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Episode 1: Philip Tsang & Octavio González, The Obsolete Empire & Misfit Modernism


2 Authors, 2 Books is a public humanities podcast created by Tavi González and brought to you through the Suzy Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College. 2 Authors, 2 Books is funded by a Mellon Foundation public-humanities grant and the Public Humanities Institute at the University of New Hampshire. Abigail Martinage serves as the podcast’s production assistant and audio editor.

Tavi is a poet and professor at Wellesley College, where he teaches courses on American queer literature and culture, British and American modernism, and the twentieth century novel. He is the author of Misfit Modernism: Queer Forms of Double Exile in the Twentieth-Century Novel, wherein he explores the concept of alienation through the works of Jean Rhys, Nella Larsen, Christopher Isherwood, and Wallace Thurman.

In our inaugural episode, Tavi talks with Philip Tsang, assistant professor at Colorado State University, where he teaches Victorian, modernist, and postcolonial literature. Philip is the author of The Obsolete Empire: Untimely Belonging in 20th Century British Literature, published in 2021 by the Johns Hopkins University Press. The work focuses on Henry James, James Joyce, Doris Lessing, and V.S. Naipaul, and explores how literary reading can help us to understand the frustrated interplay of attachment, intimacy, and exclusion under empire. 

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts or download the episode here.

2 Authors, 2 Books: Episode One (transcript)

This transcript has been edited for clarity

[Teaser trailer:]

Octavio González: Good. I got my first dissertation chapter, all 82 pages of it [laughs].


[V.O.]: This is 2 Authors, 2 Books, a public humanities podcast created by Tavi González and brought to you through the Suzy Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College. 2 Authors, 2 Books is funded by a Mellon Foundation pubilc-humanities grant and the Public Humanities Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

Tavi is a poet and professor at Wellesley College, where he teaches courses on American queer literature and culture, British and American modernism, and the twentieth century novel. He is the author of Misfit Modernism: Queer Forms of Double Exile in the Twentieth-Century Novel, wherein he explores the concept of alienation through the works of Jean Rhys, Nella Larsen, Christopher Isherwood, and Wallace Thurman.

Today, in our inaugural episode, Tavi talks with Philip Tsang, assistant professor at Colorado State University, where he teaches Victorian, modernist, and postcolonial literature. Philip is the author of The Obsolete Empire: Untimely Belonging in 20th Century British Literature, published in 2021 by the Johns Hopkins University Press. The work focuses on Henry James, James Joyce, Doris Lessing, and V.S. Naipaul, and explores how literary reading can help us to understand the frustrated interplay of attachment, intimacy, and exclusion under empire.

OG: Okay, so Philip, do you want to do the icebreaker?

Philip Tsang: Sure.

OG: So first I just want to thank you for joining us on this debut podcast. And I guess you would like to answer the Proust questionnaire question: which words or phrases do you most overuse?

PT: Yes. So, I guess the word that I tend to overuse is ambiguity. I use this word a lot when I teach. You know, Walter Benjamin said that ambiguity is the law of dialectics at a standstill. And I completely agree. I'm most drawn to texts that are politically and aesthetically ambiguous. For me, they are just more interesting to think about and write about. And when I teach, I always encourage my students to wrestle with ambiguities rather than come up with clear cut answers.

OG: Great. I like that Benjamin quote, I'll have to remember that one.

PT: Okay. So my question for you Tavi is: what is your motto?

OG: So my motto these days, due to the fact that I've never had a root canal before, so this is my first one… my motto is now “it's never so bad that it can't get any worse.” So that's my kind of pessimistic motto these days. I think it comes with the territory of “adulting", so to speak. So yeah, I guess at this point, I'm a cautious pessimist about most things. But if the worst thing I have to worry about is the root canal, I think I'm in good shape, especially since I'll be heavily sedated for it. I have absolutely no tolerance for pain.

PT: Okay.

OG: So yeah, I'm very excited to have this dialogue. And we've been having this dialogue for a few years now, right? So I'm very, very excited to see the fruition of these arguments in our book form. And so I guess I just want to start with… where do you want to start? I think the first question for us is the concept of otherness, and how that's a major feature of both of our books. So how do you conceptualize otherness? Or is otherness even the right concept? I guess? Yeah.

