity. In doing so he provides fresh accounts of canonical modernism’s early magazine publication, while bringing forward a vast archive of little magazines from nations not limited to Argentina, India, Nigeria, Jamaica, Japan, Poland. Little Magazine, World Form presents the little magazine as something of a character in its own right, a register of global political change, and an adaptive means of communication. Its chapters are appropriately asymmetrical, and the book non-hierarchical: despite its breadth, it provides no master narrative. Instead, it invokes a network still larger than the one it documents, inviting — demanding — further work.

Evan Kindley, Poet-Critics and the Administration of Culture (Harvard)

The expectation that poets should also write criticism is an idea that has become almost as naturalized as the association of poets with the culture and curriculum of the university. With a keen eye on the years between the Great Depression and the early postwar period, however, Evan Kindley’s Poet-Critics and the Administration of Culture returns us to a world where the university was only one of several possible refuges for poetic culture. During this period of radical cultural instability, poet-critics sought means of supporting their own and others’ poetic work, and forms of protection from an indifferent marketplace. As Kindley reveals, this relief was discovered not only in universities, but across a range of midcentury institutions, most notably government agencies and philanthropic foundations. The price of gaining such partial autonomy was to become an advocate for the liberal state, and subject to it. But it was also, as Kindley shows, often viewed as an opportunity, not only to secure a durable location for modernism, but one in which the poet-critic could be socially authorized as an expert arbiter of culture. A surprising but revealing emblem of this argument is the fact that so much of this institutional story should be imprinted in the poets’ verse. Alongside genuine archival discoveries, Kindley’s readings of Eliot, Auden, Marianne Moore, Sterling Brown, Archibald MacLeish and others provide us with new understanding of those poets and the sometimes very large claims they were willing to make on behalf of verse culture. Genially written but incisive in its analysis, Poet-Critics and the Administration of Culture is a model of economy and style. Kindley shows how these poet-critics were the architects of the world we now inhabit, albeit in a situation of far greater precarity. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in why and how we might defend this tenuous arrangement today.

Monica Penick, Tastemaker: Elizabeth Gordon, House Beautiful, and the Postwar American Home (Yale)

When we think of postwar American architecture and the modernist aesthetics that it bequeaths, we think of Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Philip Johnson, and other famous men. Few people would think of Elizabeth Gordon, editor-in-chief of the popular consumer magazine House Beautiful. But Monica Penick's monograph Tastemaker: Elizabeth Gordon, House Beautiful, and the Postwar American Home is about to change this. Simultaneously a rich history and an incisive analysis, this book gives us an engrossing account of how Gordon, through her magazine, shaped --indeed, made de rigueur -- some of the fundamental questions we ask today when it comes to our living environment: what is a "good design"; why that is of value; and what constitutes "better living." Indeed, Gordon may be the precursor to what we today call an "influencer," except her agenda is far from trivial. Preoccupied with issues of design as an ethics of the quotidian, with the challenges of the climate control and American regionalism, Gordon used her magazine House Beautiful as a vehicle to promulgate her philosophic and intellectual ideas. And, as Penick so beautifully documents, Gordon's editorial programs reshaped ideas about American living, and, by extension, what consumers bought, what designers, made and what manufacturers brought to market. This implicitly feminist treatise also reminds us that, when it comes to understanding modernist architecture, design, and taste (which is to say, value), we would do well to turn our attention beyond the usual sources (for example, professional and often predominantly masculine architectural journals) to the presumably domestic and more peripheral site of a “woman’s magazine.” Elegantly written, full of unexpected archival details and gorgeous photographs of mid-century architecture and design, this book reinvents the archive of modernist aesthetics.

MSA Book Prize Committee (for a book published in 2017)
Jeremy Braddock (chair), Cornell University
Anne Anlin Cheng, Princeton University
Marina McKay, University of Oxford

MSA First Book Prize Winner (for a book published in 2017)

The Modernist Studies Association awards its Prize for a First Book to Adrienne Brown's The Black Skyscraper: Architecture and the Perception of Race (Johns Hopkins UP, 2017)

How did modern architecture mediate the lived experience of race? Bringing together the cross-cutting histories of Reconstruction, late nineteenth-century immigration into the United States, and the dawn of the Jim Crow era, Adrienne Brown’s The Black Skyscraper: Architecture and the Perception of Race invites us to look at tall buildings from a dazzling new perspective. In the years between the skyscraper’s invention in the 1880s and the unveiling of the Empire State Building in 1931, Brown argues, denizens of American cities entered into a new “racial sensorium,” a phenomenological condition characterized by the disorienting, seemingly anti-gravitational proliferation of taller and taller buildings. The Black Skyscraper revisits canonical works by Howells, James, Larsen, Fitzgerald, and DuBois to uncover a powerful relationship between race and architectural form that determines the modern individual’s racially coded place (or placelessness) within metropolitan social hierarchies. And the skyscraper’s complex visuality not only influenced the aesthetics of realist fiction and flights of modernist experimentation, but also contributed to the stylistic and generic variety of popular Jazz Age and Harlem Renaissance forms: pulp, melodrama, and science fiction. Brown’s study marries rich archival and historical research with close readings of literary texts, revealing how the skyscraper’s scale, and the shadows it cast, produced crucial – and until now overlooked – racial dimensions of American modernism.

Sonya Posmentier, Cultivation and Catastrophe: The Lyric Ecology of Black Literature (Johns Hopkins UP, 2017)

Impressive in both scope and depth, Sonya Posmentier’s Cultivation and Catastrophe: The Lyric Ecology of Black Literature opens new horizons for ecocritical study of Black literature, particularly experimental twentieth-century poetry. Every chapter offers trenchant insight into Black writers’ engagement with “haunted ecologies,” while also raising acute questions about eco-critical methodologies in relation to Black diasporic aesthetics and (inter)nationalism as well as Black pessimism, optimism, and temporality. In rendering the bodily and communal experience of “catastrophic rupture” within ruinous landscapes, Black lyric poetry, Posmentier argues, also cultivates a futurity and continuity that ultimately “reorients the temporality of Black history.” She builds a sense of this temporal reorienting across several generations in her exquisite poetic readings of lyric poets and singers ranging from Claude McKay, Sterling Brown, and Bessie Smith to Gwendolyn Brooks, Derek Walcott and M. NourbeSe Philip. At the same time, Posmentier’s remixed formulations about the sonic, the textual, the bodily, and the environmental reverberate across genres—as she indicates in her reading of lyrics in Zora Neale Hurston’s fiction. In this way, Sonya Posmentier’s breathtaking study sheds light on several genres of Black literature, and indeed on the bio-political work of many literatures.

Catherine Walworth, Soviet Salvage: Imperial Debris, Revolutionary Reuse, and Russian Constructivism (Penn State UP, 2018)

An astute, impish bricoleur’s voice enlivens Soviet Salvage: Imperial Debris, Revolutionary Reuse, and Russian Constructivism—as is fitting for this creative, interdisciplinary study of Constructivism’s aesthetic-functionalist practices after the 1917 Russian Revolution. Catherine Walworth’s own bricoleur method issues in a startling reframing of the “modernist” early phase Russian Communist art. Amid postrevolutionary shortages of essential goods in Russia, Walworth first of all points out, reuse and recycling were part of “a pervasive reality.” Everything from tea cups to buildings were caught up in this retooling, yielding ironic fusions of the imperial and the revolutionary. Thus the Bolsheviks administered their revolution from the lavishly furnished rooms of the imperial Winter Place, which also held a workshop where artists reimagined principles of design and refashioned luxury objects into functional ones. There the often hungry, cold artmakers themselves depended on “retoolings,” cutting up expensive carpets to create warm boots. Keeping her own readers grounded in these material realities, Walworth makes visceral the ways in which this combination of material scarcity and revolutionary reoccupation of the habitus gave birth to Constructivism’s signature features—splicings of styles and spatial planes, and streamlining of form and function. Walworth’s visually stimulating and expertly written study deserves a wide readership among historians, political theorists, and literary and visual arts scholars. For by focusing on the ways that Russian artists gave new form to the “debris” of empire, Walworth offers far-reaching insights into the ways that art undergirds the political economy of states—and their historical remaking.

Tom McEnaney, Acoustic Properties: Radio, Narrative, and the New Neighborhood of the Americas (Northwestern University Press, 2017)

The role of radio’s “narrative acoustics” in in reshaping social relations across the Americas is the subject of this superb study, which combines rigorously revisionist media history with visionary conceptual power to tell the fascinating story of radio’s narrative revolutions. Radio’s forms of mediation gave its narratives and those it inspired new perspectives, new temporalities, and new maps for public connections. The results, discovered there through extensive work with diverse archival materials, changed everything from ways of listening to ideas of property ownership. New techniques of mediation prompted John Dos Passos to shape his fiction as a response to New Deal acoustics. Radio helped Raymond Chandler and Carson McCullers developed new media forms for property-rights advocacy. Radio’s popular acoustics gave Richard Wright new ways to conceive of black voice and shared speech. Its effects upon listening and imitation prompted Manuel Puig to transform the very idea of authorship, and its radionovelas became a forum for promoting the Good Neighbor Policy in Cuba. These and other ingenious ways of reading radio’s narrative techniques make Acoustic Properties a dazzling contribution to media theory, hemispheric studies, and the theory of narrative, among the many other fields for which its profound transmedial insight will be transformative.

