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Modernist Setting

Fig. 1. Jeff Wall, After 'Invisible Man' by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue,1999-2001, transparency in lightbox. Courtesy of the artist.

What does it mean to for a work to be “set” in this place or at that time? This cluster—the first investigation of its kind—explores setting as a primary shaping force of modernist form. Setting makes for a compelling theoretical object precisely because its reach is so broad and its boundaries so difficult to delimit: what in a film or a play or a novel doesn’t have to do with setting? How do we extricate it from character and plot? And at what scale should we approach it? At once spatial and temporal, infrastructural and atmospheric, setting encompasses everything from world historical events (wars, revolutions, cataclysmic dates) to minute local details (a quality of light, the mood of a room). Although fictional settings are always condensations of intertextual citation and allusion, they also seem to index the real more than other narrative or aesthetic concepts do—making it difficult, for example, to think about the setting of Manhattan Transfer without looking to New York City’s iconic gridiron and skyline.[1] Abounding with literary, filmic, sonic echoes, settings cite their textual pasts even as they refer to a world beyond the page or the screen.

The present critical moment is primed for a turn to setting. Ecocriticism, new materialism, and affect studies have called attention to the latent power of surroundings and the liveliness of matter while decentering the human subject. At the same time, narrative categories previously considered old-fashioned, such as character, are enjoying something of a resurgence.[2] Within modernist studies, attention to a global paradigm has made it possible to think anew about the relationship of a world to the world. And if the term “setting” itself is rarely invoked in modernist criticism except in passing, the new modernist studies has shed light on the structuring potency of everyday materialities, from media networks to “solid objects” of all sorts, including the concrete pipes, ducts, shafts, boilers, electrical wires, roadways, and mass transit systems that undergird the modernist city and city novel. Drawing inspiration from these and other critical currents, the essays in this cluster present bold theoretical forays into a topic that—in literary studies, at least—has remained surprisingly unexplored.

Although the methodologies represented here are diverse, each contributor understands setting above all as an enabling force. Whether they focus on set design (Marci Kwon) or place-names (Hunter Dukes), on parlor plays (Adam Frank) or cinematic skies (Louise Hornby), on revolutionary counter-moods (Jonathan Flatley) or naturalist smellscapes (Hsuan Hsu), all six essayists seek to understand how settings sustain and animate a variety of meanings and forms. Call them frames, grounds, containers, backdrops, holding environments, situations, or sites: what interest us here are precisely those atmospheric, underground, or background phenomena that are crucial to twentieth-century cultural production, but that have tended to pass beneath critical notice, appearing only to recede from view.

Setting Up

In its sense as both the “surroundings in which a person or thing is ‘set,’” and the “literary framework of a narrative,” the word “setting” emerged only relatively recently.[3] The OED traces it to 1841, while the closely related term, “milieu” (to which we return below) crops up just a year later. Although the term is frequently invoked in literary studies, we are hard pressed to find a dedicated theory of setting as such. It has long been a term of art in theater and performance studies, where scholars have examined the history of theatrical architecture as well as the relation of imagined setting to actual places of performance.[4] But accounts of literary setting are rare. Perhaps the closest is Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of the chronotope, which illuminates divergent ways in which time can be materialized in literary form, reminding us that setting is not only spatial or geographical, but always also temporal. For Bakhtin, different time-space knots like the castle, the road, the salon, or the provincial town become “organizing centers for . . . fundamental narrative events.”[5] Through disparate chronotopes, time “takes on flesh” while space is “charged and made responsive to the movements of time, plot, and history” (Bakhtin, “Forms of Time,” 84).

Bakhtin’s evocative theory broaches but does not resolve the question of how specific histories take form in a work. A number of essays in this cluster take up this question, exploring settings that materialize sedimented histories of injustice and asking how these might be transfigured by the forms of literature, sculpture, and the stage. This can involve attending to neglected senses such as smell, which, as Hsu shows, means asking how places imperceptibly “get into” bodies and how stratified malodorous atmospheres serve to differentiate populations. In other cases it’s a matter of reading for the setting that isn’t there. So Kwon demonstrates that sculptor Isamu Noguchi’s spare stage design for Martha Graham’s ballet Appalachian Spring is in fact informed by the space of the Japanese internment camp, a phantom setting that both contains and is transformed by the “potential energy” of the dance.

