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Absence and Containment: English-Language Transnational Literary Modernist Studies Today

New. Now. Motion. Speed. Acceleration. Expansion. Pause. Renew. Now, again.

In the early twentieth century, there is no such thing as transnational literary modernism. Yet, in the early twenty-first century, there is transnational modernist studies.

Interpellated as an area of analytical production, English-language transnational modernist literary studies is recent, and has expanded with great speed even in that short span. In both newness and acceleration, the field carries the very elements considered integral to early twentieth century modernism/modernity. The embedded metaphor in phrases such as “the transnational turn” carries the velocity and thrill of a machine that comes upon a corner, invoking the new, fantastic, amazing engines of the turn of the last century.

Hit pause. While it may be against the imperatives of continual movement and production even in late modernism/modernity to do so, hit pause we must, even temporarily. A closer examination reveals that this innovative industry, gaining momentum geographically and historically, is founded on an absence. Most of the cultural and political practitioners and critics labeled “modernist,” or part of modernism (made global) use the term “international”; none use the word “transnational.”  Some vocabularies were not available to them or not adopted by them, though “transnationalism” had been coined and just begun to be used in the early twentieth century. One of the earliest recorded uses is by Randolph Bourne in 1916, and it is then listed in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 1921.[1]

The absence of the term “transnational” in the vocabulary of modernist figures, and our use of it as substitute for “international,” both elides the significance of the nation-state and effects a paradox: while “trans” is intended to make the boundaries of identity flexible and porous, it actually results in a containment of modernist subjectivity. This absence at the heart of transnational modernist studies is not about mere semantics; “international” and “transnational” refer to distinct geo-cultural imaginaries and raise some methodological and epistemological questions. Over the last decade or so of its burgeoning life, given this absence, how has English-language literary modernist studies used “transnational”?  Liberally and inaccurately. “Transnational” is often conflated with “international” and “transatlantic.” When describing “major” modernist figures’ practices, “transnational” signifies mostly an imagination of belonging-in-the-world from an essentially mono-local or mono-cultural position. In other instances, the term is made to signify the “other,” minoritized on the basis of colony, culture, class, gender, or race. In yet other instances, “transnational” and the modernist figure on whom it is placed both bear the burden of uncompromising and unqualified progressivism.

Vocabularies express experiences. In exploring the various uses of the term “international” over “transnational” below, what emerges is that “international” connotes “between” and not “across” (as in “trans”) and that modernists’ understandings and expressions of nation and nationalism are crucial to their use of the term; these latter concepts are the basis on which they establish their own cultural identities as distinct from those of the “other.” Recent publications such as “Queer Internationalism and Modern Vietnamese Aesthetics” (2012), The Ethnic Avant-Garde (2015), and Chimeras of Form (2016) retain the use of “international” in discussing early-twentieth-century modernisms; they do address, differently and to varying degrees, the relevance of the “nation-state” in cultural production. This aspect is largely absent in transnational modernist studies in which, just as “transnational” is made to speak for “international,” modernism is made to cover areas and traditions that may be synchronous but in which other locally relevant signifiers are used. The two parts of the word “transnational” are unevenly used—“trans,” the first part, becomes a heuristic device for comparisons, analogies and juxtapositions that obscure or downplay the incommensurabilities of the entities engaged. As for the second part, when “national” is not foregrounded nor made constitutive of modernist figures’ identities, other than a brief mention of country/nation, the effect is a reconstituted universalism.

A pause in the seemingly unstoppable “turn” makes possible the realization that the use of “transnational” in English-language literary modernist studies has a particularity that emerges only when it is juxtaposed with the many other fields that also use the term. As an amphibian in literary modernist studies and interdisciplinary feminist studies, I draw from the latter to introduce the inflections of “transnational” that may illuminate the particularities of our own uses as well as turn (pun intended) to practices that may add dimension and nuance to our future engagements of the term. There are some unexplored connections between the realm of the “international” in early-twentieth-century modernism and the increasing use of “transnational” subsequently in both fields. For instance, while travel is studied primarily in relation to exile and cosmopolitanism in literary modernist studies, transnational feminist studies focuses on in/voluntary dislocation that coexists with multiple ethical or political commitments in the physical or figurative crossing of borders, as for such figures as Zitkala-Ša and Cornelia Sorabji.[2]

Zitkala-Ša, 1898. Photograph by Joseph T. Keiley. Image courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute.
Fig. 1. Zitkala-Ša, 1898. Photograph by Joseph T. Keiley. Image courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute.

Another trope, the “masses,” cast in terms of the national and international, transforms into increasing migration flows and the intermixing of cultures in the context of neoliberal capitalism in late twentieth century globalization.[3] Taking into account the role of the “nation” in both “international” and “transnational,” as well as the asymmetries and inequities within them could add nuance to our consideration of First Nations and Native sovereignty as constitutive rather than additive to modernism/modernist studies. It could also mobilize greater attention to modernist authors’ dis/affiliation with national identities as well as bring more awareness to our understandings of nativisms and nationalisms then and today.

Cornelia Sorabji. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Fig. 2. Cornelia Sorabji. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

For English-language literary modernist studies in the present moment (our contemporary rendition of the “now” that animated early-twentieth-century Western European modernisms), a larger and most urgent question arises: What are the stakes of/for our studies in this field? Fully embedded as I am, personally and professionally, in the transnational, I see a danger of committing epistemic dispossession or displacement. I am apprehensive of the possibility that legacies of imperial capitalism (such as “expansion” and “inclusion”) continue to mutate into neo-imperial approaches and practices that still retain the liberal universalism of putative centers. We may not be fully immune from these tendencies or emerge from them completely. Driven by this apprehension, I make a case at the end of this discussion for the ultimate incommensurability of the “other.” By the “other,” I mean modernist figures themselves, perceived as major or minor, central or marginal, that never actually are, nor should they be assumed as, containable in our analytical categories. I use “English-language” in the title and throughout, not only to demarcate a specific linguistic territory in modernist studies, but also to draw attention to a self-awareness of performing in this hegemonic language and to signal my disidentification with it. The intention of this discussion is to consider how we might remain vigilant about our own methodologies and enact the values we espouse as citizens of democratic academic cultures that tussle with their own placement within neoliberal economic conditions.

“Transnational” in Modernist Studies Today

The “transnational turn” was announced in 2008 in a PMLA article titled “The New Modernist Studies” in an issue titled “The Changing Profession.” The article opens with a section titled “Expanding Modernism.”[4] “Turn,” “changing,” “new,” and “expanding” all continue the imperative of modernism/modernity towards movement, innovation, and growth. This article captures the thrill of the “new” that envelops “international,” “transnational,” “global,” and “postcolonial,” sweeping away all demarcations between the terms. It argues that “transnational modernism” is different from “international modernism” in moving beyond Western Europe and North America. In this expansion, it includes postcolonial theory and emphasizes a variety of social and political affiliations across national spaces.

Since 2008, a number of analyses have used the word “transnational” to various ends. “Transatlantic” and “transnational” are often conflated, frequently in the same analysis. For instance, the introductory remarks to a special issue of Modernism/modernity on “Mediamorphosis” use “transatlantic and transnational networks” as well as “black internationalism.”[5] The same uses are evident in the titles and content of essays such as “The Transnational Frequency of Radio Connectivity in Langston Hughes’s 1940 Poetics” and “Transnational History at our Backs: A Long View of Larsen, Woolf, and Queer Racial Subjectivity in Atlantic Modernism.”[6] “Transatlantic” and “transnational” also coexist with “international” in all three essays.

“Fashioning Internationalism in Jessie Redmon Fauset’s Writing” uses one of the terms in the title and another (“transnationalism”) in the summary to refer to networks.[7] Often, “international” stands in as a reference to what may or may not be “transnational,” as in the 2011 article “Reorienting Modernism,” which describes the Orient magazine as being at “the nexus of an intra/international network,” or the 2017 essay “Locating Transnationalism: Circle Magazine and California Modernism in the 1940s.”[8] The former essay also refers to related terms such as “geomodernism” and “cultural parataxis” that are, in turn, connected to the concept of “planetarity.”[9] A reader in transnational literary modernist studies can perhaps feel the connective tissue between the terms but the particular difference of “transnationalism” from any related term remains unexplained.