Allison Morehead, Nature’s Experiments and the Search for Symbolist Form (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2017)

Morehead’s ingenious work shifts the very foundations of modernist visual culture through nothing less than a redefinition of modernist symbolism, which now emerges as product of the late-nineteenth-century epistemology of experiment. This boldly revisionist idea involves another foundational aspect of modernism: experimentalism itself, which here means a method grounded in nature’s own experiments, the often bizarre phenomena and pathological alterities through which nature reveals itself. Explaining how a set of central symbolist artists went from such naturalist revelations to symbolist forms, Morehead develops a fascinating account of a cultural formation without which we would not have the forms of avant-gardism that define modernism—that have defined it without recognizing the debt of radical experiment to the pathological method that actually inspired the deformities of Maurice Denis, the arabesques of Édouard Vuillard, and the methodical madness of Edvard Munch. Not only is the meaning of experimental modernism at stake in this brilliant argument, but also our idea of what modernism makes of otherness. Arguing for a new way to understand the use of alterity to modernist forms, Morehead discovers the ethics as well as the aesthetics of symbolism’s secret naturalism.

William Schaefer, Shadow Modernism: Photography, Writing and Space in Shanghai, 1925-1937 (Duke UP, 2017).

Shadow Modernism brings a welcome historical and theoretical dynamism to modernism’s international currents. Schaefer eschews longstanding East/West dichotomies to explain how Shanghai’s dense fields of cultural production in the early 20th century contributed to and reflected global modernist forms. This carefully written study – which focuses on Chinese literary texts as well as photography, cartoons, landscape painting, and avant-garde and popular magazine layout – documents the emergence of art-forms marked by historical self-consciousness and the desire to capture the fractured, abstract, and dissociative qualities of Shanghai’s urban modernity. Shadow Modernism secures a place for Shanghai’s artists in the canons and archives of modernism through its detailed, beautifully illustrated presentation of figures such as the critic Fu Lei, the editor and fiction writer Shi Zecun, and the magazines Xiandai (“Les contemporains”) and Wenyi fengjing (“Literary landscape”). Photography, Schaefer demonstrates, with its new techniques for mediating reality, is the genre that helps us to understand Shanghai’s role as the center of Chinese modernity even as that city’s artists navigated their marginal status in a world still driven by Western colonialism.

MSA First Book Prize Committee
Urmila Seshagiri, chair (University of Tennessee Knoxville)
Laura Doyle (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Jesse Matz (Kenyon College)

2017 MSA Book Prize Winner for for an edition, anthology, or essay collection

The Modernist Studies Association awards its Book Prize for an edition, anthology or essay collection to Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue for The Poems of T.S. Eliot (London: Faber & Faber, 2015)

This major publication is a landmark in modernist scholarship and poetry editing, a superb critical edition of the poems establishing a new text of the Collected Poems 1909-1962, presenting Eliot’s uncollected verse (including love poems to his wife Valerie Eliot), Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the Anabase translation, bawdy verse; and, very importantly, a new reading text (or editorial composite) of the drafts of The Waste Land. Each of Eliot’s poems and major projects has its own full commentary, wonderfully comprehensive, imaginative in its range, scrupulously scholarly, and the two volumes close with a full textual history of the poems. The Waste Land alone has a 62-page commentary – which will change the way we read this key epochal text – and 56 pages of textual history. This is a nine-year project by the editors, magisterial in its range, depth and scope, and the finesse of the editorial policy and practice is matchless.

Heather Bowen-Struyk and Norma Field, eds. For Dignity, Justice, and Revolution: An Anthology of Japanese Proletarian Literature (University of Chicago Press, 2016)

For Dignity, Justice, and Revolution fills an important gap in modernist studies. Painstakingly assembled, expertly translated, and skilfully edited into thematic (justice, imperialism, and childhood), form (realism and anti-realism) and format (“wall” stories) clusters, this anthology is a landmark introduction to the Japanese literature and theoretical texts by and for the poor and working classes in the 1920s and the 1930s. Often ignored in scholarship and translations, and vulnerable to oblivion due to censorship and transient modes of publication, these texts significantly reposition and expand our understanding of Japanese literature, transnational modernism, and the category of the proletariat as such.

Laura Marcus, Michele Mendelssohn, and Kirsten E. Shepherd-Barr, eds. Late Victorian into Modern (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016)

This impressive collection illuminates modernism through a much-needed focus on the ‘in-between’ literary and cultural moments and formations that signal the transition and interrelation between literary ‘eras’. With a welcome emphasis on genre, material culture and emergent knowledges, and a strong literary backbone, the material collected here expertly and often innovatively fleshes out the continuities and transformations of persistent concepts, styles and visions that may otherwise be aritificially segregated in accounts or mappings driven by the institutional need for strict periodisation.

Richard Begam and Matthew Wilson Smith, eds. Modernism and Opera (John Hopkins University Press, 2016)

Methodologically sophisticated and genuinely innovative, Modernism and Opera is a necessary book. The editors have brought together leading musicologists, performance and literary scholars, in a dialogue crossing disciplines, planes, and scales. The result is a fascinating look—the first of its kind—at the interactions of modernism(s) and opera, covering topics such as intermediality, anti-theatricality, charged collaborations (Stein and Thomson’s, Čapek and Janáček’s), and modernist master-pieces (Stravinsky’s, Schoenberg’s, Messiaen's). The books pursues both key cross-sections and tangents with editorial tenacity and vision, allowing canonical and less known texts to illuminate each other, and the twentieth century culture as a whole.

Mark Gaipa, Sean Latham, & Robert Scholes, eds. The Little Review "Ulysses", (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015)

Readers tend to associate Ulysses with the annus mirabilis of 1922, yet the novel was first (part) published between 1918 and 1920, serialized in the The Little Review, edited by Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, until the sensational obscenity trial in 1921 forced them to cease publication. This edition of the Little Review ‘Ulysses’ gives a colourful and considered account of each instalment, placing the episodes as they appeared into contact and contrast with the rest of the journal’s contents; as well as discussing, deftly and with admirable punchy economy, the more salient of differences between the Little Review version and the 1922 text and other variants. The notes and contexts are wonderfully rich and useful as a resource, presenting the first edition of this literature-transformative novel, from Telemachus to Nausicaa, in ways that will change the way we read, teach and respond to literary modernism.

Sean Pryor and David Trotter, eds. Writing, Medium, Machine: Modern Technographies (London: Open Humanities Press, 2016)

This sophisticated collection gathers together highly readable, theorised and informative essays on the technologies of writing that underpin the modernist aesthetic, defining genres and some of its key artistic moments. The detailed attention to the material base here goes beyond a cataloguing of the various media and machines that made modernism possible and concerns itself deeply with the very concept of writing as technology (and vice versa). Under the proposed rubric suggested by the term ‘technography’, the essays collected here offer hugely engaging accounts of the medial dimension of modern life against a dazzling textual, contextual and scientific range of reference.

2017 MSA Book Prize for an Edition, Anthology, or Essay Collection Committee
Vassiliki Kolocotroni, University of Glasgow (chair)
Adam Piette, University of Sheffield
Sanja Bahun, University of Essex

MSA First Book Prize (for a book published in 2016)

The Modernist Studies Association awards its First Book Prize to Emily C. Bloom's, The Wireless Past: Anglo-Irish Writers and the BBC, 1931-1968 (Oxford University Press, 2016)

Despite being distinct in terms of politics and aesthetics, W. B. Yeats, Louis MacNeice, Elizabeth Bowen and Samuel Beckett are bound together by their extensive engagement with the radio medium. In The Wireless Past, Emily Bloom examines how modern literature came to be shaped by this new medium, for which writers were encouraged to use interior monologues, first-person narration and an intimate mode of address. But Yeats, MacNeice, Bowen and Beckett also developed distinctive techniques for conceptualizing radio publics, as Bloom shows in each chapter. Yeats’s radio poetry evoked traditional spaces for oral poetry such as the Greek stage and then showed the impossibility of these spaces for modern poetics. MacNeice’s poetry and radio scripts highlighted the complexities of communication in wartime, as radio came to be used as a powerful propaganda tool but also as a way to connect people isolated by travel restrictions. The Wireless Past makes a significant contribution to the field of “radio modernism” – a field that has grown rapidly as a major research trend in modernist studies.

MSA First Book Prize shortlist (for a book published in 2016)

Noam M. Elcott, Artificial Darkness: An Obscure History of Modern Art and Media (University of Chicago Press, 2016)

Noam M. Elcott thrillingly flips our attention from the illuminating force of modern media to the elemental condition of darkness that lies behind it. Beginning with the black screen of Jules-Étienne Marey’s Physiological Station and the darkened house of Richard Wagner’s Festspielhaus, Elcott delivers a genealogy of 19th- and early-20th-century media experiments that were built upon an apparatus of darkness—with varying material supports, technologies, and effects on the perception of bodies and space. Without an understanding of darkness, Elcott shows, we miss much of what is most modern about the cinema of Georges Méliès and the avant-garde productions of Bauhaus master Oskar Schlemmer. Elcott’s “media archeology” not only reveals an intermedial dispositif of artificial darkness underlying modern art but it deeply enriches the notion of darkness itself. By clarifying the dark surround that until now we have not seen for the light, Artificial Darkness vivifies the very ground through which our modern figures are conceived.