Michel Foucault provides another key point of reference for anyone wishing to theorize the curious place of “place” in the modern period. In his discussion of those geographic alterities he calls “heterotopias”—ships, gardens, brothels, and so on—Foucault traces a genealogy of space that extends from medieval “localization” (everything has its place), to early modern “extension” (place is just a point in movement), to the modern epoch’s preoccupation with the “site,” which is defined by the “set of relations” that it enables.[6] Although never explicitly mentioned, this notion of the relation-bound “site” informs in various ways all the essays in this cluster. As a nexus of space and time, the idea of setting necessitates the thinking of relations—between individuals and groups, humans and nonhumans, objects and memories, performers and audiences.

To conceive of setting as an enabling force is to think of it in terms of reciprocally embedded subjects and environments. Settings, in this view, are not discrete moments or locations but assemblages of material and virtual space in which anything can be an “actant.”[7] So in his reading of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Flatley shows that an involuntary memory sparked by the taste of a yam on a Harlem street can open up the possibility of collective action, transforming a space of dispossession into a “zone of common concern.” And Frank demonstrates via the psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion how Gertrude Stein’s landscape plays become “reversible containers” that permit “a loose transferential coordination” among performing and observing members of a group.

If Bakhtin and Foucault are the first thinkers one might consult in order to devise an account of modernist setting, we have found equally rich conceptual resources in the work of mid-century theorists Erving Goffman and D. W. Winnicott. Goffman’s sociology of face-to-face interaction and Winnicott’s object-relations theory present setting as dynamically interactional, and as key to the production and performance of self.

We are used to thinking of settings as static, referring to a geographical locale, and shifting only when “the action” moves to a different locale. Goffman’s micro-sociological approach to everyday life opens up a somewhat different line of thought. He explicitly invokes the term “setting” to describe the “scenery and stage props” (“furniture, décor, physical layout, and other background items”) necessary for the presentation of a social face.[8] Yet his attention to the structure of interaction rituals, including various “moments,” situations, and gatherings (“conversation, track meets, banquets, jury trials, and street loitering”), enables us to view setting more broadly—not only as a circumscribed time or place or a stabilizing set of props but also as a dynamic scenario, or mobile zone of encounter.[9] This perspective gives us a different way of classifying works. For instance, Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game all share the ritualized occasion of a party setting, whether as a delirious space of social mixing or a stage for the rehearsal of class distinction. Like the “site,” the notion of scenario-as-setting gives priority to the sets of relations that particular interactions entail and the sorts of experiences they make available, as well as the forms of exclusion and modes of social comportment they compel.

For Winnicott, too, setting is understood as a sphere of ritualized interaction, although conceived within a narrower scope. The “analytic setting”—a function of the analyst’s care and attention—is meant to replicate what he terms the early “holding environment.” The main function of Winnicottian setting is to fade or vanish into the background, to be stable and non-obtrusive, or “good enough,” meaning not just that it meets the infant’s needs, but that it is indestructible, able to “survive” the child’s or patient’s aggression. Precisely by fading—by being “scarcely noticed”—this holding environment, with its tactile suggestiveness and its intimation of mid-air suspension, returns us to the notion of setting as an enabling condition.[10] To put this in narratological terms, we could say that Winnicott provides a way of theorizing the resilience of certain narrative features in response to the aggression of modernist polemics and assaults on received forms. If modernists’ attempts to do away with the supports of plot and character met with some success, perhaps setting is a category that modernism can’t get rid of, because it is simply the ground of fiction.

