Modernist Discourse Networks 1994/2016

In their editorial introduction to the first issue of Modernism/modernity, Lawrence Rainey and Robert von Hallberg declared their intention to “convey some sense of the grand ambition and scope” of the modernists by modeling in the journal the ferment of the period, “contestation . . . between old and new orders, of course, but also between various divisions of the intellectual endeavor.” 

If from the outset interdisciplinary “border crossings” were key to the vision of the journal, so too was the determination to “experiment with various ways of encouraging collaboration” through organized special sections or assembled “panels” on an issue: 1996’s curated responses to Walter Benn Michaels’s Our America, for example, or the two 2003 debates on T. S. Eliot’s anti-Semitism. Yet the deliberateness of print processes has posed a challenge in reproducing the “enthusiasm and intellectual energy”– as Cassandra Laity put it in the introduction to the journal’s first “MSA Issue”–that marks those annual modernist conclaves. 

We see this new Modernism/modernity digital platform as a way to exploit—as did the modernists—the new challenges and possibilities of a changing media environment. It will allow us to pursue in unanticipated ways the mission of vital and contentious exchange articulated by its founders and endorsed by subsequent editors Cassandra Laity, Jeffrey T. Schnapp and Ann Ardis. It gives us the ability to make interdisciplinary forays more realizable by embedding sound, color, motion, in ways not previously available within the journal. We hope, of course, that the possibilities of the platform will attract to M/m more submissions treating art history, performance, and film, and provide a home for “born-digital” projects. But it also allows for new kinds of collaborative conversations--short-form position paper clusters modeled on the conference roundtable (such as the one here on pedagogy edited by Emily Setina), curated discussions, and other types of forums. The very fact that this platform is open-access acknowledges public engagement as a vital part both of modernist studies and of the humanities as a whole. 

The flexibility of the platform allows us to juxtapose more informal and timely examinations of our writing, our discipline, our ever-widening field and its methodologies, with the kind of scrupulously researched peer-reviewed scholarship for which M/m has always been known; we’re proud to feature here as our first direct-to-digital article Suzanne Churchill’s provocative work on the modernist journal Contempo.

As someone whose own research focuses on the interplay between “old” and “new” media, I’m excited about the generative possibilities of both reading and composing across platforms. Most obviously, the speed and suppleness of the Print Plus platform will allow for reaction to and discussion of work published in the print issues, as represented here now by Jindrich Toman’s response to Gennifer Weisenfeld’s 2014 article “Gas Mask Parade: Japan’s Anxious Modernism,” and perhaps in the future by further discussion on “Camp Modernism,” the featured special section in the current print issue. But we hope as well that this platform will—as new media has always done—stimulate formal experiment and innovation within the print journal’s pages. 

Future publication cycles will see clusters on modernist sexualities, on feminist methodologies, on global scale, and on translation; the debut of blogs treating archives and visual cultures; and additional “What Are You Reading?” forums devoted to rediscoveries, editions, and capsule reviews.  

And we plan to add many additional functionalities in the second stage of platform development, including paragraph-level commenting, more flexibility in user manipulation of images, and a robust tagging function available to users that will let us build, as a community, a cross-referential archive.

In the meantime, we urge you to explore this first instantiation of the Print Plus platform, to read, register, comment, add your voice. We look forward to proposals, discussion, and, as is only to be expected from modernists, “contestation.”

--Debra Rae Cohen