Cóilín Parsons, The Ordnance Survey and Modern Irish Literature (Oxford University Press, 2016)

The Ordnance Survey and Modern Irish Literature presents a new map of Irish modernism. Parsons's account of the Ordnance Survey reveals this state-sponsored mapping project of the nineteenth century to be a compelling ur-text for comprehending formal literary innovations. His lively account of the genealogy of the Survey -- which notably plotted an unprecedented scale of six inches to one mile, necessitating a new order of detail to fill in its expanded grids -- launches revelatory readings of the Survey archive as a dialectics of the epistemological interventions of colonial governance. This deep dive into the archive critically reframes literary adventures of scale in Synge, Joyce, and, finally, Beckett. Parsons has mapped the Ordnance Survey itself within global arcs of imperial knowledge, and The Ordnance Survey and Modern Irish Literature offers rich literary payoffs that demonstrate the thorough imbrication of mapping within modernism.

Richard Jean So, Transpacific Community: America, China, and the Rise and Fall of a Cultural Network (Columbia University Press, 2016)

Transpacific Community returns to humanist principles as a vital mode for comprehending a transpacific network of public intellectuals in the interwar period. By attending to the use and effect of liberal concepts -- strikingly, So takes on "democracy" as a key term -- the study performs a number of critical interventions: it argues for the efficacy of humanist ideals as communication; provides a network model for literary community; and revises the space of the Pacific as a coeval common ground. These major claims work through well-researched accounts of the literary forms and materials marshaled by five writers: Agnes Smedley, Pearl Buck, Raul Robeson, Lin Yutang, and Lao She. This is a surprising constellation of figures whose significance to each other So convincingly demonstrates, and it is with exceptional rigor and verve that Transpacific Community presents a revelatory cultural network.

MSA First Book Prize Committee (for a book published in 2016)
Josephine Park, chair (University of Pennsylvania)
Nell Andrew (The University of Georgia)
Lise Jaillant (Loughborough University)

MSA Book Prize (for a book published in 2016)

The Modernist Studies Association awards its Book Prize to Sam Bardaouil's Surrealism in Egypt: Modernism and the Art and Liberty Group (I.B. Taurus, 2016)

Surrealism in Egypt historically and critically recuperates the Art and Liberty surrealist group in World War II Egypt. While recovering this late modernist network, it leverages the contingencies and exigencies of the group to question deep set assumptions about center and periphery as well as the critical habits that assume totalizing narratives of imperialism and Orientalism. This approach buttresses and challenges narratives of decolonization and their inherently Eurocentric focus on imperial power – it instead asks how Egyptian Surrealism extended outward and demanded global changes. Bardaouil establishes the enormous scope of the Art and Liberty movement, reaching from Spain to Syria and Cairo to Paris, but also and most effectively recovers long neglected original art and archives. The ready movement between primary materials in Arabic, French, and English brings this cosmopolitan group into coherence and demands attention from the wider study of late modernism. The “exhibition” pattern, or comparatist approach, is skilfully handled and made accessible to readers from different disciplines. With its attachment to the Art et Liberté: Rupture, War and Surrealism in Egypt (1938–1948) exhibition, Surrealism in Egypt is a polemical yet persuasively readable promise, a promise to alter how modernist studies approaches the surrealist tradition.

MSA Book Prize Shortlist (for a book published in 2016)

Patrick Collier, Modern Print Artefacts: Textual Materiality and Literary Value in British Print Culture, 1890–1930s (Edinburgh University Press, 2016)

Modern Print Artefacts delivers a rich rethinking of the materiality of texts, resonantly and emphatically turning attention to the physical artefact from a broader modernism of periodicals yet demanding changes to what modernist studies means by “periodical studies.” The study relentlessly uncovers the importance of the material production of modernist works and print cultures even and especially where this dogs the comfortable assumptions of the field. In its conclusions, it offers a disciplinary reach across the field to ask how such discussions are limited or relegated to peripheral disciplinary venues. The polemic is demanding for modernist studies and urgently calls for both scholarly and professional soul searching, while at the same time the archival and critical investigations offered here give readers meaningful anchors in the material history of modernism.

Thomas S. Davis, The Extinct Scene: Late Modernism and Everyday Life (Columbia University Press, 2016)

The Extinct Scene shows that the everyday has not only arrived in modernist studies but has continuing vitality in the quotidian of late modernism. The project is entirely readable with a consistently clear thesis entangling the everyday with a belated world systems approach to modernity. The intersemiotic correlation of Moore and H.D. is brilliantly crafted, and the demands for new approaches to Elizabeth Bowen and Henry Green are persuasive. The deft movement between theoretical insights that bridge the local and contingent with the global and inexorable, all in concert with textual exegesis and close reading, make it difficult to foresee future work on late modernism or the everyday that does not engage with The Extinct Scene.

Andrew Epstein, Attention Equals Life: The Pursuit of the Everyday in Contemporary Poetry and Culture (Oxford University Press, 2016)

Attention Equals Life is the culmination of work from the past several years on modernism and the everyday, particularly American poetry moving toward the mid-century. The book is extremely readable for broad audiences and makes a compelling extension of discussions of the everyday, both from an American standpoint and with a focus on mid-century literary production. The nuanced attention to poetic language is convincing and the theoretical and philosophical argumentation is bested only by detailed analyses of poems, which are frequent and efficient. Close attention to the text itself is always diligently related to the American philosophical tradition so that textual analyses do not operate as mere illustrations but signal a new step in scholarship. This study challenges our perception of poetry as a genre and as a form – it raises new questions in terms of poetics, aesthetics, and ethics, and particularly how poetry works as a form of cultural and political action. Attention Equals Life is a completely convincing work.

Carrie J. Preston, Learning to Kneel: Noh, Modernism, and Journeys in Teaching (Columbia University Press, 2016)

Learning to Kneel delivers an enticingly original approach to Noh and modernism that interweaves research and personal experience as well as scholarship and pedagogical experience. In doing so, it demands two readers: the scholar studying and the reader who is drawn through a personal narrative. The daring insertion of personal experience (studying and teaching) into literary scholarship demands a conceptual link between the experience of performance in Noh theatre, an embodied experience of inter-cultural communication, and textual scholarship in the literary history of modernist expropriations and biased inspirations by Americans and Europeans of Japan. This project requires and is met with a careful back-and-forth movement between translators, “bad” modernist Eurocentric adoptions and misunderstandings of foreign traditions, the familiar impossibility of translation, and ultimately the lived experience of staged performance. Movements between exoticization and personal experience are so deeply entangled here that Learning to Kneel calls to each reader differently.

MSA Book Prize Committee (for a book published in 2016)
James Gifford (chair), Fairleigh Dickinson University
Isabelle Keller-Privat, Université Toulouse – Jean Jaurès
Roger Rothman, Bucknell University

2016 MSA Book Prize

The Modernist Studies Association awards its 2016 Book Prize to Paul Saint-Amour's Tense Future: Modernism, Total War, Encyclopedic Form (Oxford University Press, 2015)

Tense Future tackles modernism as a product of the interwar period in terms of the collective psychological effects of the imminent dread produced by total war. The study draws out this new phenomenology of anticipation as one among other of the strands of modernism which can no longer be united under some global theory of modernism or modernity. This approach yields a series of stimulating readings of those modernist classics which deal with war – Parade’s End, Ulysses, Mrs Dalloway and The Years – and makes a welcome foray outside that corpus to Cicely Hamilton’s Savage, moving on to the question of historical archiving, which opens up the topic of the encyclopedism of modernism as a response to the fragility of civilizations revealed by total war. Aiming to be polyvalent and suggestive, Saint-Amour’s text repeatedly glances forward from the interwar to the cold war, setting up models of interference which remind modernist studies not to be bound by period. Throughout, this study develops its arguments carefully through many layers, presents its case studies with clarity and control, and rewards the reader with a constant flow of insight.

2016 Book Prize Shortlist

The Modernist Studies Association has announced its short list for the 2016 MSA Book Prize. One of these four books will be presented as the award winner in Pasadena at our 18th annual conference, November 17-20. We offer our congratulations to all of the finalists.

Weihong Bao, Fiery Cinema: The Emergence of an Affective Medium in China, 1915-1945 (University of Minnesota Press, 2015)

Fiery Cinema tracks the emergence of a particular set of discourses around and practices in Chinese cinema in the period 1915-45. In this context, it argues, cinema is understood to be an affective medium, which means not only that it solicits an immediate affective response from the audience but that it also serves as a ‘mediating environment’ immersing the personal in the social. Bao recovers a rich vocabulary and set of theories from Chinese film journals in support of this thesis with scholarly commitment and intellectual daring. The book’s controlling metaphor of fire carries the reader through several phases of Chinese cinema in its social and historical locatedness – from the early martial arts films of Shanghai, via left-wing spoken film, through to the global aspirations of the Chongquing cinema industry. The developments within cinema are related in detail to emergent media, architecture, commodity culture, and the demands of propaganda. Fiery Cinema is a fascinating and altogether accessible account of an area of film which has been little discussed in the context of Modernist Studies.

William J. Maxwell, F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature (Princeton University Press, 2015)

F.B. Eyes is an extraordinarily rich account of FBI surveillance of African American modernists from the origins of the FBI to the 1970s. It is striking not only for its account of the reach and extent of this surveillance but also for its links to the literary critical establishment, from the well-known story of Encounter to the role played by the likes of William C. Sullivan, Robert Adger Bowen and Norman Holmes Pearson. Maxwell shows how the FBI’s study of African American writers was tightly bound to the agency’s successful evolution under Hoover, and casts the FBI as perhaps the most dedicated and influential forgotten critic of African American literature, showing how the FBI helped, even, to define the twentieth-century Black Atlantic. The work’s theses on the formation of the Black Atlantic have a resonance and significance for modernist studies beyond the immediate historical context, and Maxwell makes a welcome challenge to received views of modernist cosmopolitanism and exile. While closely focussed on the history of the FBI, and taking its place within the now extensive body of work on that subject, F.B. Eyes is a dense work of scholarship which has essential implications for the understanding of Afro-modernism.