Setting Out

If setting materializes history, it is also true that every history has its list of privileged settings, which are not so much the actual locations where events take place but “vanishing points towards which lines of sight . . . converge.”[11] The cosmopolitan metropolis, with its multiple simultaneous plot lines and fascinating strangers, is surely the “vanishing point” most associated with U.S. and Western European modernism. Yet for all its importance, alternatives to the city abound, especially in Southern and postcolonial modernisms. Consider, for example, the form-shaping force of rural settings in Alejo Carpentier's celebrated “Prologue” to The Kingdom of this World (El reino de este mundo) (1949) which locates the “real marvelous” (“lo real maravilloso”) in the blood and stones of the Caribbean; the haunted Mexican desert of Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo (1955); or the dynamic, “[u]nrubrified” Amazon of Oswald de Andrade’s “Cannibalist Manifesto”(1928).[12] Each of these works presents a meditation on setting’s capacity to generate novel aesthetic concepts and collective moods. Even in texts known for their representation of urbanity, alternative settings exert a significant pull. Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (1913–27), for instance, is allied with the symbolic divide between city and village, but a third setting—the beach—shapes the text in important ways. The Proustian seaside is at once a queer stage for looking and being seen, and a site that inspires a new, impersonal sensory regime—a mode of vision that blurs lines, drawing objects into cloudy assemblages.

In each of these examples, setting takes on a life of its own, becoming a central subject of the work. By refocusing the reader’s attention in this way, modernists play on nineteenth-century realism’s amplification and diffusion of setting. Realism expanded setting’s potential by insisting on the importance of particular times and places, elevating description over event, and emphasizing the influence of milieu on character.[13] Modernists responded with ambivalence to these developments. On the one hand, they inherited the drive to document surroundings, as famously exemplified by James Joyce’s statement that if destroyed, Dublin could be recreated from the pages of Ulysses. On the other hand, many twentieth-century authors expressed hostility towards what they saw as a mistaken notion that the way to convey a character was by describing the house in which she lived. So Woolf rails against Arnold Bennett’s detailing of villas and calico, Willa Cather denounces the “overstuffed” novel in favor of a return to an empty Greek stage, Paul Valéry decries the overweening importance of background in both painting and fiction, and Jorge Luís Borges privileges inapprehensible thresholds and peripheries over geographical particularity–as in his story “The Aleph,” which sets infinity in a dark basement.[14] As we see from Borges’s basements, as from Franz Kafka’s burrows and Samuel Beckett’s ditches and trash cans, modernist settings often do not frame or stabilize human figures within them but instead appear radically strange, even uninhabitable. The characters who find themselves in these spaces tend to feel a sense of perplexity, dread, or exhilarated velocity in relation to their surroundings, which are never simply immobile backdrops but—as Flatley’s essay for this cluster suggests—worlds into which they are thrown.

If the reader, viewer, or listener is similarly disoriented, it is because modernism frequently troubles expected perceptual hierarchies, dissolving the line between portrait and landscape, figure and ground, ambient noise and melody. The claim that Frank makes here about Stein’s theater—that it is “all setting”—can be true, he shows, even when the mise-en-scène is as sparse as “almond trees in the hill.” Although modernist houses are not always as comprehensively furnished as their realist precursors, what we find in various ways in this period is an intensified focus on setting, and a heightening of its sensory effects. The modernist everyday makes strange the ordinary stuff with which realism had already filled fiction—stuff that now increasingly gleams with variegated textures, geometric forms, and perceptual intensities.[15] Recall, for example, the “fading precision” of the path and “shimmering dilapidation” of the cottonhouse that open William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1930), or the “clott[ing],” “trickl[ing],” and “rippl[ing]” pedestrian flow and “coil of wiry noise” that set the beat of Robert Musil’s Vienna in The Man without Qualities (1930–43).[16] Or, in a more dystopian vein, the “brutal” heat of Nella Larsen’s segregated Chicago, where even dust particles are so “sharp” that they “sear” pedestrians’ skins.[17] Any setting can be radiantly beautiful (or terrible) in modernism, and this shift in aesthetic or attentional priorities allows us to see supposedly secondary objects and spaces anew, evincing a politics that critics have read variously as democratic, anti-colonial, and ecological.[18]

Setting Forth

How exactly does setting—usually understood as a background and thus by definition not of primary interest—come into view? We propose that the relatively static painterly idea of “background”—the other of foreground—dissolves in modernism into the vaguer and more suggestive concepts of “ground” and “milieu,” which give rise to divergent strategies for rendering settings. Broadly, if “ground” indicates a holding or undergirding element—what lies behind or beneath, what is fundamental, constituent, what frames or supports—then “milieu” is what suffuses and surrounds. In both cases, we find a turn towards what is not, or is only weakly, perceptible.