“Transnational” has stood in  for “cross-cultural” or the cultural-racial “other” of (implicitly white) Western European and Anglo-American modernisms, as in essays such as “Nancy Cunard’s Negro and the Transnational Politics of Race,” “First Drafts for Transnational Women’s Writing,” and “Paris and beyond: transnational/national in the writing of Christina Stead and Eleanor Dark.”[10] The first of these does make an initial distinction between “transnational” and “international” but assigns the former to the “gaps” and to blackness, even though it is Cunard, a white woman, who is collating across continents. The second essay has a potentially interesting moment in briefly addressing Eleanor Dark in relation to aboriginal Australians, in attempting to analyze struggles with national identification. However, it is not clear whether the juxtaposition of Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, Jessie Fauset, and Eleanor Dark means that each performs transnationally or that they collectively demonstrate transnationalism.[11]

Works like Transnational England: Home and Abroad (2009) certainly foreground the “nation-state” (in the period 1788-1860) and the influence of other nations on England.[12] Some essays in this volume use “transnational” to describe the early twentieth century, and argue against it being anachronistic by stating that the practices preceded the term. The editors, Monika Class and Terry F. Robinson, also state that “Englishness” is formed through exchanges and influences; I would agree that national identity is consolidated through contradistinction but would point out that absorption of cultural influences is more in the mode of colonial and capitalist consumption and appropriation. One example of transnationalism in this volume is Joshua Reynolds’s painting Mrs. Baldwin in Eastern Dress (1782); to me, it demonstrates more the cooptation of otherness to underscore an essential Englishness, based on British supremacy in the international sphere, than a formative influence on, or substantive effect of, the “other” upon Englishness.[13]

“Anglo-American Anti-Modernism: A Transnational Reading” (2009) argues that Edward Thomas, in his “Welshness, his interest in Irish and American writers, and his use of French culture—necessarily grapples too with his . . . Englishness.”[14] If Thomas and Robert Frost can be seen to form a “transnational” alliance against the American invasion of English letters by modernists like Pound and Eliot, as the essay argues, then geopolitics is still being played out through nation-based cultural battles. Here, “transnational” appears to be about rejecting or superseding nation-state identities but, in fact, reasserts those very priorities. The ability to borrow and integrate “foreign” influences into one’s creative practice is itself a sign of some degree of privilege, as is also evident in “Cosmopolitan, Diasporic, and Transnational: The Flourishing of Hebrew Modernism” (2014).[15] Modernist figures appeared to be invested in maintaining national uniqueness and manifest the “international,” whereas readings of them cast upon them the mantle of the “transnational.”

Across all these instances of the last decade of the use of “transnational” in English-language literary modernist studies, the term appears as a noun (signifying both person and place) as well as a verb. In the essay on Cunard mentioned above, “transnational” is a noun, an adjective, and an adverb, used in phrases such as “a transnational text” and “reading transnationally” (508). I would contend that there are large differences between saying that a figure is transnational, that one is doing transnational work, and that a cultural group/milieu is part of the transnational world. For instance, site becomes symbol of “transnationalism” in the article “Provincializing Harlem,” in which “international” and “transnational” are used interchangeably.[16] The multiple affiliations (or even commitments) as well as the caste/class privileges of the travelers to, and inhabitants of, Harlem merit stronger acknowledgement. It is also worth remembering that voluntary travel by the relatively privileged carries significantly different consequences than the dislocation and dispossession experienced by migrants, emigrants, and indigenous peoples.[17]

In sum, the expansion of transnational modernist studies through a collection of discrete diversities retains a modernist liberalism, renarrativizes the logic of modernity in its assumed momentum “forward,” and presents a modernism, through the use of “transnational,” as existing everywhere, then and now.

Modernist Writers/Collectives, Internationalism, and the Nation-State

Where modernisms meet modernities in the early twentieth century stands the nation(-state). The last part of “The New Modernist Studies” raises the issue of “nation” as an addition to a sustained discussion on media and technology.[18] The nation-state, as bounded territory, is not neutral and is more specific than the “regions” or “continents” invoked in that article. I argue that the amalgam of the cultural history of a people (nation) and the bureaucratic-juridical apparatuses (state) form the very texture of modernist work. Stemming from both, the formal structures of belonging—the laws and policies of gendered, racialized, and classed citizenship—create the scaffolding of cultural narratives themselves.[19]

In the early twentieth century, there were some entities (cultural groups, nations) that were not yet states and were also unequal to each other in political and economic power; many were still struggling to emerge from colonial status into nationhood, the primary form through which a people gained intelligibility in geopolitical modernity.[20] It is worth underscoring that indigenous identity negotiated, and continues to negotiate,  a particular notion of sovereignty that problematizes and resists the hegemonic mold of “nation-state.” English-language literary modernist studies that identify as transnational, global, planetary, diasporic, or cosmopolitan do address a fundamental inequality, namely, colonialism.[21] However, I bring up the issue of the central absence to speak to two things: one, that “nation” is inflected differently depending on the user’s position in the hierarchies of cultural and political capital; second, that those perceived to have more of such capital relied upon their very privileges to disavow citizenship selectively or gesture beyond the nation-state/imperial center, as Woolf (England) does. This relationship to citizenship was particularly fraught with tension for members of sovereign tribes such as Zitkala-Ša (Sioux) or for those who were indigenous but marginalized in other ways, such as for the Maori, the Quechua, or the Dalit.[22] Then there was also the ambivalent status of the colonial subject who inhabits and claims empire as their own, standing often against independence movements that strive to create nations for their own communities; Cornelia Sorabji’s place as citizen of the British Empire living in, and opposing, an India militating against imperial rule bears testimony to this complication.[23]

Not only individuals but also collectivities in the early twentieth century used the term “international.” Many groups identified through their roles in economic and industrial production, such as the International Socialist Club, The International Council of Friends of Ethiopia, The International Workers of the World, or the International Working People’s Association. Consider also socio-political and cultural groups such as the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) founded in 1914 by Marcus Garvey, the Bloomsbury Group (England) and the Harlem Renaissance (the United States). The volume History in our Hands (1998) refers to the nation-state as its organizing principle and the operative term is evident in the names of various groups included in the volume: The Writers’ International (British Section) which published a “Statement of Aim, with Responses” in 1934 against fascism, capitalism, and colonialism, the International of Revolutionary Writers, and the Second International Congress of Writers, which referred to the International Association of Writers for the Defense of Culture.[24] Such groups relied upon collective/mass energy that drove the creation of nations themselves.

National identity is not the antithesis of universalism, but its very basis. “International” for groups and individuals relies upon the uniqueness of cultural differences that correlate approximately to nation-state boundaries while they also gesture beyond them to universal commonalities.