Paul Saint-Amour, Tense Future: Modernism, Total War, Encyclopedic Form (Oxford University Press, 2015)

Tense Future tackles modernism as a product of the interwar period in terms of the collective psychological effects of the imminent dread produced by total war. The study draws out this new phenomenology of anticipation as one among other of the strands of modernism which can no longer be united under some global theory of modernism or modernity. This approach yields a series of stimulating readings of those modernist classics which deal with war – Parade’s End, Ulysses, Mrs Dalloway and The Years – and makes a welcome foray outside that corpus to Cicely Hamilton’s Savage, moving on to the question of historical archiving, which opens up the topic of the encyclopedism of modernism as a response to the fragility of civilizations revealed by total war. Aiming to be polyvalent and suggestive, Saint-Amour’s text repeatedly glances forward from the interwar to the cold war, setting up models of interference which remind modernist studies not to be bound by period. Throughout, this study develops its arguments carefully through many layers, presents its case studies with clarity and control, and rewards the reader with a constant flow of insight.

Vincent Sherry, Modernism and the Reinvention of Decadence (Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Modernism and the Reinvention of Decadence challenges conventional modernist literary history by tracing the multiple impacts and influences of decadent aesthetics, and cuts an original line through a broad range of the traditional materials of modernism, focusing on a decadent time sense that resonates in the 'poetic' pose from Wilde and Poe to Lawrence and Conrad. This study is an important contribution to our understanding of the continuities between fin-de-siècle, Edwardian and Modernist literature. It is impressively comprehensive in its attempt to map out and find pathways through what often seems like a disparate and confusing area of literary history with which we are still coming to terms. Sherry’s study is at once broad in scope and refined in the detail of its exegeses, and moves deftly between some of the best-known documents of modernism and rich findings from the archive. Not least, this book helps us grasp the aesthetic consequences of the implicit conflict between the progressivism of the modernist sensibility and the cult of loss and exhaustion which characterises decadence.

2016 MSA Book Prize Committee
David Ayers (chair), University of Kent
Alan Golding, University of Louisville
Suzanne Hobson, Queen Mary University of London

2016 MSA Prize for a First Book

The Modernist Studies Association awards its 2016 Prize for a First Book to Hannah Freed-Thall's Spoiled Distinctions: Aesthetics and the Ordinary in French Modernism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015)

Elegantly conceived and beautifully written, Hannah Freed-Thall’s Spoiled Distinctions examines French modernism’s aesthetic preoccupation with the commonplace and everyday. Through its analytically astute engagements with language and form, Spoiled Distinctions argues that in and around the deceptively empty terminology of the “quelconque,” writers from Proust to Yasmina Reza describe an involving variety of artistic experience and response that emerges in the indeterminate, “whatever” styles of attention to aspects our shared world that seem hard to specify or value. In a series of subtle, intricate, and absorbing close readings, Freed-Thall discovers a wonderfully disruptive sense of modernism as a mode that is attuned to registers of meaning that become weirdly beautiful in their stubborn embodiment of the ordinary, even as they come to suggest that our perceptual field is all but sublimely nuanced in its capacity to elude the names we use to order and contain it.

View the 2016 First Book Prize Shortlist

2016 MSA First Book Prize Committee
David James (Chair), Queen Mary, University of London
Tsitsi Jaji, Duke University
Mark Goble, University of California–Berkeley

2016 MSA Prize for a First Book Shortlist

The Modernist Studies Association has announced its short list for the 2016 MSA Book Prize. One of these four books will be presented as the award winner in Pasadena at our 18th annual conference, November 17-20. We offer our congratulations to all of the finalists.

C. D. Blanton, Epic Negation: The Dialectical Poetics of Late Modernism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015)

With great theoretical and philosophical virtuosity, C. D. Blanton recalibrates the interpretive and historical possibilities of late modernist poetics. Epic Negation convincingly reconsiders British literature in the 1930s, a period regularly understood to mark the retreat of the “Auden generation” (including Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice, Cecil Day-Lewis, and William Empson) from the precedents and commitments of such outsized precursors as T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Developing an ambitious conceptual matrix, Blanton understands their writings not as diminished echoes of a prior generation’s monumental innovations, but as tactical responses to perceptions of crisis, locally and globally. Epic Negation thereby confronts and corrects a conventional story of modernism’s decline or dissipation toward mid-century, arguing that more lyrically self-contained works both sustain and radically intensify Pound’s own “epic” injunction to make poems that “include history.” In Blanton’s account, late modernism is therefore still epic modernism, though by other means – embracing poetic practices “attenuated and dislocated, in a crucial sense disarticulated, by the very history” they must incorporate.

Hannah Freed-Thall, Spoiled Distinctions: Aesthetics and the Ordinary in French Modernism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015)

Elegantly conceived and beautifully written, Hannah Freed-Thall’s Spoiled Distinctions examines French modernism’s aesthetic preoccupation with the commonplace and everyday. Through its analytically astute engagements with language and form, Spoiled Distinctions argues that in and around the deceptively empty terminology of the “quelconque,” writers from Proust to Yasmina Reza describe an involving variety of artistic experience and response that emerges in the indeterminate, “whatever” styles of attention to aspects our shared world that seem hard to specify or value. In a series of subtle, intricate, and absorbing close readings, Freed-Thall discovers a wonderfully disruptive sense of modernism as a mode that is attuned to registers of meaning that become weirdly beautiful in their stubborn embodiment of the ordinary, even as they come to suggest that our perceptual field is all but sublimely nuanced in its capacity to elude the names we use to order and contain it.

Steven S. Lee, The Ethnic Avant-Garde: Minority Cultures and World Revolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015)

In The Ethnic Avant-Garde, Steven S. Lee considers a moment in the 1920s and 30s when minorities could envision themselves at the forefront of both artistic innovation and cultural revolution. Moving between the Soviet avant-garde and African Americans, Jewish Americans and Asian Americans, Lee’s rigorously historicized and argumentatively complex account of the relationship between aesthetics and politics across the World War Two divide reconstructs a story of intercultural-artistic possibility in which three conceptual categories (vanguard, avant-garde, and ethnic identity) were not incompatible and do not by necessity have to be. The book retells a story of the famously fraught relationship between the two internationals (the vanguard and the avant-garde) through their engagement with racial and colonial oppression. In so doing, Lee moves athwart the perspectives of Marxist scholarship and critical race studies alike to reveal that socialist aspiration and ethnic difference can indeed be compatible, if only when the latter attachment involves cross-ethnic identification rather than ethnic exceptionalism.

Nicole Rizzuto, Insurgent Testimonies: Witnessing Colonial Trauma in Modern and Anglophone Literature (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015)

Insurgent Testimonies challenges the temporal and territorial boundaries of modernism in utterly compelling ways. With a methodological vocabulary that synthesizes incisive close readings of form with an account of the perception of psychic and social damage, Nicole Rizzuto traces how testimony to the traumas of British imperial violence was secreted into modernist insurgent writing. The book ranges agilely across genres, moving beyond fiction to include autobiography, critical essays, and other modes of confessional writing. Through meticulous readings of texts by Joseph Conrad, Rebecca West, H.G., V.S. Reid, and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Rizzuto demonstrates the political and ethical rewards of intimate attention to style and structure. Her readings of trauma itself transform our affective and historical understanding of its anatomy and consequences; rather than privileging rupture, she shows how trauma operates in networks of memory. Moving with ease across the twentieth century to reframe modernist writing and its legacies, the book undertakes vital work that will bring postcolonial, transnational, and trauma studies into fresh and difficult dialogues with modernism.

2016 MSA First Book Prize Committee
David James (Chair), Queen Mary, University of London
Tsitsi Jaji, Duke University
Mark Goble, University of California–Berkeley

2015 MSA Book Prize

The Modernist Studies Association awards its 2015 Book Prize to Janet Poole's When the Future Disappears: The Modernist Imagination in Late Colonial Korea (Columbia)

When the Future Disappears is both a remarkable work of literary history and a groundbreaking meditation on modernisms across temporal and political regimes and transnational contexts. Poole accounts with striking range and fluency for the complex field of literary production in Korea during the final decade of its colonial occupation by Japan. In that fraught moment, she argues, a distinctive but broadly consequential modernism took shape. Faced with the colonial suppression of their native language and state control of publication and literary institutions, Korean writers were compelled to represent the loss of their language, their past, and their sense of the future, mobilizing modes of irony, paradox, abstraction, and silence to represent the lived experience of being and becoming modern as colonial subjects of Japan. Even for readers with no knowledge of Korean language or literature, Poole’s readings of key texts and figures makes a richly detailed case that Korea’s literary project, taking shape in the moment of global fascism, offers some of the most ambitious and provocative works of twentieth-century modernism across the globe. Her analysis not only creates a powerful framework for constituting Korean modernism as such. It repeatedly moves through Anglo-European modernism, and takes on the broader problem of accounting for temporal rupture, state violence, and the experience of colonization as generative conditions of cultural production. Deftly braiding literary history and textual readings with cultural and intellectual history, Poole has produced a work that models new, bracing possibilities for global and transnational modernist study, and for bold rethinking of the paradigms that shape our account of the relationship between aesthetic and political forms.