“Milieu” is difficult to grasp because it is not a dialectical concept, but a liminal or intermediary one: literally, it means “middle place.” As Leo Spitzer points out in his conceptual history of the term, “milieu,” closely related to “ambiance,” indicated for the Greeks “that which embraces, envelops, [and] enfolds.”[19] This sense of harmony between human being and environment vanishes entirely by the nineteenth century, when milieu comes to signify an indifferent determining force as well as the socially determined feel of a particular context. Thus in Balzac’s Comédie Humaine, milieu is a biologico-sociological term signifying, in the words of Auguste Comte, “the total ensemble of exterior circumstances, of whatever sort, upon which the existence of a given organism depends” (quoted in Spitzer, “Milieu and Ambiance,” 177).[20]

If milieu is primarily known today as a realist concept, its importance to modernism is less recognized. Yet we suggest that one direction in which modernist setting develops is toward an expanded idea of milieu, which spreads into a variety of atmospheric phenomena. In Hsu’s account, fin-de-siècle and twentieth-century authors, fascinated by smell as an “underdetermined” signal of harm, devise new aesthetic strategies for representing invisible and ungraspable airborne toxins. Alternatively, as Hornby shows, we find strange affinities between the air that surrounds us and the new medium of film. Atmosphere is not just a floating background element in cinema; instead, as Hornby puts it, film is atmospheric in its very essence: “thickened by shadow . . . the air becomes the stuff of cinema.” Film, in other words, is a medium “set in the air.”

In contrast to the suspended ambiguity of milieu, “ground,” more closely related to “background,” is a dialectical concept, perceptible only as what is not chiefly looked at or contemplated. A key term in painting as well as Gestalt psychology, “ground” can only be apprehended in relation to its other: ground is what makes figure legible. In a more tactile sense, in a variety of practices, from lace making and painting to etching and carpentry, ground is the foundation or substratum on which other parts are overlaid.[21] When we think in terms of ground, we understand setting as nothing less than the condition of possibility for representation, the schema of perception that makes it possible for events and actions to emerge as such.

Just as it amplifies the atmospheric sense of milieu, modernism brings ground to the fore, reversing or confounding conventional habits of attention. We are familiar with the disturbance of the figure/ground distinction in Cubism and other associated movements. In the case of twentieth-century theater, as Martin Puchner has shown, this foregrounding takes the form of a return. If, historically, a stage raised off the ground freed the performance to evoke any place at all, the modernist tendency to flatten the raised stage implies an embrace of ground and thus of site-specificity.[22] Modernist fiction also tends to highlight ground in a literal sense, as several recent scholars have documented. In Public Works: Infrastructure, Irish Modernism, and the Postcolonial, Michael Rubenstein examines the underground, behind-the-wall settings of Irish modernism, considering gas, water, and electricity (“basic amenities”) as key organizing structures of fiction. Reading Joycean stream-of-consciousness as “plumbing consciousness,” Rubenstein’s approach enables us to see that a discrete location, such as the home, is always a node in a larger network of flowing matter and power. [23] Similarly, Kate Marshall’s Corridor: Media Architectures in American Fiction takes the corridor—a “transit system for persons, things, and messages”—as a model for the “communicative architectonics” of modernist fiction more broadly.[24] In this cluster, Dukes’s essay examines the infrastructural imagination’s surprising effects on language itself. Resisting the desire to map literary settings onto geographic locales, Dukes suggests that fin-de-siècle developments in public transport widened the rift between place-name and place, inciting modernist experiments with “toponymic connotation.”