Let us look at a few early-twentieth-century figures that transnational literary modernist studies take to demonstrate transnationalism, such as West, Woolf, and Iqbalunnisa Hussain, who all invoked “international” in their own cultural production. In Changing India: A Muslim Woman Speaks, Hussain mentions the International Women’s Association (1938) and applauds Leeds University for developing “a sense of internationalism.”[25] These references were made in the context of the Indian anticolonial independence movement through which India emerged as a nation-state. This particular state of early twentieth century inflected Hussain’s particular use of “international.”  A contemporary of Hussain, West, in “The Necessity and Grandeur of the International ideal” (1935) argues that love stems from “England . . . [that can give the citizen] a tradition . . . which springs from the experience of men of his own blood.”[26] The gendered nature of these observations is connected to her warning that, when taken to extremes, this love leads to aggressive violence (as Woolf also points out in Three Guineas, in 1938). This love of nation can involve “a repudiation of internationalism” but West declares that “the English tradition is but one branch of the European tradition, which from the very beginning has recognized that nationalism and internationalism are not irreconcilable opposites but counterbalances which can keep the nations in equilibrium” (“The Necessity and Grandeur,” 75–76). Just a year earlier, Cunard made it clear, in her Foreword and the table of contents to the Negro Anthology (1934) that “nation” was the organizing principle. Under the headings for continents or regions, the subcategories are listed according to their status as colonies or emerging nation-states. Cunard may be deemed “transnational” if the anthology is perceived as spanning continents and countries; I would say that it is “international” in maintaining nation-state distinctions as a measure of the universal.[27]

Not only does the integral importance of “nation” remain to be more comprehensively addressed in literary modernist studies but so does the idea of nation within nation. The common basis of “international” and “transnational” is the Latin “natus” (past participle of “nasci”) meaning “being born in,” as in “native,” which is somewhat distinct from “being first in,” as in “Native.”  This aspect and distinction are segregated into indigenous modernism and are largely absent in international or transnational modernist studies. The deep study of cosmopolitanism in these fields focus on identities that travel across nation-state boundaries and often inhabit certain racialized, gendered, and classed positions, which have not yet substantively included the indigenous international.[28] In the essay “America’s Indian Problem” (1921), the title of which directly addresses the contentious nature of national belonging, mixed-race Sioux writer and activist Zitkala-Ša argues that the proud performance of the “Red Man” on foreign battlefields in World War I makes him eminently eligible to be recognized as a citizen of the United States.[29] While the word “international” is not used here, the horizon of Native identity spans the national and the international simultaneously, through the references to both citizenship and war. In a pamphlet, “The Brotherhood of Races,” she notes: “It might be well for Americans who go to Egypt to see the Sphinx to remember that in America we have a living Sphinx in the red man. Our American Indians are descendants from one of the oldest races of the earth. The Indian is older than the Sphinx.”[30] The close juxtaposition of American, Indian, and Egyptian emphasizes the central position of indigenous identity in the context of inter/national civilizations signified by the word “races.”

The lives of two other Native contemporaries bear witness to the relevance of the international, in the sense that the experience of nativeness (a sense of belonging) endures even through the travels across, as well as life within, nation-states. John Joseph Mathews, born in Pawhuska (Oklahoma, United States) was a World War I Air Force veteran and a graduate of Oxford University who traveled widely in Europe and Africa, and was also a founder of the Osage Tribal Museum (1938), a member of the Osage Tribal Council, and participant in the reorganization of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in the 1930s. Chippewa-Cree D’Arcy McNickle, who often passed as “white,” also attended Oxford University, traveled in Europe, joined the Bureau of Indian Affairs, worked with the National Congress of American Indians (founded by Zitkala-Ša), lectured at the University of Saskatchewan, and directed the Center for the History of the American Indian in Chicago.[31] If such figures are categorized as “modernist” and “indigenous,” the complexity of their lives and careers compels, at the very least, a closer scrutiny of the implications of “international” and “transnational.”[32]

Contemporaries of these modernist figures, across continents, do not merely add geographical and cultural diversity to the range of voices but demonstrate the implications of “international” as distinct from those of “transnational.” In early-twentieth-century modernity, “international” defines the interactions of nations, approximating cultural groupings, which are distinct from each other. Martiniquais Aimé Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Return To My Native Land, 1939) emphasizes the explicit investment of affiliations/commitments in one’s unique culture.

Aimé Césaire, 2003. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Fig. 3. Aimé Césaire, 2003. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Ethiopian Afawark Cabra Iyasus’s second novel Haddis Alem (The New World, 1924) writes about a traveling hero who is educated in Europe and returns to Ethiopia. Xhosa writer A. C. Jordan’s The Wrath of the Ancestors (1940) depicts a clash of African and Western cultures, as does Eighteenpence (1941) by Ghanaian R. E. Obeng. Senegalese authors Ahmadou Mapaté Diagne, in Les Trois Volontés de Malic (The Three Wishes of Malic, 1920), Bakary Diallo, in Force bonté (Much Good Will, 1926), and Ousmane Diop Socé, in Karim (1935), all tell stories about young boys caught between Muslim and Western traditions. Sidiki Dembele of Mali in Les Inutiles (The Useless Ones, 1960) urges intellectuals to return to their traditional homes. The authors’ and their protagonists’ crossings and borrowings recognized nation-state distinctions and returned explicitly to a singular basis of identity.[33]

As many modernist individuals and collectives expressed it, directly or indirectly, national identity is co-constitutive with other aspects of their identities, whether they are citizens of already existing nations or belong to communities aspiring to rise out of colonial or other conditions to claim that status. Even their acts of “moving across” (more properly indicated in “transnational”) do not fundamentally undercut the understanding of distinct cultural “difference” associated with nation, even as they contest these constructions. What remains germane, in both “international” and “transnational,” especially in juxtaposing modernists, is the asymmetry of experiences. “Major” modernist figures may have defied or rejected identities based in nation-state identities without any risk or adverse consequence since their privilege rested upon an uncontested citizenship and cultural capital. Woolf did not think of herself as anything but English even as she declares in Three Guineas (1941): “as a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.”[34] The repetition of “country” calls up “nation” and moves quickly to “the whole world” in a gesture of universalism. The “nation,” here England, is the basis for her declaration even as she rejects it, based on opposition to masculinism rather than race. Just two years before this declaration, Césaire in Return to My Native Land issued a call to return to the native land, Martinique, not a nation at that time and still a “department” of France. In these contexts, modernist cosmopolitanism is predicated on some adherence to cultural difference as connected to national identities, and, at the same time, on a declaration of human sameness that overrides these identities.[35]

Virginia Woolf, c. 1927. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Fig. 4. Virginia Woolf, c. 1927. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

“Trans,” by definition, signifies movement but it does not ignore boundaries and categories simply because it moves. Attachment (even retrenchment), belonging, commitment, and inherited legacies appear in the shape of national cultures even when “trans” is in play. The essay “Out in the Blue of Europe” describes at least two kinds of transnationalism and cosmopolitanism, and both involve “multi-stranded social relations that link together their societies of origin and settlement.”[36] The modernist individuals and groups referred to above profess an universalism through their nation-state based identities; their use of the term “international” deserves more consideration, in contradistinction to the implications of “transnational.”

What the Use of “Transnational” Implies for our Methodologies

In “transnational literary modernist studies,” the first word suffers from a schism that compounds the absence. “Trans” was absent in the discourses of modernist figures themselves and, in studies today, “nation” is suspended or, at least, restricted in its importance. Both the schism and the absence prompt a number of questions about our own heuristics.

The first question: how does it affect our analytical practices to bypass the unequal and also competitive nature of nationhood? “Transnational” in English-language literary modernist studies thus far largely alludes to the crossing of nation-state boundaries without invoking what these borders signify explicitly for differently classed, racialized, sexualized, and gendered subjects. In bypassing asymmetries, we maintain them, and this may imply that we assume a position of power to move past the inequalities and complexities that are embodied in various modernist figures.[37]

The second question: What does the lack of attention to national identity and internationalism imply? When transnational literary modernist studies obscure the relevance of the nation-state; “trans” appears to signify “through” but, in effect, comes to mean “over.” This bypass also c/overtly recuperates modernism as a universal category. A concept (“modernism”) with its locally determined values, generated in Western Europe and North America, are applied to other places; the local criteria of those deemed “others” remain local and do not appear to influence, transform, or redefine the dominant. In the introduction to The Modernist World (2015), the title of which is significant in this context, the editors say that they asked the numerous contributors “if the term ‘modernism’ or an equivalent even existed in their areas of research . . . no one answered that no such term functioned in their fields.”[38] The “new modernist studies” is presented as “working to restore to modernist studies something of the vibrant plurality that had characterized modernism itself—wherever and whenever it occurred” (Ross and Lindgren, The Modernist World, 1).