2015 Book Prize Shortlist

The Modernist Studies Association has announced its short list for the 2015 MSA Book Prize. One of these five books will be presented as the award winner in Boston at our 17th annual conference, November 19-22. We offer our congratulations to all of the finalists.

Mary Chapman, Making News: Suffrage Print Culture and US Modernism (Oxford)

In a richly historical, impeccably researched analysis of suffrage literature, Mary Chapman argues both that the 19th amendment was ratified because women in the U.S. developed an innovative and forceful print culture to advocate their views and that this print culture had a direct impact on modernist literary forms. The volume begins with an eye-opening detailed chronology of the American Women’s Suffrage Campaign, beginning in 1777, as women begin losing the vote in various states, and continuing through 1965; it concludes with a coda titled “Genealogies of Modernism and Suffrage: The Mother[s] of Us All” on Gertrude Stein’s “cubist chronologies.” Between these points, it ranges broadly through journalism, fiction, and poetry written in direct relation to the suffrage movement and its issues. Chapman’s study uncovers previously unknown publications by Marianne Moore and Sui Sin Far and analyses them in relation to better known aspects of these writers’ careers (for example, Moore’s collaged quoting practice), thereby also illuminating the politics of these, and other, writers and of some aspects of modernist formal innovation. Never claiming more than she can prove, Chapman weaves a fascinating story of early modernism in the U.S. in its complex relation to suffrage politics and innovative literature.

Janet Poole, When the Future Disappears: The Modernist Imagination in Late Colonial Korea (Columbia)

When the Future Disappears is both a remarkable work of literary history and a groundbreaking meditation on modernisms across temporal and political regimes and transnational contexts. Poole accounts with striking range and fluency for the complex field of literary production in Korea during the final decade of its colonial occupation by Japan. In that fraught moment, she argues, a distinctive but broadly consequential modernism took shape. Faced with the colonial suppression of their native language and state control of publication and literary institutions, Korean writers were compelled to represent the loss of their language, their past, and their sense of the future, mobilizing modes of irony, paradox, abstraction, and silence to represent the lived experience of being and becoming modern as colonial subjects of Japan. Even for readers with no knowledge of Korean language or literature, Poole’s readings of key texts and figures makes a richly detailed case that Korea’s literary project, taking shape in the moment of global fascism, offers some of the most ambitious and provocative works of twentieth-century modernism across the globe. Her analysis not only creates a powerful framework for constituting Korean modernism as such. It repeatedly moves through Anglo-European modernism, and takes on the broader problem of accounting for temporal rupture, state violence, and the experience of colonization as generative conditions of cultural production. Deftly braiding literary history and textual readings with cultural and intellectual history, Poole has produced a work that models new, bracing possibilities for global and transnational modernist study, and for bold rethinking of the paradigms that shape our account of the relationship between aesthetic and political forms.

Jennifer Scappettone, Killing the Moonlight: Modernism in Venice (Columbia)

In Killing the Moonlight, Jennifer Scappettone performs a scholarly quarry of a city fabled in the literary history and cultural memory of Europe. Excavating the social geology of the Venetian site, surveying the layers of archaeological as well as architectural and artistic accumulation, Scappettone’s research opens the manifold dimensions of this legacy as a kind of living museum of European dreams. Critically, in a series of focused and revealing readings of its cultural locations, she also demonstrates a long history of such readings: in a process equally self-reflexive and illuminating, she shows how powerfully Venice speaks to the desires of political visionaries and aesthetic revolutionaries alike. A city ever sinking into the sea but always also renewing itself out of its museums of human history: the Venice of this compelling account presents those opposite possibilities as the substance of a major, generative tension in the imaginative consciousness of modernity. Venice extends its appeal in this convincing analysis to an English-language modernist imagination in particular, which finds in the history and memory of the city a representative, even exemplary, demonstration: art may be “made new,” after all, only once it is “already old,” and this double measure runs as a delineating rhythm in the history of the city Scappettone reclaims so engagingly and persuasively.

Anna Snaith, Modernist Voyages: Colonial Women Writers in London (Cambridge)

In a thoroughly researched and wide-ranging analysis, Anna Snaith extends ongoing discussions of colonialism, national identity, and gender in analyzing the work of women writers who subvert the logic of imperialism through their transgressive mobility—traveling from the imperial periphery of the colonies where they spent their formative years to its metropolitan center, London. Snaith moves persuasively through critical canons, theoretical discourse on transnationalism, colonial modernism, feminism, and modernist studies, to fine close readings of a number of authors—both relatively canonical (Olive Schreiner, Jean Rhys, Katherine Mansfield) and less well-known (Una Marson, Sarojini Naidu, Sara Jeannette Duncan, Christina Stead). These writers, she demonstrates, combine a focus on urbanism, capitalism, and colonialism in ways both demonstrating that formal literary experimentation is in part a product of imperial ideology and anti-colonialism and more generally redrawing lines of relationship between politics and aesthetics. For these women and other writers, London served as a catalyst for feminist anti-colonialism. By writing transgressively feminist fiction to reimagine imperial structures, these colonial writers helped to destabilize imperial ideology in their homelands and throughout the empire. Snaith gives us texts and tools to understand relationships between literary modernism, feminism, transnationalism, and postcolonial studies in new ways.

Matthew Stratton, The Politics of Irony in American Modernism (Fordham)

In The Politics of Irony in American Modernism, Matthew Stratton offers a history of attitudes and practices of “irony” in modernist texts and, in the process, provides an anatomy of its imaginative as well as critical functions. The major claim, which is sustained across a range of engaging and persuasive analyses of writings either explicitly or implicitly political, is that irony serves to dislodge the consciousness of its reader from the positions of an existing politics, whether these are already taken or unreflectively assumed; thus irony reorients the mind to a novelty of possibility that is quintessentially modernist. Trans-historical as well as transatlantic in its range of reference, this study moves fluently through Nietzsche to Ellison, from John Dos Passos to New Criticism, tracing genealogical outlines of its evolving concepts and taking in gendered dimensions of understanding as well. The result is a transformational history of American literary modernism, where the sensibility implemented in irony moves forcefully forward from the position of retreat into which it has been pushed by earlier, presumptive understandings: it reclaims its role now as an active, not a reactive, instrument of reimagining political history. In lucid and insightful prose, in a writing style animated when appropriate by the spirit of wit in its subject, Stratton tells the history of his subject in a work of model scholarship.

2015 MSA Book Prize Committee
Cristanne Miller, U of Buffalo (chair)
Sara Blair, U of Michigan
Vincent Sherry, Washington U in St. Louis

2015 MSA Book Prize for for an edition, anthology, or essay collection

The Modernist Studies Association awards its 2015 Book Prize for an edition, anthology or essay collection to Anthony Cuda and Ronald Schuchard for The Complete Prose of T.S. Eliot, Volume II: The Perfect Critic, 1919-1926 (Johns Hopkins)

A monumental work of scholarly editing, the long overdue Collected Prose of T. S. Eliot is sure to be widely used, appreciated, and admired. Volume II finds Eliot in his most prolific and indispensible years as a critic. Amidst such touchstones as the Sacred Wood essays, here one finds such important and previously uncollected material as neglected entries from the Dial “London Letters,” reviews and regular commentaries from The Criterion, and unsigned book reviews from far-flung locations, on often surprising topics. While the entire edition, projected to eight volumes, constitutes a major achievement and an indispensible archive, Volume II is certain to be the one most used by scholars, most central to ongoing studies and re-evaluations of Eliot and the history of modernist criticism. Clear and easily grasped editorial principles and superb content notes speak to the dedication, diligence, and sound sense of the editorial team.

2015 Book Prize Shortlist: Edition, Anthology, or Essay Collection

Natalya Lusty and Julian Murphet, eds, Modernism and Masculinity (Cambridge)

A much-needed collection marking a crucial moment in the robust critical history of feminist, gendered, and queer readings of modernism. Lusty’s indispensable introduction elucidates the existing work on modernism and masculinity, identifying the key questions and tensions surrounding such topoi as the masculinization of modernist aesthetics, the seemingly inescapable rhetoric of a “crisis of masculinity,” and the pressures to male self-construction under conditions of war, colonialism, and modernity writ large. In sections on “Fields of Production,” “Masculinity in Crisis,” “New Men,” and “Masculine Form,” thirteen scholars attend to such rich fields as visions of utopian masculinities (Vorticist, Fascist, Lawrentian) and offer fresh views of the feminization of print culture and the search for masculine or androgynous aesthetic forms.

Melba Cuddy-Keane, Adam Hammond, and Alexandra Peat, Modernism Keywords (Wiley-Blackwell)

Adapting Raymond Williams methods from Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society to what they call “written modernism,” this volume’s authors construct rich and engaging entries on thirty-nine terms central to discussions of literature, art, and culture that were undergoing contest and transformation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The emphasis falls not on what these words mean to us today but on the many, often contradictory, things they meant to those living with the transformations of modernism and modernity. The list of terms runs the gamut from expected entries such as “New Woman,” and “Shell Shock” to more surprising but equally revealing notes on “the atom,” “hygiene,” and “bigness and smallness.” In total, the book uses such detailed historical analysis of terms to challenge limited notions of modernism. The entries are full of surprises, and it’s not the least of the compliments due to this book to say that it is remarkably fun to read.

