On Time, Anniversaries, and New Beginnings

In More Tales of the City (1980), Armistead Maupin introduced us to Mona’s law: “you can have a hot job, a hot lover and a hot apartment, but you can't have all three at the same time.” In this long, brutal covid spring, I have been living a sad version of Mona’s law. Putting together a journal is not about hotness, but it does help to have three things: timeliness, editorial precision, and good relationships with the editorial team. This winter, as the wheels fell off the bus, we (I) chose precision and good relationships over timeliness. I could not have all three. Which is why I find myself writing an editor’s note for the January issue just after Memorial Day. It has been a very hard spring. We are—and I especially am—working hard to get all three aspects of editing right going forward. After all, my variation of Mona’s Law is a fiction. We can make it otherwise.

That said, this editor’s note marks the first issue of 2022, and thus the first of four opportunities to consider the centenary of some of the major works in our field. Centenaries are strange things, and, in modernist studies, they will be coming thick and fast over the next decade. Woolf’s phrase “On or about December 1910” is now well over a century old, and every year now we will pass new landmarks. Knowing this and fearing that a lively journal about a future-oriented artistic movement could soon become mired in a chin-stroking series of exercises of retrospection, I have been conservative in accepting pitches for clusters, articles, and special issues marking the time. Nevertheless, 1922 was a special year and its advent is special to us, in part because it is an anniversary not of violence, but of artistic achievement. If we value art as a mode of resistance to violence and a way to make meaning out of loss, then anniversaries that are determined by art are important.

So yes, 1922, the year that gave us Jacob’s Room, The Waste Land, and Ulysses, should be marked, but how much more interesting to take John Self’s tack at the BBC and look at less well-known pieces by May Sinclair, Katherine Mansfield, and Ryūnosuke Akutagawa from that same year. An anniversary, in other words, is an occasion to reconsider what is in the middle and what is at the edges of the field. The worst kinds of centenary celebrations instantiate the old saws unreflectively—precisely the opposite of my hopes for the journal.

The January issue continues exploring new aspects of modernist studies: familiar writers seen in new guises and contexts alongside articles on topics and writers that will be unfamiliar to many. Dive in—and let us know what treasures you find. We open with Jo Gill’s wonderful invitation: what if we took Hart Crane’s interest in architecture at its word? What can we learn if we pause over actual buildings with Crane before turning them into metaphor. A similar thread of materialism connects other articles in the issue: whether it is banking and capital, as in Alisa Zhulina’s exploration of how Chekhov’s early journalistic coverage of Russian bank runs influenced his plays; cars, in Eva Chen’s lively overview of Kipling’s love of motoring; the radio and sound waves in Jeremy Lowenthal’s brilliant discussion of what it might mean to really think about all the meanings (and spellings) of “aerial” for Sylvia Plath; or the insect world. Something in me loved the buzzing and rhyming of putting together David Hobbs’ exploration of lyric carapaces in George Oppens’ poems, and Fabienne Collignon’s exploration of the homme-insecte in the writing of German entomologist Ernst Jünger with Jason Suther’s article on Kafka (whose Gregor Samsa is the ur-homme-insecte). Finally, Rovel Sequeira’s essay on the treatment of sodomy in colonial India offers a crucial case study of cross-cultural queerness in ways that remind us of the violence and limited vision of imperial bureaucracies—and the human toll of such cruel policies.

You can read Jo Gill’s article here on the PrintPlus platform as well as Eurie Dalan’s review of Brooks E. Hefner’s new monograph, Jim Crow Networks. Over the past few months, we have added new material here weekly, so do look around. You can read the inaugural post of Tommy Davis’ blog, Energy and the Environment, an exciting cluster on the intersection of modernism and science fiction, our first few capsule reviews, and a few peer-reviewed articles that are exclusive to PrintPlus.

One of the additions to PrintPlus that has most excited me has been inviting scholars to contribute their reviews of reprints of modernist texts as part of our Re/discoveries forum. Through that invitation, I read Chris Roulston’s review of Dorothy Strachey’s Olivia. The book interested my graduate students, so we read it together and loved it: it’s short; it’s queer; it’s beautifully written; it’s different from so much of what we had read so far. In my undergraduate classes, my students get to choose the last book on the syllabus, and I included Olivia as one of eight or nine options. They chose it, we read it, and it was a favorite for many. This kind of dynamic synergy makes the field alive and helps us feel connected to each other and the past. If there are ways that PrintPlus has been a boon to your teaching, please drop me a line: it may be worth a blog post or some other mode of sharing with colleagues.

But for now, let us raise a somewhat belated but still sparkling glass of champagne in a toast to 1922 and 2022! Long live the past! Here’s to the future!

—Anne E. Fernald