Plurality is not equality.[39] The “expansive gestures’ and “vibrant plurality” happen in the context of decolonization, economic globalization, and continuing struggles for political and cultural legitimacy, each with its embedded inequities. Often, “global” or “transnational” means including the insurrectionary “others,” that is, those who are minoritized or marginalized in terms of culture, race, nation, gender, and/or class. Moreover, there are hierarchies of otherness: Woolf is made “other” because of her gender, Hussain is made “other” for her gender, but that is defined in her particular cultural context and, in turn, she is rendered a cultural other in an international context. It would be inaccurate to start from the premise that the “other,” however configured, represents the “transnational.”

I ask a different question than whether “modernism” existed differently in various places. What are the operative terms through which practitioners historicize those regions themselves? For instance, the period of the 1850s–1950s is termed “the Bengal Renaissance” in the northeast regions of India, in what was once East Bengal (now Bangladesh) and West Bengal (now a state in independent India). Modern, not modernist, Chinese literature is named Late Qing (1895–1911), Republican (1912–1949) and Maoist (1949–1975). If there were movements or shifts contemporaneous with European and American modernism, they responded to local traditions and histories and to world events simultaneously. It appears as epistemological dispossession to override local and national nomenclatures, and to re-name them in the singular mold of modernism, particularly if the term is not employed in such geographies and histories. Even the plural form, modernisms, still maintains its singular origin. To contest this reconstituted universalism of transnational modernist studies, one can begin to conceive of modernism as one of many monikers active in the early twentieth century.

The third question: Do juxtaposition and comparison enact transnationalism? In many comparative studies, the “other” (usually brown or black or colonial white) signifies diversity, and is contained as transnational or modernist by being rendered the same as the figure to which they are compared (usually white-identified, from an imperial center). For example, Dark is compared against West, Hussain against Woolf—but these juxtapositions do not ultimately re-situate either figure fundamentally, only cast them in a dominant context made “new” and “expanded” and “inclusive.” Transnational becomes transcendence in bypassing the material significance of nation-state boundaries. Comparisons that keep incommensurabilities at the forefront can allow for fissures as well as asymmetries within connections while avoiding equivalencies. In order to do so, however, juxtaposition and comparison need to emphasize different as well as shared material conditions of artistic production as well as reflect upon the implications of doing such comparisons.[40]

The fourth question: What work does “transnational” do in English-language literary modernist studies? Often, the schism between “trans” and “nation” allows both parts to be explained through analogy that turns each into a metaphor. The essay “Is the Trans in Transnational the Trans in Transgender?” compares nation-state discipline and regulation to the enforced conformity of binary sex-identities. The transnational is read “as a dimension of trans space” and also co-constitutive with it (Berman, “Is the Trans?,” 223). In either sense, the material consequences of the movement of bodies, carrying all their differential cultural and political significations across asymmetrical state structures, disappear. Perhaps the analogy of gender to nation and trans- movements across both succeeds for Orlando, who is the focus of this essay, but for every Orlando, there is a Lucrezia for whom transgression is not possible and/or does not have the same consequences. As Michel Foucault says, “[n]ecessarily, we must dismiss those tendencies that encourage the consoling play of recognitions” and I would add that such play has epistemological consequences.[41]

“Trans” in “transnational,” separated from the historicity of “nation,” is lifted from the actual material and ideological constraints of the subjects (authors and their fictional protagonists) themselves, and thus becomes a metaphor with overtones of the romantic. These tones emerge when “trans” is endowed with an inordinately grand capacity to be absolutely liberating and uncompromisingly resistant to hegemonic conditions. With the kind of comprehensive boundary-breaking and ethically revolutionary burden placed on “trans” to disrupt and “queer,” “transnational” is made to do a lot of work, including ethical and political liberation as well as fulfill the utopian promise of the non-normative. In our resurrectional analyses, modernist authors whom we call “transnational” are endowed with the superhuman ability to think and do everything equally progressively on all fronts, always already fully revolutionary or progressive. To the positive value ascribed to “modernism,” then, is added the affirmative charge attributed to “transnational.”

Is the outcome of transnational modernist studies to redeem modernists’ “progressive” character, so as to indicate divestment equally from structures such as nation, gender, sexuality, race, and class? Or is this casting of the transnational a projection of our own fantasies of what “progressive” mean? As a response to these questions, I believe that it remains for English-language literary modernist studies, international or transnational, to consider more closely modernists’ investments in their various privileges, even as these figures use them for anti-hegemonic ends, as well as to contemplate the different marginalizations that constitute their politics and production. Even if one were to set aside the mis-naming of early-twentieth-century modernists and their own vocabularies, it becomes limiting to define the “transnational” as only and absolutely and always contesting, problematizing, or dismantling hegemonies.

In this regard, does “transnational modernism” appear to describe our own practices rather than those of our subjects?[42] Transnational modernist studies demonstrate a paradox: objectifying the modernist figure, in the sense that the figure’s own vocabulary is supplanted with our own, and empathically advancing (occasionally aggrandizing) their position/production as boundary-breaking. The re-reading of what modernist figures did not intend effects a certain disembodiment of those subjects themselves or, at the very least, transforms them into holographic platforms . . . or vehicles (to continue the machinic metaphor of modernism/modernity) for our own “turn” into the transnational.[43]

This should give us pause. Time to hit the brakes.

“Transnational” in an Other Field

Only by comparison with other fields can the particularities of English-language literary transnational modernist studies emerge more clearly. Adjacent to ours, there is another field that has addressed some of the possibilities, complications, limitations, and nuances of the term “transnational”; these inquiries could provide some further pathways for our own turn to the “transnational.” That field is interdisciplinary women’s/feminist and queer studies. It is worth noting that, in the last decade of English-language literary modernist studies, “transnational” has been taken up largely in the subfield of feminist or women’s modernist studies, and not to any significant degree in the vast field of modernist studies in general. In comparison, “global” appears to have a larger purchase across subcategories of this same field.

The most immediate element in interdisciplinary feminist studies of the use of the term “transnational” is that it is firmly located in late-twentieth-century post/modernity, that is, in the material consequences of post- and neo-colonialism, the effects of neoliberal capitalist globalization, the accelerated pace of technological innovation, growing economic inequities, and enforced and voluntary mass migrations. While the term “transnational” originated in the early twentieth century, this field of inquiry has marked the changes in conditions across the last century and deepened the distinction between “inter” and “trans.”[44] “Transnational” does not signify a simple deferral or defiance or denial of nation-state boundaries but recognizes an essential bind—that nation-state-bound identities still hold power through cultural practices associated with them at the same time that the construct of nation-state is problematic.[45] In literary modernist studies, “The Mother Tongues of Modernity: Modernism, Transnationalism, Translation” is one of the few essays that recognizes this very bind: “transnational” is the impossibility of invoking nationalism in a consistent way and the impossibility of abandoning the notion of the nation.[46]

“Transnational” signifies not only “across” or “beyond” or “between,” but “multiply within and across.” It connotes living and contending with more than one set of cultural practices that are often made subordinate to hegemonic national identities. If one were to use “transnational” to speak of modernist figures in this regard, what if we were to consider the fact that some modernists do have various “homes” but that that experience never becomes integrated into their production? Take T. S. Eliot, for example; do modernist scholars emphasize the experience of an Eliot rather than that of, say, a Cornelia Sorabji or a Ras Makonnen or a Gwendolyn Bennett?[47]

In most interdisciplinary feminist/women’s and queer studies, “transnational” focuses on the movement, and the consequences of that movement, that he bodies of the subjects themselves experience. It indicates a lived experience, a corpo-reality made legible and redefined through movement such as exile, migration, or travel in post/imperial circuits of globalization. In the context of the (ongoing) inequality of nation-states, this material experience carries various degrees of risks, rewards, and other consequences, based on the actual social, political, cultural, and economic statuses of these bodies. Individuals’ privileges and marginalizations are based in the intersection of race, gender, nationality, culture, and class read on to bodies.[48] In analyzing the variety of positions that diverse subjects hold, interdisciplinary women’s/feminist and queer studies present the notions of transnationalism from above and transnationalism from below. The former refers to the experiences of those who are or have been historically privileged in their socio-economic and political statuses (e.g. jet-setting executives, professional transplants). The latter refers to the networks of political and social solidarity and advocacy for the rights of the historically underprivileged or marginalized (e.g., indigenous communities, migrant laborers). In both, which constitute not a binary but a spectrum, the boundaries of nation-states, and the cultural differences and inequities contained in them, remain germane.[49]