Sandra Spanier, Albert J. DeFazio III, and Robert W. Trogdon, eds, The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, 1923-25 (Cambridge)

This impressive second volume of Ernest Hemingway’s letters will reshape and deepen our understanding of the writer’s activities during the crucial years of 1923-5, the period responsible for In Our Time and The Sun also Rises. Not only that, the edition provides an unprecedented account of the networks of expatriate Paris in the mid-1920s. We see Hemingway in lively and candid dialogue with Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald as well as publishers and family members. Of the 242 letters in this meticulously prepared edition close to two thirds are previously unpublished. Textual apparatus includes a full introduction and generous annotation in addition to indispensable resources such as a roster of correspondents and an index and calendar of letters. Visual materials such as postcards, photographs and maps augment this significant work of scholarship.

Mary Wilson and Kerry L. Johnson, eds, Rhys Matters: New Critical Perspectives (Palgrave Macmillan)

Despite the fact that Jean Rhys has become a central figure in many significant debates in contemporary modernist studies (e.g. in women’s writing, globalization, post-colonialism), this is the first collection of essays on Rhys’s work for more than twenty years. The collection demonstrates many fresh and stimulating insights into Rhys’s texts, with an extended focus upon her short fiction, which is often ignored in critical studies of her work. One particularly strong section explores the thematics of space and place in Rhys. Overall, it is a collection that makes an overwhelming case for the centrality of Rhys to ongoing debates around world and global modernisms.

Mark Antliff and Scott W. Klein, eds, Vorticism: New Perspectives (Oxford)

A beautifully produced volume that will surely become the definitive collection of essays on the Vorticist movement, discussing all aspects of its manifestation as the first English avant-garde. Indeed, one of the strengths of the volume is the overwhelming case it makes for considering Vorticism alongside such other movements as Futurism or Surrealism, rather than being viewed as a ‘failed’ English attempt at an avant-garde. It also reveals Vorticism to be a much more plural movement than simply that espoused by Wyndham Lewis – containing essays on T. E. Hulme, Edward Wadsworth, and the female Vorticists, Jessie Dismorr and Helen Saunders. With a stellar set of contributors and extensively illustrated, this is a volume that genuinely offers ‘new perspectives’ on both Vorticism and its place in modernist studies.

2015 MSA Book Prize for an Edition, Anthology, or Essay Collection Committee
Patrick Collier, Ball State University (chair)
Anna Snaith, King’s College London
Andrew Thacker, Nottingham Trent University

2014 MSA Book Prize

The Modernist Studies Association awards its 2014 Book Prize to Linda Leavell's Holding on Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore (Farrar)

passageBuilt upon a solid foundation of archival materials and interviews, Holding On Upside Down is a rare delight and a groundbreaker, combining scholarly depth with vertical or upside-down pleasure. Written in a empathetic and entertaining style, it opens new avenues for reading and interpreting Moore’s poems. For decades, Moore has been off limits, cryptic, impersonal, hardly possible to make palpable. We were supposed to read this difficult modernist without a proper companion, a biography that might help make sense of her idiosyncratic poetics. It is as if the lenses had never been adjusted to see Moore and her poems. With Moore’s own concision, risks, manners and humor, Leavell distills her immense research into its essence, unveiling one of the most private poets in history. After Leavell’s book, the Moore poems you knew yesterday will never be the same.

Honorable Mentions

Denise Levertov

Donna Krolik Hollenberg, A Poet’s Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov (U of California P)

This is an authoritative, thoroughly researched, and moving biography of a major poet’s life and work. Donna Hollenberg traces several strands of Levertov’s career: her poetry’s development and formative influences, her lifelong political activism, her intimate relationships, and her late religious conversion. Levertov’s life and career are deftly contextualized within the twentieth-century political and cultural milieu. Simultaneously, Hollenberg vividly details important events in Levertov’s personal life, including her childhood in England as the daughter of a Russian Hasidic father and a Welsh mother; her friendship (and falling out) with modern poet Robert Duncan; and her deep love for her troubled, charismatic sister Olga Levertoff. A Poet’s Revolution is a comprehensive, complex biography that offers a rich foundation for future study of Levertov’s life and work.

Prose of the World

Saikat Majumdar, Prose of the World: Modernism and the Banality of Empire (Columbia)

Prose of the World deftly reveals the oppressive stratagems of boredom engendered by colonialists in order to aggrandize their own glamorous yearnings. With another turn of the screw, it reveals how the colonists themselves become “infected” by a deadly boredom. The book sparkles, though its central subject is the cultivation of “a form of negative aesthetic” in Anglophone fiction produced in the colonies. In essence, the book deftly undercuts our impulses to collapse modernisms of the metropolis and the periphery. Banality, almost anti-intuitively, becomes the impetus for narrative, a tactic deployed variously by Mansfield (New Zealand), Joyce (Ireland), Zoe Wicomb (South Africa) and Amit Chaudhuri (India). While Prose of the World focuses on these four figures, it calls forth an array of other writers, critics and theorists, making the book a spectacular adventure in literary criticism.

Slow Print

Elizabeth Carolyn Miller, Slow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late Victorian Print Culture (Stanford)

Slow Print offers a rich, meticulously researched, clear, and thought-provoking trajectory of “long-modernism” in late-Victorian radical print culture. Victorian radicals seeking an alternative to the speed, scale, and capitalist commercialism of print found an alternative in “slow” print: small Victorian presses and private publications advocating revolutionary ideas. Gesturing diversely toward the “living” language of oral forms, socialist utopias, and the materiality of the book, Slow Print is at once lively, ambitious, wide-ranging, and tightly argued.Among Miller’s well-documented examples are William Morris’s publications in the Kelmscott Press and Commonweal; Shaw’s socialist dramas; socialist theosophist presses associated with Annie Besant and Edward Carpenter; and small presses offering “free print” on sex radicalism. A must-read for modernists and Victorians, this path-breaking study valuably elucidates a “constitutive moment” in late Victorianism behind the 20th-century little magazines, small presses, and publically censored novels.

2014 MSA Prize Committee:
Susan McCabe, USC (chair)
Cassandra Laity, Drew University
Marie Smart, Baylor University


2013 MSA Book Prize

Collecting ModernismThe MSA is pleased to announce Jeremy Braddock's Collecting as Modernist Practice (Johns Hopkins University Press) as the winner of the 2013 Modernist Studies Association book prize.

Collecting as Modernist Practice is an elegantly written, thoughtfully argued, and captivating book. It places collecting at the center of modernist practice so convincingly that, as its account unfolds, it seems virtually self-evident that collectors such as Albert Barnes, editors such as Alfred Kreymborg, and patrons including John Quinn were crucial architects of modernism in all of its complexities.

The research for the book is admirably rigorous; one can sense throughout that Braddock carefully and thoroughly parsed the archives, collections, and anthologies about which he theorizes to generate his claims. He lays out his argument with such lucidity that the book serves as an enviable example of compellingly readable academic scholarship.

The book sheds valuable light onto issues related to transnationalism, materialism, race, and sexuality, demonstrating how these concepts inform the collecting practices that shaped modernism. Collecting as Modernist Practice is the first book published in the new Hopkins Studies in Modernism Series, and it signals a series off to an exceptional start.

The committee determined a short list from which to choose the winner, and those titles – any of which were worthy of the distinction conferred by the prize – were:

MSA Prize Committee:
Mark Morrisson, Penn State University (Chair)
Thadious Davis, University of Pennsylvania
Paige Reynolds, College of the Holy Cross


 

2012 MSA Book Prize

The Modernist Studies Association awards its 2012 Book Prize to Christopher GoGwilt's The Passage of Literature: Genealogies of Modernism in Conrad, Rhys, and Pramoedya (Oxford UP).

passageThe Passage of Literature is a brilliant, erudite analysis of the linguistic emergence of a socio-cultural modernism in a transoceanic context, with exemplary instances drawn from Joseph Conrad, Jean Rhys, and Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer. We were as astonished to see how important this reconsideration is for Conrad and Rhys as we were persuaded of the crucial positioning of Pramoedya in and for this comparative context. Whereas other equally fascinating books considered for this award introduced us to more numerous arrays of less familiar writers and literary cultures, GoGwilt digs deeply into these three in order to enact a paradigm shift in modernist studies, turning attention from particular transatlantic or transpacific socio-cultural associations to a still broader and more carefully textured map of linguistically-based as well as cultural and literary affiliations around the globe. For GoGwilt, moreover, "literary and artistic modernism properly belongs within a history of decolonization." Rethinking the philological principles of such scholars as Erich Auerbach, Edward Said, and Raymond Williams, GoGwilt details a "post-colonial philology" that can better describe the imperatives shaping literary studies in the aftermath of decolonization. His extensive attention to language and text gives real heft to prior, more abstract efforts to see modernism in a "planetary" configuration.  The book is an exemplary model for both classic and transnational modernist studies.

Honorable Mentions

Anne Cheng's Second Skin: Josephine Baker and the Modern Surface (Oxford UP)
The book is impeccably blurbed by such notable scholars as Brent Edwards, Kobena Mercer, and Kaja Silverman, who collectively suggest that Cheng is the new Fanon with her highly original account of race. With its iconic image of Baker overlaid with the emblematic skyscraper, that cover is indisputably modernist. And Cheng's prose is as seductive as its cover. Discussing painting, architecture, burlesque, striptease, and film, Cheng demonstrates how common understandings of certain aesthetic principles transferred themselves across disparate sites of aesthetic production, from Adolf Loos' architectural focus on surfaces to the much broader focus on Josephine Baker's skin itself. In Cheng's analysis, the phenomenon of Baker is modernism, with its "entwined crises of race, style, and subjecthood" (4). The fascination with surfaces and the generalized atmosphere of formalist aesthetics to which it testifies finds a fertile critical imagination here and expands not only what we know about modernism but how we can now think about it as well. 