In varied ways, the essays in this cluster present setting as a force that scatters and releases as readily as it frames and contains. To think about modernist setting in terms of ground and milieu is to reflect on diverse variants of materiality—earth and air, smell and sight, underground and atmosphere—and their shaping effects on forms of life. Attending to setting alerts us to the larger networks in which we are embedded and the environments in which we are held. It also compels us to consider the materialization of history in space, and the socialities, mediums, and aesthetic practices that particular scenarios or sites afford. It is precisely this multiplicity and diffuseness that made setting such a fascinating field of experimentation for modernist authors and artists. We hope that readers of this forum will be energized by it as well.

Fig. 2. Fidel Gonzales, Aerial View of Photochemical Smog Pollution Over Mexico City, December 22, 2010. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


We are grateful to Tim Bewes, Julia Fawcett, Jillian Porter, and Sarah Ann Wells for their comments on earlier drafts of this essay.

[1] The referential force particular to setting might be understood as an effect of what Elaine Freedgood terms the “metonymic imagination.” As Freedgood puts it, “[w]e ‘follow’ novelistic things out of novels; we wander along the contiguous connections that are available to us given the states of our knowledge, our unconsciouses, our memories, the archives that remain and that remain available and valuable to us” (The Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel [Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2006], 21).

[2] See, for example, Alex Woloch, The One vs. the Many: Minor Characters and the Space of the Novel (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003); Marta Figlerowicz, Flat Protagonists: A Theory of Novel Character (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016); Annie McClanahan, “Credit, Characterization, Personification,” in Dead Pledges: Debt, Crisis, and Twenty-First-Century Culture (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016), 55–95; and Eric Naiman, “Kalganov,” Slavic and East European Journal 58, no. 3 (2014): 394–418.

[3] OED Online, January 2018, s.v., “setting, n.1.”

[4] On particular histories of theatrical architecture and performance spaces, see, among others, David Wiles, A Short History of Western Performance Space (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) and Marvin Carlson, Places of Performance: The Semiotics of Theatre Architecture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993). On the interaction of imagined settings with the diversity of actual spaces in which theatrical activity occurs, see, for example, Land/Scape/Theater, ed. Elinor Fuchs and Una Chaudhuri (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002) and Joanne Tompkins, Theatre’s Heterotopias: Performance and the Cultural Politics of Space (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

[5] M. M. Bakhtin, “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel: Notes toward a Historical Poetics,” in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010), 84–258, 250.

[6] “The site [l’emplacement] is defined by relations of proximity between points or elements; formally, we can describe these relations as series, trees, or grids” (Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” Diacritics 16, no. 1 [1986]: 22–27, 23.) Although this cluster is oriented toward questions of narrative and imaginary setting rather than space in general, philosophers and geographers who, like Foucault, explore the social and historical production of space lay the foundations for our investigations here. See, for example, Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1994); Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 1992); Michel de Certeau, “Spatial Stories” in The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Stephen Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 291–326; and David Harvey, “From Space to Place and Back Again,” in Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1996), 291–326. The new modernist studies has also turned to the field of cultural geography as questions of location and place on a world scale have become more important. See, for instance, Susan Stanford Friedman, Mappings: Feminism and the Cultural Geographies of Encounter (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998); Jessica Berman, Modernist Fiction, Cosmopolitanism, and the Politics of Community (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Geomodernisms: Race, Modernism, Modernity, ed. Laura Doyle and Laura Winkiel (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005); and Andreas Huyssen, “Geographies of Modernism in a Globalizing World,” New German Critique 34, no. 1 (2007): 189–207.

[7] This term is taken from Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory. See Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). For a Latour-inspired reading of the settings of late twentieth-century American fiction, including the supermarket, the dump, the road, the ruin, and the asylum, see David J. Alworth, Site Reading: Fiction, Art, Social Form (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015).

[8] Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (New York: Doubleday, 1959), 22.

[9] Erving Goffman, Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior (New York: Pantheon, 1982), 3.

[10] D. W. Winnicott, “The Theory of the Parent-Infant Relationship,” The International Journal of Psychoanalysis 41 (1960): 585–95, 591. Winnicott first discusses the “psychoanalytical setting,” in “Metapsychological and Clinical Aspects of Regression Within the Psycho-Analytical Set-Up,” The International Journal of Psychoanalysis 36 (1955): 16–26. See also Adam Phillips, “War-time,” in Winnicott (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 62–97.