Turning to the “Transnational” Again

What these strata of “transnational” and other aspects addressed in interdisciplinary women’s/feminist and queer studies signify for literary modernist studies is that class and racialization, to name only two axes of identity, are intrinsically tied to nation-state structures in the corporeal experiences of subjects and inflect the notion of travel. Who travels and why they travel matters. These links potentially impact a central concept of literary modernist studies, namely, cosmopolitanism, which is often claimed on the basis of class privilege and by those for whom citizenship is not at risk or at stake. Some modernist figures traverse nations with the ease of imagination, such as Woolf, who, in her own words, was an occasional and somewhat reluctant tourist, mostly in Western Europe. There are also some modernist exiles and emigrés who travel across nation-state borders yet remain on the fringes of this privilege and for whom the nature of their multiple affiliations/commitments signal exclusion, poverty, or danger, such as an Una Marson, a Katherine Mansfield, or a Jean Rhys. Greater attention to the commitment to being on the ground in more than one place on a daily basis, and experiencing the consequences of that, would add nuance to our use of “transnational.”

To take another axis, “race,” in the early twentieth century, literary figures appear to use the word to signify culture rather than only skin color. Culture, in turn, signifies civilization or the perceived absence/lack of it; for instance, references to the Chinese or Indian or Hamitic races carry this connotation. “Race” was/is unevenly applied to cultures that were formally still colonies of other nation-states. On the other hand, when “British or “American” modernism is categorized as such, the terminology teeters between cultural and structural (nation-state) identities, seeming to foreground the former—culture—over the latter, while the latter—nation-state—always frames and qualifies culture. In this context, early twentieth century modernists’ use of “international” could mean one’s interaction with the cultural “other” and “foreign,” without explicit reference to nation-state structures, since much of modernists’ correspondence and influence were on cultural bases, while shadowed by governmental ones.

If the nation-state can be seen as an extension of family belonging, in other words, ethnically or racially defined groupings, then what is Anglo-American-European ethnicity understood to be? Note how belonging is displaced onto national identity (in terms such as English, French, American, etc.) and routed away from ethnicity . . . in these cases, past “white.” Transnational women’s/feminist and queer studies call attention to the element of explicit but also implicit racialization of groups, an aspect that could further inform the use of “transnational” in literary modernist studies. In this regard, a T. S. Eliot or Gertrude Stein or Victoria Ocampo may be read in terms of an assumed whiteness when travelling to other nations where they are situated in contexts defined largely by historically embedded notions of group cultural identity, such as in England or France. “Otherness” in terms of white-identified heterogeneity could be a potential field of inquiry, along with the ongoing studies of minoritized gendered and racialized identities in literary modernist analyses.

To widen the frame, one might consider colonial cosmopolitanism that takes on particular inflections for brown and black subjects in specific ways that speak to their individual subscription to nation-state ideologies or their experience of citizenship. Vivek Bald’s Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America analyzes the presence of “Bengali peddlers” in early-twentieth-century Harlem. These South Asians, alongside West Indians and Puerto Ricans, made Harlem in/tensely hybrid. In Bengali Harlem, Bald also shows how Bengali Muslims and Punjabi Sikhs became part of black New Orleans, through catering to the commercial trend of all things “exotic” and “Oriental.”[50] In this same era, Woolf’s purchase and display of “oriental” objects in her living room maintained cultural difference (English and Chinese) while Bengalis and Puerto Ricans encountered each other and the “natives” of Harlem directly. “Exotics”—objects and people—travelled on globalized routes of commerce and labor, whereas Woolf stood still at the center. These instances of homogenous and heterogeneous individual and collective entities further qualify “international” and “transnational.”

A more deeply inflected use of “transnational” in English-language literary modernist studies would recognize the contests between foreign and native post/colonial patriarchal regimes. It is worth noting that many patriarchal regimes in the early twentieth century used “international” and continue to use the same today. The project of locating the insurrectionary “other” remains incomplete if it fails to refer to the hegemonic patriarchies that inform the positions of our (modernist) subjects. For instance, reading Hussain as a Muslim woman in the early twentieth century through her negotiations with both British imperial masculinity and Indian Muslim patriarchy would perhaps illuminate how her contemporaries in England or the United States undertook similar multilateral negotiations in their own realms.[51] The analytical objective could expand from gender as it refers only to women to a deconstruction of implicit masculinities across cultures; this would make possible analyses of gendered hegemons that undergird the “international” as well as the “transnational.”

A particular weapon common to both imperial supremacy and anticolonial nationalism is language, particularly the purported uniqueness of a “national” language which is often only one in a medley of regional, tribal, and indigenous dialects and languages. The largely monocultural literacy (both linguistic fluency and familiarity with cultural modes) of an Eliot or a Claude McKay or a Marcel Proust sits alongside the heterogenous literacies of a Sorabji or a Grazia Deledda or a Césaire.[52] While “international” depends heavily on singular languages as representative of nation-states, “transnational” exposes the actual multiplicity inside and across nation-states. It is possible, then, to say transnationalism may not always surpass the “collectivity of the nation” (Walkowitz, “Why Transnational Modernism,” 157). However, it functions in the awareness of hybridity even within a single language (e.g., different Englishes) and, at the very least, a consideration of how languages are situated and defined within and across nation-state structures.

In the early twentieth century, inequalities of nation-states in relation to each other are complicated further by internal asymmetries within both existing and emerging entities, as discussed above. Hegemonic powers can often choose to forget that the “other” functions in contexts that are not with reference to the “center” at all. Local knowledges constitute their own universe of values, to some degree, depending on their relative engagement with global traffic. Often, local knowledges pitch themselves in opposition to, and practice a deliberate exclusion of, urban/cosmopolitan/imperial/natonal values that are perceived as threats. So, for Hussain in an emerging India or Zitkala-Ša in South Dakota in the imperial United States, local and global modernisms interrelate differently and not always at the same pace or with the same priorities.

The essay “Afterword: Regional Modernism and Transnational Regionalism” brings apparently antagonistic terms together in the title and raises the point that when the “other” is introduced, “[m]odernism becomes transnational” and “[a]t the same time . . . becomes regional.” Yet it also observes that “the challenge to modernism becomes one of including heterogeneity and global regions in its categories.”[53] Modernism, the phenomenon and experience, was/is already “heterogeneous” and “global”; mainstream modernist studies homogenized it and now, “new modernist studies” reclaims the “transnational” as an avenue towards the “heterogeneous” and “global.” As I say above, “transnational” is made to do a lot of work where diversity is professed through the inclusion of racialized, gendered, and sexualized minorities, and where the “center” is re-situated but not fundamentally re-examined.[54]

In other words, how “regional” is characterized depends on who inhabits the region. In most English-language literary modernist studies, “regional” in England or the United States is differently cast and received than “regional” in Kenya or India. The latter is ethnicized and often slotted into the “primitive” or “tribal” while the former is made “quaint” (rendered pastoral or rustic or parochial) but always as a subcategory of the modern nation. Interdisciplinary feminist/women’s studies, in comparison, emphasizes that transnationalism is composed of declared attachments to more than one geographical area or culture, that “transnationals” draw connections to them, even when distant from them, and acknowledge their formative influence on their very identities and politics.[55]

The place where the “regional” meets the “other” in the nation-state is in the construct of “indigenous” or “Native.”[56] Indigenous or Native identities are most often obscured or displaced by claiming the “regional” for dominant subjects or by relegating them to the not-new and not-now, namely to the “primitive.” So indigenous modernisms become associated with a particular rendition of the local/regional, and by implication, the antitheses to the cosmopolitan which is attached to the urban-industrial, the “universal,” “high culture,” and, most importantly, the “now” and the “new,” all claimed as features of hegemonic modernism.