Ruth Hoberman's Museum Trouble: Edwardian Fiction and the Emergence of Modernism (U of Virginia Press)
Hoberman develops a fascinating rereading of the emergence of Anglo-American modernism in the complex, yet deeply embedded context of its relations to museum knowledge and culture. Hoberman provides an excellent cultural historical approach to the contexts for modernist aesthetic production by anchoring arguments about taste and the relationship between aesthetic appreciation and morality in a demonstrable institutional history. The potential for this book to enhance current approaches to modernist material culture, directly through objects themselves, is remarkable and points towards an area of scholarship that has yet to achieve its full impact in modernist studies. 

Andrew Jones's Developmental Fairy Tales: Evolutionary Thinking and Modern Chinese Culture (Harvard U P)
This book is a pathbreaking discussion of the emergence of Chinese modernism from Anglo-turn-of-the-century models of social development.  As thoroughly in command of the current, most compelling thinking on modernism as it is on late Victorian texts, this book is likely to become one of the leading studies of modernism as a global phenomenon. Developmental Fairy Tales accomplishes several difficult tasks at once: it introduces new readers to Chinese modernist writing, establishes the intellectual context in which it emerged, and makes a strong critical argument about the role played by theories of childhood and the didactic text in the advent of modernist aesthetics. This book is sure to become an important point of reference for scholars interested in the trans-cultural movement of modernist ideas and in particular the development of modernism in non-Western contexts.

Annalisa Zox-Weaver. Zox-Weaver's Women Modernists and Fascism (Cambridge UP)
Women Modernists is a sophisticated, eye-opening, and unique work dealing with a number of currently highly visible issues in modernist studies. This excellent interdisciplinary study recovers the fascinating and critical role played by public women intellectuals and artists in imagining and documenting Hitler, from Gertrude Stein and documentary filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl and to journalist Janet Flanner and photographer Lee Miller, while simultaneously tracking the Nazi leader's rise and fall.  Forging an unexpected link between apparently disparate constituencies -- women writers and fascism – and disparate genres, Zox-Weaver contributes to the reassessment of fascism's truly central place in Anglo-American modernism. Her readings, drawing on substantial archival materials, are illuminating, and her overall approach a refreshing re-take on the relationship between modernism and fascism that has, at times, threatened to become a caricature, bringing the caricature back into the realm of life, and restores much of its complexity and ambiguity. 

MSA Prize Committee:
Pamela Caughie, Loyola University, Chicago (Chair)
Holly Laird, The University of Tulsa
Stephen Ross, The University of Victoria


 

2011 MSA Book Prize

The Modernist Studies Association awards its 2011 Book Prize to Michael Rubenstein's, Public Works: Infrastructure, Irish Modernism, and the Postcolonial (Notre Dame)

Public WorksAccording to Michael Rubenstein, “Irish modernism was largely a literary engagement with the problem of how to forge an Irish modernity after colonialism.” How he goes about supporting this claim—by uncovering Irish modernism’s obsession with public utilities—is as audacious, stunning, and ultimately convincing as the claim itself. In Public Works, Rubenstein comes at this infrastructural unconscious from two directions: elegant close readings of key works by Joyce, Flann O’Brien, and Denis Johnston; and meticulous material history that turns lampposts, sewers, and other quotidian furniture of modernization into exemplars of a colonial process of modernization—a process about which the Irish had every right to be skeptical. This skepticism plays out within each author’s works, and across them, too. While O’Brien’s The Third Policeman pits tradition and Celtic revivalism against the “new dependencies” that electrification exacts from the unsuspecting populace, Joyce’s Ulysses, which Rubenstein recasts, brilliantly, as a “postcolonial comedy of development,” envisions waterworks and other utilities of circulation as harbingers of an independent Ireland: an Ireland possessing the ability to engineer itself via infrastructural control, thus solving “the problem of the Irish underdeveloped identity.” What makes this book especially remarkable is Rubenstein’s recuperation of infrastructure as a technology of citizenship in general—a mechanism for post-colonial self-definition well beyond Ireland and its era of development—and as an everyday vehicle of utopian thought.

Honorable Mention
Mark Goble, Beautiful Circuits: Modernism and the Mediated Life (Columbia)
“The romantic,” wrote Henry James of his early novel The American, stands for “the things that reach us only through the beautiful circuit and subterfuge of our thought and our desire.” For Mark Goble, in turn, the “beautiful circuit” stands for mediation, in its incarnation as a central concern of modernist literature and art. Living (and writing) in and through this beautiful circuit means reveling in the materiality of a medium, refusing the illusion of immediacy its conventional uses may offer, and confronting the new media of the electrical age as technologies that, like fiction and poetry before them, transform desire as much as they communicate it. Goble’s magisterial book traces an alternative history of American modernism in which its aesthetic goal, anticipating the critical goals of an Adorno or a Greenberg, is to explore the circuitous and pariphrastic natures of technological media in order to articulate desire in its thoroughly modern, mediatized forms. These brilliant readings of James, Gertrude Stein, James Weldon Johnson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ralph Ellison, and James Agee—among others—reinvigorate our sense of American modernism as an unfinished project, one that has even now only begun to express how “technology itself gives shape and character to experiences of sexuality, racial identity, class, and history, each of which in turn expresses something of what it means to love the media of modernity…and even, at times, to wonder if they love us back.”

Short List (in alphabetical order):
Maud Ellmann, The Nets of Modernism: Henry James, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and Sigmund Freud (Cambridge)
Rubén Gallo, Freud's Mexico: Into the Wilds of Psychoanalysis (MIT)
Matthew Hart, Nations of Nothing But Poetry: Modernism, Transnationalism, and Synthetic Vernacular Writing (Oxford)
Alison Syme, A Touch of Blossom: John Singer Sargent and the Queer Flora of Fin-de-Siecle Art (Penn State)

MSA Prize Committee:
Paul Young, Vanderbilt University (Chair)
Enda Duffy, University of California, Santa Barbara
Justus Nieland, Michigan State University


2010 MSA Book Prize

The Modernist Studies Association co-awards its 2010 Book Prize to Enda Duffy's The Speed Handbook: Velocity, Pleasure, Modernism and Eric Hayot's The Hypothetical Mandarin.

Speed HandbookEnda Duffy's daring and inventive work matches exquisite readings of literature, film, and advertisements to a sophisticated theory of space that seeks to redraw the limits of modernist studies. Modernism, Duffy brilliantly argues, emerges when the globe itself becomes fully mapped and thus space itself made suddenly finite and exhaustible. In this historical moment, exploration gives way to speed and thus arrives a new array of pleasures ranging from the adrenaline rush through the blurred landscape to the catastrophic crash. From these intense experiences, The Speed Handbook extracts a radically expanded concept of modernism oriented less around space as such than around our movement through it. Speed thus "is not only a pleasure that has a politics; speed, it turns out, is politics: the expression of a new order of the organization of global space." This insight opens unexpected yet compelling connections between James Joyce, J.G. Ballard, Ralph Nader, and Henry Ford, all of whom are woven together in this broad-reaching study. The MSA Book Prize Committee commends this book for its critical acumen, its daring sweep, and its insistence on the continuing urgency of modernism as a cultural, political, and aesthetic project.

Hypothetical Mandarin"What is the relative worth to you of harm done to a Chinese stranger?" Eric Hayot's brilliant and wide-ranging monograph The Hypothetical Mandarin sees Adam Smith's thought experiment about conscience as the starting point for "a crucial figure of European thought over the last two centuries"--a telling point of historical and ideological condensation for the discourse of sympathy, and a constitutive element of a Western modernity that defines the concept of the human in relation to the seemingly arbitrary Chinese example. By tracing the history of this relation, weaving together a remarkable array of textual and visual materials, Hayot remaps modernity--not by reversing center and periphery, but by abandoning those models for one that is reciprocal and relational. In the process, self-reflexively examining the use of the example as an explanatory tool, he mounts a wry and bracing intervention into historical/critical discourse. With inventiveness, daring, rigor and brio, The Hypothetical Mandarin expands our very notion of the purview of modernist studies. For this reason, we are delighted to name this book the winner of the 2010 Modernist Studies Association Book Prize.

Short List (in alphabetical order):
Giorgio Bertellini’s Italy in Early American Cinema is remarkable for the range of its materials, the scope of its ambition, and the fluency with which it moves between film and photographic images, aesthetic histories, and cultural contexts.

Monica Miller’s Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity undertakes a remarkable project: a history of black dandyism in the Atlantic diaspora that accounts for the ways and effects with which Black subjects employed elements of style to define collective identity in varied and changing contexts.

MSA Prize Committee:
Sean Latham, The University of Tulsa (Chair)
Sara Blair, University of Michigan
Debra Rae Cohen, University of South Carolina


2009 MSA Book Prize

New York Nocturne

William Chapman Sharpe, New York Nocturne: The City After Dark in Literature, Painting, and Photography (Princeton University Press)

William Sharpe states that the “first dark glimmer” inspiring his book came while looking at one of James McNeill Whistlers’ “Nocturnes.” But to paraphrase Djuna Barnes, who provides the epigraph to the book, “The nights of one city are not the nights of another.” Sharpe’s New York Nocturne is a masterful story of this most extravagantly glittering of night-time cityscapes as portrayed by writers and artists across the late 19th and 20th centuries, a city that appears less and less like one of Whistler’s “moonlights,” but instead, as Le Corbusier described it, “a Milky Way come down to earth.” We have long been accustomed to thinking of art as bringing light to the world: considering that proposition from the other side, this book offers a stimulating account of the dynamic relations among technology and painting, photography and literature.