[11] Philip Fisher, Hard Facts: Setting and Form in the American Novel (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 9.

[12] Oswald de Andrade, “Cannibalist Manifesto,” trans. Leslie Bary, Latin American Literary Review 19, no. 38 (1991): 38–47, 41.

[13] For a discussion of setting as a crucial category in the historical novel and in nineteenth-century American fiction, see Philip Fisher, Hard Facts. For an account of geographical setting as a force shaping the nineteenth-century European novel, see Franco Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel 1800–1900 (London: Verso, 1998). For a history of the expansion of descriptive detail over the course of the eighteenth century, see Cynthia Sundberg Wall, The Prose of Things: Transformations of Description in the Eighteenth Century (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2008).

[14] See Woolf, “Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown,” in Virginia Woolf: Selected Essays, ed. David Bradshaw (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 32–36; Willa Cather, “The Novel Démeublé,” in Willa Cather on Writing: Critical Studies on Writing as an Art (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988), 35–43; Paul Valéry, “Degas, Dance, Drawing,” in Degas, Manet, Morisot, trans. David Paul (New York: Pantheon, 1960), 1–102; Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph and Other Stories, trans. Andrew Hurley (New York: Penguin, 2004). On the “utopian potentials” of Borges’s basements and other peripheral sites in Latin American modernism, see Sarah Ann Wells, Media Laboratories: Late Modernist Authorship in Latin America (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2017).

[15] A number of recent studies have examined the formal and aesthetic dimensions of modernist everyday life. See Thomas S. Davis, The Extinct Scene: Late Modernism and Everyday Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016); Andrew Epstein, Attention Equals Life: The Pursuit of the Everyday in Contemporary Poetry and Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016); Hannah Freed-Thall, Spoiled Distinctions: Aesthetics and the Ordinary in French Modernism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); Saikat Majumdar, Prose of the World: Modernism and the Banality of Empire (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013); Lisi Schoenbach, Pragmatic Modernism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); and Liesl Olson, Modernism and the Ordinary (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

[16] William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (New York: Vintage, 1991), 3–4; Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities, Vol. 1: A Sort of Introduction and Pseudo Reality Prevails, trans. Burton Pike (New York: Vintage, 1996), 3.

[17] Nella Larsen, Passing (New York: Penguin, 2003), 12.

[18] On the political resonances of such “redistributions of the sensible,” see, for example, Jacques Rancière, The Lost Thread: The Democracy of Modern Fiction, trans. Steve Corcoran (London: Bloomsbury, 2017); Leela Gandhi, “Art: Aestheticism and the Politics of Postcolonial Difference,” in Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought, Fin-de-Siècle Radicalism, and the Politics of Friendship (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 142–76; Esther Gabara, Errant Modernism: The Ethos of Photography in Mexico and Brazil (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008); and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015). Although Tsing’s anthropological study is set in the twenty-first century, her reflections on the politics of a revitalized “arts of noticing” resonate with our discussion here.

[19] Leo Spitzer, “Milieu and Ambiance: An Essay in Historical Semantics,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 3, no. 2 (1942): 169–218, 198. 177

[20] Hippolyte Taine was especially responsible for promoting the idea of milieu in the nineteenth century. His critical maxim that works of art are the products of “race, milieu, et moment” strongly influenced naturalist writers such as Emile Zola. See Hippolyte Taine, Histoire de la littérature anglaise (Paris: Hachette, 1864).

[21] See OED Online, January 2018, s.v., “ground, n.”

[22] As Puchner puts it, “the twentieth century witnessed the theatre’s rediscovery of the ground” (“The Problem of the Ground: Martin Heidegger and Site-Specific Performance,” in Encounters in Performance Philosophy, ed. Laura Cull and Alice Lagaay [New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014], 65–86, 72). Preoccupation with setting only intensifies in postwar art, with the turn to site-specific works in sculpture, installation, landscape art, and theater.

[23] Michael Rubenstein, Public Works: Infrastructure, Irish Modernism, and the Postcolonial (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010).

[24] Kate Marshall, Corridor: Media Architectures in American Fiction (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 84.