Like “trans” in “new modernist studies,” “native” or “indigenous,” becomes a metaphor. “Locating Transnationalism: Circle Magazine and California, Modernism in the 1940s” mentions Eric White’s notion of “localist modernism,” discusses Alfred Kronenberg’s Others: A Magazine in New Verse, and Robert McAlmon and William Carlos Williams’s Contact as “seeking to participate in and indigenize transatlantic cultural dialogues” (Pawlik, “Locating Transnationalism,” 166). While it is meaningful and relevant to bring attention to the “site-specific” implications of locality and draw from “geographically materialist scholarship,” the use of “indigenize” as a metaphor erases the material importance of actual indigenous experience. “Indigenous” is also used in essays such as “Anglo-American anti-modernism: a transnational reading” in such phrases “an indigenous English poetic tradition” and “a native English line” (Webb, “Anglo American Anti-Modernism,” 167).[57]

Nationalities are not only entities that relate to each other but are also internally incommensurable, as evident in the status of adivasis (South Asia), aboriginal peoples (Australia, South America), and indigenous populations across all settler colonies that produced various modernisms. Marginalized native populations such as the Dalit, who were not categorized as “indigenous” in India, have produced writings from the late nineteenth century on; the first articles of early Dalit writings by Gopal Baba Valangkar appeared in 1888 and organizations such as the Anarya Dosh Pariharak Mondal were created. B. R. Ambedkar who spearheaded a movement in the 1930s influenced women writers such as Baby Kamble, Shantabai Dane, and Shantabai Kamble. In all these writers’ works, the relationship of cultural identity to the nation-state is key. A consideration of “native” brings into greater focus the intrinsic significance of the nation-state to analyses of “international” and “transnational,” and could, in turn, lead perhaps to analyses of the indigenous international of the other-than-white West.

Labeling our Subjects/Objects

Today, the term “transnational” is deeply infused with the effects of neocolonial and neoliberal discourses that interdisciplinary women’s/feminist/queer studies have tackled. Political and cultural climates in which various methods—imposition of values, or extraction/acquisition, or appropriation—to manufacture, consume, and profit from old/new brands affect critical praxes, generally speaking. In this environment, vigilance about our epistemes is all the more urgent, especially if we veer towards applying terminology that the subjects of our analyses themselves did not use. The expansiveness and inclusiveness of transnational literary modernist studies, which are often at the expense (no pun intended) of the ways in which our subjects imagined themselves, appear to come dangerously close to partaking of a neoliberal capitalist rhetoric that celebrates individuality (thus hyperembodies) as well as simultaneously objectifies (thus disembodies and disembeds) the figures of our focus.[58]

In the constellation of terms related to “transnational” that perform similar functions today are “planetary” and “global.” All three reflect more our aspirations for modernist studies than the aspirations or even the vocabulary of modernists themselves. They appear as reincarnations of internationalism and universalism that replicate what modernists of many stripes in the early twentieth century proclaimed. In this sense, they continue to carry the cultural values of Anglo-American production as the measure of modernism everywhere, and/or in which suprahistorical criteria abide.[59] Some of us, as scholars, are bearers of the legacies of “dominant” as well as “subordinated” traditions. I wonder whether the purported inclusion and “recovery” or “discovery” of the new will lead to an actual decolonization of methodologies. I worry also that dominant paradigms are repeated while the primary stated intention is to critique and redo, and to address the blind spots. In this moment, we have two tasks: to scrutinize our methodologies and to acknowledge our positionality.[60]

Given the complexities and dangers laid out here, can “transnational” still be used? Yes, with qualifications—we would have to specify limited definitions of the term in order to carve out our territories of analysis, if not gesture at other fields in which it is used. We are conducting modernist studies in post/modern times. It is our vantage point in post/modernity that could bring us to the moment where the “other” remains uncontainable, even if partially; the “other” here is the subject of our enquiries, the modernist figure itself.[61] The radical incommensurability of the “other” must remain. Meaningful respect for the “other” resides in the recognition and acceptance of the impossibility of incorporation (a tactic of neoliberal capitalism), so that we do not use difference in the service of sameness.


[1] See Randolph Bourne, “Trans-national America,” in Atlantic Monthly 118 (1916): 86-97. See also Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 1921, s.v., “transnationalism, n.”

[2] Zitkala-Ša (1876–1938), of Yankton Sioux and white heritage, was a literary and musical artist, a member of the Society of American Indians and a cofounder of the National Council of American Indians. Cornelia Sorabji (1866–1954), a Parsi-Christian, was the first woman to study Law at Oxford University and advocated for land and property rights of purdahnashin in colonial Bengal. The fact that a footnote is needed to describe them underscores the fact that they are “unknown” or “minor.”

[3] I define globalization as the circulation of peoples, ideas, goods, and capital, and consider the modernist period to be one in a sequence of eras, ours being the latest.

[4] Douglas Mao and Rebecca Walkowitz, “The New Modernist Studies,” PMLA 123, no. 3 (2008): 737–48.

[5] See Ann Ardis, “Editor’s Introduction to Mediamorphosis: Print Culture and Transatlantic/Transnational Public Sphere(s),” Modernism/modernity 19, no. 3 (2012): v–vi.

[6] See Janet Neigh, “The Transnational Frequency of Radio Connectivity in Langston Hughes’s 1940 Poetics,” Modernism/modernity 20, no. 2 (2013): 265–85; see also Laura Doyle, “Transnational History at our Backs: A Long View of Larsen, Woolf, and Queer Racial Subjectivity in Atlantic Modernism,” Modernism/modernity 13, no. 3 (2006): 531–59.

[7] See Elizabeth Sheehan, “Fashioning Internationalism in Jessie Redmon Fauset’s Writing,” in A Companion to the Harlem Renaissance, ed. Cherene Sherrard-Johnson (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015), 137–53.

[8] Sarah Fedirka, “Reorienting Modernism: Transnational Exchange in the Modernist Little Magazine Orient,” English Language Notes 49, no. 1 (2011): 77–90, 78; see also Joanna Pawlik, “Locating Transnationalism: Circle Magazine and California Modernism in the 1940s,” in Navigating the Transnational in Modern American Literature and Culture, ed. Tara Stubbs and Doug Haynes (New York: Routledge, 2017), 162–84.

[9] Laura Winkiel and Laura Doyle discuss geomodernisms in Geomodernisms: Race, Modernism, Modernity (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), and Susan Stanford Friedman discusses “planetarity” in “Planetarity: Musing Modernist Studies,” Modernism/modernity 17, no. 3 (2010): 471–99.

[10] See Laura Winkiel, “Nancy Cunard’s Negro and the Transnational Politics of Race,” Modernism/modernity 13, no. 3 (2006): 507–30, Scott, “First Drafts” and Susan J. Carson, “Paris and beyond: The Transnational/National in the Writing of Christina Stead and Eleanor Dark,” in Transnational Ties: Australian Lives in the World, ed. Desley Deacon et al. (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 2008), 229–44.

[11] See also Jennifer Chang, “Pastoral and the Problem of Place in Claude McKay’s Harlem Shadows,” in A Companion to the Harlem Renaissance, 187–202, which cross-references “international” with “transnational.”  

[12] See Monika Class and Terry F. Robinson, Transnational England: Home and Abroad, 1780–1860 (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009).

[13] Compare Virginia Woolf masquerading as an Abyssinian in royal garb in the Dreadnought Hoax generations later (1910). That instance is an affirmation, rather than a transformation, of Englishness.

[14] Andrew Webb, “Anglo-American Anti-Modernism: A Transnational Reading,” European Journal of American Culture 28, no. 2 (2009): 167–83, 179. The “crossings” and “borrowings” are based in an implicit understanding of nation-state-based identities and internationalism.