Honorable Mention:
Ron Schuchard, The Last Minstrel: Yeats & The Revival of the Bardic Arts (Oxford UP)

Short List (in alphabetical order):
Dianne Sachko MacLeod, Enchanted Lives, Enchanted Objects: American Women Collectors and the Making of Culture 1800-1940 (Univ. of Cal Press)
Dana Seitler, Atavistic Tendencies: The Culture of Science in American Modernity (Minnesota Univ. Press)
Lesley Wheeler, Voicing American Poetry: Sound and Performance from the 1920s to the Present (Cornell Univ. Press)

MSA Prize Committee:
Michael Coyle, Colgate University (Chair)
John Xiros Cooper, University of British Columbia
Deborah Longworth, University of Birmingham


2008 MSA Book Prize

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The 2008 MSA book prize was awarded to volumes 1 and 2 of modernism(John Benjamins Publishing Co, 2007), edited by Astradur Eysteinsson and Vivian Liska, a project first set in motion in the 1980s. The editors explain in their introduction that, between the time the book was first proposed to the International Comparative Literature Association and the time they undertook the work again, the developments in modernist studies required them to reconceptualise the intent and scope of the volumes. One of those developments, as they point out, was the founding 10 years ago of the Modernist Studies Association, the first conference of which was titled-daringly-the New Modernisms. It is a happy coincidence, though not an accident, that MSA’s 10th anniversary and the appearance of these volumes should dovetail in this way.

The ambition of the editors is to capture, in their words, “the ways modernism is viewed at the beginning of the twentieth-century.” Thus the essays collected in Volume 1 range over approaches via critical theory, technology and science, time and space, mind and body, and literature and the other arts. Volume 2 considers social and political parameters (such as racial politics and ecological criticism) and concepts of the sacred, of popular culture, and of diaspora and exile. The volume concludes with a section entitled ‘case studies’ that considers the modernisms of Brazil, Australia, Catalonia, France, Spain, Russia, Italy, Greece, and the Nordic countries.

This monumental project is, in significant and heartening ways, a physical manifestation of the aspirations of the MSA-to consider modernisms as an international and interdisciplinary phenomenon.

MSA Prize Committee:
Gail McDonald (Chair)
Laura Marcus
Steven Yao


2007 MSA Book Prize

The winner of the 2007 MSA Book Prize is, among other things, the volume that out of our fifty entrants was the most innovative in its own form. At base, this book is a collection of essays; but it’s a collection taking an unusual shape, having unusually high ambitions, and succeeding unusually well in achieving its goals. Crowds (Stanford University Press, 2006), edited by Jeffrey Schnapp and Matthew Tiews, aims to survey the idea of the crowd across history and geography, not with the goal of being exhaustive, precisely, but with the idea of being as wide-ranging as possible. Thus we have essays on the myth of the “Populus Romanus,” on the crowd during the French Revolution, on masses and number in China, on modernist-era magazine representations of crowds, on mid-century sociology and the lonely crowd, on mentalities of the market, and on many other topics.

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But there’s much more to Crowds than breadth. For one thing, the contributions are of an exceptionally high caliber–subtle, penetrating, sometimes funny, always informative. And the contributions don’t only take the form of long essays on historical subjects; at the margins (literally) we get etymologies of crowd-related terms in English, French, Hungarian, Chinese, Sanskrit, and many other languages; and we get personal recollections of being part of certain crowds, including the crowd at Altamont Speedway on 6 December 1969, the crowd at a Dyke March, the crowd at a Barney’s Warehouse Sale. The volume is also replete with illustrations, sometimes happily given double-page spreads; and its part of a larger project that also includes art exhibits and an extraordinarily rich and fascinating web site. For its innovation, for its information, for its excitement–but above all for its sheer quality as a literary-historical inquiry into one of the great themes, one of the propelling subjects and formative conditions, of many modernisms–we on the committee are proud to award this year’s prize to the contributors to and editors of Crowds.

MSA Prize Committee:
Doug Mao (Chair)
Rita Felski
Jordana Mendelson


2006 MSA Book Prize

The Book Prize Committee is delighted to speak publicly of the virtues of Victoria Rosner's Modernism and the Architecture of Private Life (Columbia University Press, 2004), even as the book aligns itself with the scaffolding of privacy. Addressing scholarly exchanges within Bloomsbury studies and modernism, as well as the recent move to phenomenology and space studies that has complicated the dialectic between public and private, the urban street and the domestic interior, Rosner gets a lot done in this carefully crafted book.

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It is a rare thing to be seduced by a table of contents, but the orchestration of chapters beginning with "Kitchen Table Modernism," and on through "Frames," "Thresholds," "Studies," and "Interiors" gives some sense of Rosner's critical imagination. Exquisitely balanced between the particular and the general, and written throughout with critical grace and acuity, Modernism and the Architecture of Private Life speaks with equal aplomb of dirty laundry and domestic libraries. In one chapter, for instance, she moves with agility from a fifteen-century account of European interiors dedicated to reading and writing to the important shift in the eighteenth century from the figure of the reader qua solitary male to that of the “secular and gregarious woman”-and on through Arthur Conan Doyle, Radclyff Hall, and A Room of One's Own: from, as Rosner memorably puts it, the closet to the study.

Most stunning is the connection Rosner forges between interiority as a space and interiority as a concept, or the intertwining of psychological and architectural tropes of selfhood. Exploring modernism in this way as both a spatial and temporal phenomenon, she intervenes in long-running conversations, with architecture providing the most accurate lens by which to read not only earlier debates in, say, Lessing and Wilhelm Worringer, but current ones in the work of Lauren Berlant and Elizabeth Grosz. Rosner's book will change modernists, even as it speaks to other voices in other rooms.

Michael North's Camera Works: Photography and the Twentieth-Century Word is a sweeping, powerful study that shows how new technologies of representation, especially photography, changed fundamentally the production of visual and verbal art in the early twentieth century. Grounding his analysis in material histories of photography and film, North has produced a transformative account of relations between the word and the image in twentieth-century literature and the definitive account to date of the influence of new media on modernism. Lucidly and with commanding detail, his book provides a compelling account of European and American responses to mechanical recording and offers fresh readings of several American novelists, whose encounters with mechanical reproduction become vivid, and in some cases visible for the first time, thanks to North's exhaustive archival work.
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The rich mix of materials in Camera Works is extraordinary. Not only does it uncover the significance of photography to the work of a stunning range of familiar artists such as Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Duchamp, and Pablo Picasso; it also brings attention to under-read figures such as John Dos Passos and forgotten makers such as Robert Carlton Brown - one-time hack writer and author of The Complete Book of Cheese and Let There Be Beer - whose "readies" in the early thirties in effect try to invent the e-book by putting words into motion through a spool-driven machine. Equally compelling is North's chapter on international modernism's struggle with sound, which shows how the arrival of sound in cinema disrupted film's avant-garde aspiration to provide "a universal language of visual forms"; the resulting crisis provoked controversy about the nature of "new sign systems and their relation to the modern audience." Ultimately, North corrects longstanding misconceptions about modernism's supposed resistance to technological modernity by demonstrating the breadth and depth of its interest in new media of all kinds, and how this interest inspired literature and art to become modern in their turn.

Short List:
Documenting Spain: Artists, Exhibition Culture, And The Modern Nation, 1929-1939 (Refiguring Modernism) by Jordana Mendelson

Subterranean Cities: The World Beneath Paris and London, 1800-1945, by David L. Pike.

MSA Prize Committee:
Mark Wollaeger (Chair)
Jessica Burstein
Rebecca Walkowitz


2005 MSA Book Prize

At the 2005 MSA Conference in Chicago, the first annual MSA Book Prize was awarded to Michael Leja for Looking Askance: Skepticism and American Art from Eakins to Duchamp (University of California Press, 2004). In awarding the prize, the prize committee wrote:

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Looking Askance opens up new territory in modernist studies by shifting the focus from artists to audiences and relocating modernism in everyday practices in and about early twentieth-century New York. Challenging assumptions that separate high art from the populace, Michael Leja forges connections from the ground up: as ordinary life itself becomes modernist, so ordinary people start to see art as relevant to the challenges of modern life.

This brilliantly pluralistic study will resonate with a broad spectrum of multidisciplinary interests. Tracking the way questions about the nature of seeing inform self-constructions of the modern subject, Leja moves flexibly through a wide range of surprisingly diverse materials, linking spirit photography, world fairs, circuses, automatic drawing, realist painting, and Marcel Duchamp. In true skeptical fashion, Leja trains his eye on the ambiguities of his materials, refusing to let them settle into either a celebratory or a cynical narrative. Opposites are revealed as similar (P. T. Barnum’s humbug and George Washington’s truth-telling both play on the motif of deception), while humbugs manifest difference (a radical fear of dishonesty versus a source of delight). The final illuminating shift in this complex study is thus from the modern need to negotiate multiple and layered realities to the manifold optical lenses of Leja’s own kaleidoscopic approach.

MSA Prize Committee:
Kevin Dettmar (Chair)
Melba Cuddy-Keane
Jesse Matz