[15] See Rachel Harris, “Cosmopolitan, Diasporic, and Transnational: The Flourishing of Hebrew Modernism,” Modernism/modernity 21, no. 1 (2014): 361–68.

[16] See Lara Putnam, “Provincializing Harlem: The ‘Negro Metropolis’ as the Northern Frontier of a Connected Caribbean,” Modernism/modernity 20, no. 3 (2013): 469–84.

[17] Catherine Turner’s review of Anita Patterson’s Race, American Literature and Transnational Modernism, Journal of American Ethnic History 29, no. 4 (2010): 119–21, also mentions migration, alienation and statelessness as part of modernism, and these are fundamental features of transnationalism.

[18] See Mao and Walkowitz, “The New Modernist Studies,” 746.

[19] See Ernest Renan, “Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?” (Lecture delivered at the Sorbonne, March 11, 1882. Trans. Ethan Rundell). National belonging is formalized and predicated upon a hegemonic definition and criteria. Quite apart from formal papers, dominant modernist figures claim “citizenship” in the form of cultural belonging. Dislocation and alienation felt by those whose citizenship is not questioned is distinct in nature and consequence from those felt by people from spaces “elsewhere” or marginalized (colony, reservation, rural) by any given hegemon.

[20] The League of Nations in the 1920s and its subsequent incarnation, the United Nations in the 1940s, are based explicitly on this form.

[21] See Ben Tran, “Queer Internationalism and Modern Vietnamese Aesthetics,” in The Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms, ed. Mark Wollaeger and Matt Eatough (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 367–84, in which the author sets modernity and modernism in the context of anticolonial nationalisms. See also Aarthi Vadde, Chimeras of Form: Modernist Internationalism beyond Europe, 1914–2016 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016) for references to nation-state structures.

[22] Martin Halliwell, in “Modernist Triangulations: Transnational, International, National,” in American Modernism: Cultural Transactions, ed. Catherine Morley and Alex Goody (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009), 26–47, uses American nation-state supremacy as a framework to discuss the transnational, international, and national. In Friedman, “Planetarity,” planetarity and worlding as used in cultural studies (e.g., Gayatri Spivak) are presented as “utopian” and “seldom denying the continued significance of the nation-state” (495n5). Friedman offers her own definition of planetarity: “an epistemological sense to imply a consciousness of the earth as planet, not restricted to geopolitical formations and potentially encompassing the non-human as well as the human” (495n5). Pawlik, in “Locating Transnationalism” draws attention to, but does not develop, this notion of planetarity as obscuring “unequal development of the forces of cultural production” and “other asymmetries of social, political, and material relations, within or between so-called first world nations” (163).

[23] It is perhaps time to look at the postcoloniality of the center, or mixed heritages in such figures as Monica Ali and Zadie Smith, not to mention mixed heritages in the early twentieth century, such as those of Zitkala-Ša. In her own time, see The Real American (a weekly paper published between 1922 and 1924). Beth H. Piatote, in Domestic Subjects: Gender, Citizenship, and Law in Native American Literature (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013) discusses Native American gender and citizenship; Kiara M. Vigil, in Indigenous Intellectuals: Sovereignty, Citizenship, and the American Imagination, 1880–1930 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), addresses sovereignty and citizenship; Katherine Tyler, in Whiteness, Class and the Legacies of Empire: On Home Ground (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) analyzes whiteness in terms of ethnicity, coloniality, and international comparison, and asserts that merely pluralizing is not sufficient.

[24] The International of Revolutionary Writers, the International Association, the Artists’ International including Eric Gill’s two letters refers to “international” in the titles of their works or in the names of their organizations. See Patrick Deane, History in Our Hands: A Critical Anthology of Writings on Literature, Culture and Politics from the 1930s (London: Leicester University Press, 1998), 54–62, 107–08, 361–64.

[25] Iqbalunnisa Hussain, Changing India: A Muslim Woman Speaks (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 2015), 153.

[26] Rebecca West, “The Necessity and Grandeur of the International Ideal,” in Deane, ed., History in Our Hands, 74–88, 75.

[27] See Nancy Cunard, Negro: An Anthology (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 1996).

[28] See Scott Richard Lyons, “Actually Existing Nations: Modernity, Diversity, and the Future of Native American Studies,” American Indian Quarterly 35, no. 3 (2011): 294–312.

[29] Zitkala-Ša, “America’s Indian Problem,” in American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings, ed. Cathy N. Davidson and Ada Norris (New York: Penguin, 2003), 155–62, 156.

[30] Manuscript, box 1/folder 4 in the Gertrude Bonnin Papers, The Tom Perry Collection, Harold Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

[31] Justine Dymond’s “Modernism(s) Inside Out: History, Space, and Modern American Indian Subjectivity in Cogewea, the Half-Blood,” in Winkiel and Doyle, ed., Geomodernisms, 297–312, Rita Keresztesi’s Strangers at Home: American Ethnic Modernism between the World Wars (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005), and Kenneth Lincoln’s Native American Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983) analyze the roles and contributions of Native Americans to American modernisms.

[32] Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa) draws attention to Native identity grappling with modernity in many writings; see especially his work The Indian Today: The Past and Future of the First American (1915; rpt., Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2007). Rebecca Tillett, in “Native American Literary Modernism: The Novels of Mourning Dove, John Joseph Mathews, and D’Arcy McNickle,” in Morley and Goody, ed., American Modernism: Cultural Transactions, 117–42, draws attention to this asynchronous existence that is often not accommodated in modernist studies. See more contemporary works such as Penelope Myrtle Kelsey’s Tribal Theory in Native American Literature: Dakota and Haudenosaunee Writing and Indigenous Worldviews (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), Bernd C. Peyer’s “The Thinking Indian”: Native American Writers, 1850s–1920s (New York: Peter Lang, 2007), Joy Porter and Kenneth M. Roemer’s The Cambridge Companion to Native American Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), and collections such as Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr., and James W. Parins’s A Biobibliography of Native American Writers, 1772–1925: A Supplement. (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1995) for a diversity of Native American modernists. Johannes Fabian’s Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983) offers the concept of simultaneous time-scales in which the “modern” and “now” are occupied by the hegemonic power (anthropologist) and the indigenous are assigned to a continuous “past.”

[33] See also the works of Léopold Senghor (Senegal) and Léon-Gontran Damas (French Guiana). The return to a singular basis of identity is explicit in the case of brown and black subjects, whether related to nationalism or not, whereas the reliance on a singular identity (Englishness, Americanness) remains explicit for white subjects.

[34] Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas (New York: Harcourt, 1938), 109.

[35] The desire to remake England for women’s belonging merits some consideration, rather than assume women’s oppositional stance to nationalism/nation.

[36] Linda Basch, Nina Glick Schiller, and Cristina Szanton Blanc, quoted in Ulrike M. Vieten, “‘Out in the Blue of Europe’: Modernist Cosmopolitan Identity and the Deterritorialization of Belonging,” Patterns of Prejudice 40, no. 3 (2006): 259–79, 262. For another definition of transnationalism, Vieten cites Donald G. Daviau who invokes a hybridized modernist continental European culture. Vieten observes that the “choice” of membership and participation are affected by social divisions; I would qualify this latter by adding class hierarchy and cultural difference, in the case of the modernists discussed here (“Out of the Blue,” 266). Winkiel’s definition of transnationalism, in “Nancy Cunard’s Negro,” mentions these different frames but does not address the different intensities of these commitments. Even as a believer in the virtues of flux, I note that all the emphases on the shifting and fluid has the effect of downplaying the tension about investment in place and heritage, the consequences of those investments, and the interest in promoting or reestablishing it on one’s own terms. See also Transnational Ties: Australian Lives in the World, ed. Desley Deacon, Penny Russell, and Angela Woollacott (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 2008), for an analysis of these complexities.

[37] The issue of what Abdul R. JanMohamed terms “affective benefits” arises here (“The Economy of Manichean Allegory: The Function of Racial Difference in Colonialist Literature,” Critical Inquiry 12, no. 1 [1985]: 59–87, 68). While he refers to the advantages of situational power that is “proffered” by the Manichean allegory to the “imperialist,” I would say that the phrase applies to the position of the academic analyst (68).

[38] Stephen Ross and Allana C. Lindgren, Introduction to The Modernist World, ed. Ross and Lindgren (New York: Routledge, 2015), 3.

[39] Roland Végsö, in “The Mother Tongues of Modernity: Modernism, Transnationalism, Translation” (Journal of Modern Literature 33, no. 2 (2010): 24–46) does address the modernists’ own universalism. Furthermore, universalism and transnationalism are linked directly, but not problematized.

[40] See Jessica Berman, “Is the Trans in Transnational the Trans in Transgender?,” Modernism/modernity 24, no. 2 (2017): 217–44, 220.

[41] Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” 88.

[42] Friedman, in “Planetarity,” addresses an unspecified “we” that diversifying modernisms is not a threat to (474). For many scholars, diversifying was always an opportunity; some have lived and worked transnationally, or at least experienced the strata of transnational experience.

[43] The representation of neglected and marginalized figures can often result in a certain degree of reluctance to disagree with them; an acknowledgement of our heroines’ circumscribed conditions can often produce hagiographies. Between the extremes of hyperembodiment and disembodiment, in late-twentieth-century circuits of transnational globalization where literary analysis circulate, arises the specter of capitalism that, according to Jean-François Lyotard, “inherently possesses the power to derealize familiar objects” (“Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?,” in Postmodernism: A Reader, ed. Thomas Docherty [New York: Columbia University Press, 1993], 38–46, 40).

[44] See, for instance, Abou B. Bamba, African Miracle, African Mirage: Transnational Politics and the Paradox of Modernization in Ivory Coast (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2016), and Melinda Adams and Gwynn Thomas, “Transnational Feminist Activism and Globalizing Women’s Movements,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies, 2018 (original publication 2010).

[45] See Rawwida Bakshi and Wendy Harcourt, The Oxford Handbook of Transnational Feminist Movements (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

[46] See Végsö, “The Mother Tongues.”

[47] See Hamsa Rajan, “The Ethics of Transnational Feminist Research and Activism: An Argument for a more comprehensive view,” Signs 43, no. 2 (2018): 269–300, and Belinda Wheeler, “Gwendolyn Bennett: A Leading Voice of the Harlem Renaissance,” in A Companion to the Harlem Renaissance, 203–17.

[48] “Intersectionality,” as Kimberlé Crenshaw discusses it, is the intersection of race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, nationality, and dis/ability. It is an episteme that analyzes the situation of black women made invisible by antiracist as well as antisexist discourse. See “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43, no. 6 (1991): 1241–99.

[49] See Lisa Rofel and Sylvia J. Yanagisako, Fabricating Transnational Capitalism: A Collaborative Ethnography of Italian-Chinese Fashion (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018).

[50] See Vivek Bald, Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013); see also works such as Manning Marable and Vanessa Agard-Jones, ed., Transnational Blackness: Navigating the Global Color Line (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

[51] See analyses like Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan, ed., Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994) that address the existence of disparate and overlapping systems of masculinist-nationalist power.

[52] Walkowitz indicates that we do not have to “extend our purview to several language traditions” but just “take more seriously translated and multilingual works” (“Why Transnational Modernism Can’t All Be In One Language,” English Language Notes 49, no. 1 (2011): 157–60, 158). That still signals, in my view, the supremacy of the hegemonic language that prevails in any given culture, puts forward a previous form of multiculturalism, and underestimate the mishaps of translation. Furthermore, the fact that many modernists spoke more than one language remains unaddressed.

[53] Marjorie Pryse, “Afterword: Regional Modernism and Transnational Regionalism,” Modern Fiction Studies 55, no. 1 (2009): 189–92, 189.

[54] The appeal that Kirby Brown makes to the larger field of studies, to pay attention to Native American modernisms repeats the binary of the “major” and the “minor,” and thus maintains the center (“American Indian Modernities and the New Modernist Studies ‘Indian Problem,’” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 59, no. 3 [2017]: 287–318). A contemplation of “indigenous” might not be just about including the “minor” but also raise issues about our (and modernists’) assumptions on nation-state, race, and citizenship that could lead to reformulations of the “major” itself.

[55] Pryse argues that the essays “nudge regional modernism into the global and the transnational” and that they “predict that a regional modernism must also, necessarily, become a transnational regionalism” (“Afterword: Regional Modernism,” 191). Similar to the better-known trope “modernist cosmopolitanism,” the phrases “regional modernism” and “transnational regionalism” verge on the paradox of being attached nowhere and everywhere. See analyses such as Shanna Ketchum, “Native American Cosmopolitan Modernism(s): A Rearticulation of Presence through Time and Space,” Third Text 19, no. 4 (2005): 357–64, for a different approach that ties indigeneity to cosmopolitanism, or Eric B. White, Transatlantic Avant-Gardes: Little Magazines and Localist Modernism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013), which links little magazines to “localist” modernism.

[56] An ironic and sinister derivative of “natio” is “nativist,” which becomes co-opted by white nationalists to demonstrate citizenship and patriotism; these are the same nationalists who are primary adversaries of Native American activists such as Zitkala-Ša in early-twentieth-century modernism.

[57] Végsö, in “The Mother Tongues of Modernity,” uses “native” as a metaphor, not with a reference to its material political implications. The quote is from the 1944 Editorial by George Leite.

[58] Friedman, in “Planetarity,” paraphrases Jennifer Wicke as saying that the renewal of the field of modernist studies recommodifies by rebranding and is therefore complicit in globalization (“Appreciation, Depreciation: Modernism’s Speculative Bubble,” Modernism/modernity 8, no. 3 [2001]: 389–404). The notion of the “new” is perspectival: “new” to whom?  What is new “here” has been “old” or at least existing for some time “there.” Similarly “underrepresented” according to whom?

[59] Andrew Reynolds and Bonnie Roos’s Behind the Masks of Modernism: Global and Transnational Perspectives (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2016) uses both “global” and “transnational” in their subtitle. As the reviewer Maria del Pilar Blanco comments, they do not distinguish between the two, either in the juxtaposition of various authors or in the large periodization across the last two centuries. The reviewer raises the point that “global,” “transnational,” and “modern” are used as catchwords to capture a wider audience (review of Behind the Masks of Modernism, ed. Reynolds and Roos, 2016, Modernism/modernity 24, no. 1 [2017]: 195–98). See also Jean-Michel Rabaté, ed., A Handbook of Modernism Studies (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2013), in which “transnational” is organized as a subset phenomenon, similar to Mark Wollaeger and Matt Eatough, The Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), which places “global” in the title and “international” as another subset, or John Carlos Rowe’s Afterlives of Modernism: Liberalism, Transnationalism, and Political Critique (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2011), in which “transnational” intersects with liberalism. In in my reading, “planetarity,” as used by Gayatri Spivak’s Death of a Discipline, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), signifies a call to defamiliarize known and received categories (the unheimlich, the making unhomely), and acknowledge the granular effects of globalization (the uneven material effects of the circulation of goods, peoples, and ideas).

[60] Friedman ends by suggesting that we leave the comfort zone for the contact zone. In postcolonial studies, the “contact zone” signifies the encounter between the “explorer” and the “native” and is fraught with issues of power, constituting epistemes of “otherness” (“Planetarity,” 494). See Mary Louise Pratt, “Arts of the Contact Zone,” Profession (1991): 33–40. Is hegemony reasserted in the fact that the contact zones of past eras themselves become the comfort zones of today? An example of such methodologies is in using the “other” to signify heterogeneity and “diversity.” New contact zones would require revisioning oneself.

[61] There are also references to “the new” in Ross and Lindgren, Introduction to The Modernist World, 1–3. How does deterritorialization, a concept introduced by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, relate to either the modernist figures’ experience of identity or to scholars using the notion of “transnationalism” (A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987])? We might easily claim that we are deterritorializing but we have to remember that displacements, linguistic or otherwise, still function within material inequalities.