PT: I think that otherness is a broad term. And it's important not to generalize. My book deals with a historically specific experience of otherness: the experience of being inducted into a global empire, but not desired as its proper citizen. Simply put, this is the predicament of being British, but not English, of belonging to an empire that did not belong to you. And in particular, I'm interested in the interplay of attachment and otherness. My book traces what I call an aesthetic of frustrated attachment in the context of Imperial decline. I think it's fair to say that attachment is not a word that readily comes to mind when we're talking about empire and imperialism. But my book begins with a simple premise, namely, that for people who are molded by Imperial structures and institutions, they harbored a deep identification with England, regardless of their views on Empire. So what does it mean to grow up in the shadow of a distant country that governs one's education and career? Perhaps more importantly, what does it mean to be attached to something to which you have no proper claim? So my book shows that this frustrated attachment has three distinct features. The first feature is that this is an unreciprocated attachment, because the writers I look at express a constant sense of estrangement and exclusion from England. Rather than fully reclaiming an English heritage or identity, they live in the gap between an expansive Britishness and an exclusive Englishness. And the second feature is that this is an improper attachment, in the sense that England appears as the wrong object of desire. These writers longing for England is a self-consciously misplaced attachment, imbued with irony and embarrassment. And third, this is an untimely attachment. Imperial England was in decline. So the attachment these writers felt toward England was fostered through that diligent reading of English literature, so that the England they imagined was a literary construct that only exists in Romantic poetry and Victorian fiction. This literary England was out of place with a reality of Imperial decline. So my book shows that these troubled and also troubling attachments coexist with other political investments, including anti-colonial ones. In addition, I maintain that attachment is not affirmation or endorsement. For writers like Doris Lessing and V.S. Naipaul, they are never comfortable with their own attachment to England. Rather, as I said, England appears as the wrong object of desire. Yet in an unlikely way, this self-consciously misplaced attachment also yields a rich source of intellectual energy. So my book complements postcolonial scholarship by showing that Imperial attachments which are, as I said, unreciprocated, improper and untimely, could be as disruptive as anti-colonial projects. So I guess, you know, I can ask the same question to you, Tavi. You know, I think that there's a really interesting connection between my analysis of frustrated attachment and your analysis of the "modernist misfit", so how does, you know, this concept of otherness show up within the idea of being a misfit within your book? What does it mean to be a misfit in the first place?

OG: Yeah, I'm very interested in the parallels here in our mutual archives. So, my book, as you know, looks at two American and two British modernists, and I think for all four of these case studies, they are wrestling with this, in some ways, a dual attachment, and one attachment would be to what we might call modernist culture itself, right? They are all very, very much self-consciously creating themselves as modernist authors in the vein of the literary tradition, right? But they were also attached to their home culture, whether they be, you know, the so-called New Negro during the Harlem Renaissance, or whether they are, you know, scions of the English novel like Isherwood, who, you know, very famously, Somerset Maugham, I believe, said that Isherwood held the future of the English novel in his hands. Or Jean Rhys, who's another very interesting modernist, and then postcolonial feminist writer. So she in some ways straddles a lot of these traditions, which makes her in some ways, one of the — in some ways the exemplary misfit of the bunch. And so I think, you know, for at least two of them, if not all four they have this relationship to Empire that you talk about. But they also have this other attachment to modernism itself. And I think that's one distinction between our projects. I think someone like Nella Larsen, who was this, you know, Afro-Caribbean-Danish hybrid, saw modernism as the one key to her identity as an artist, and I think that's an enabling identity and enabling attachment, but also fairly far afield, from her home culture, so to speak, right? So how do these Black modernists in particular make modernism their own and also express their own cultural anxieties and cultural attachments? Right? So that's one way that I see the resonances and also the parallels and also the distinctions between our works. So I guess my understanding has less to do, obviously, with the post-Imperial formations that you talk about. Especially because, you know, we're talking in some ways about an American empire that is just beginning when you're talking about the 20s in the 20th century, right? And so, it's a really interesting kind of a dual study that I embarked on here. And the idea of the misfit would organize all of these conflicting attachments, in a sense using the term from the 20th century, the early 20th century for this type of non-belonging that is a form of belonging, right? So the only belonging that these authors really shared is to modernism itself, otherwise they had very vexed differences among them and even within them, right? And so I think for me the misfit notion was, in some ways, an organic outgrowth of my study in these archives and how, you know, failing having more contemporary understandings of identity, I think terms like misfit or nonconformist, were the terms of art for these earlier formations that were exploring the same predicament, right? How do you feel about belonging to different cultures, and also belonging to the feeling like you don't belong to any culture, right? In Wallace Thurman's novel, the idea of being a total misfit is an indication of that intersectional predicament of his heroine, right? So I'm really interested in these pre-contemporary understandings of intersectionality, I guess, and I think the other piece to this is how negative this structure of feeling is, that feeling like a misfit is quite a negative, and non-triumphant, right? And I think in some ways, one of the reasons I, for example, I look at Jean Rhys's earlier work, and not her later work — she's obviously very well known for Wide Sargasso Sea, which is, you know, the writing back to the Empire, to Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre. And that's a much, much more oppositional anti-imperial novel, right? Whereas her earlier work, like Quartet or Voyage in the Dark, I think are exploring much more of those nuances that you talk about in your book. So I would say that Jean Rhys would be a great chapter if you were to expand your book, say into a course or a seminar, right? Because she's absolutely, I think, beholden to these imperial and pre- and post-colonial formations, right? So it's a very fascinating intersection, I think, in terms of this discourse. But I think one question that I had for you that's a little bit more granular and more about form is I was really struck by the introduction to your book, Philip, and how you use autobiography as an entry point for the analysis of fiction. And I was wondering, and again, this is kind of like inside baseball, but I was really curious about this choice that you made, it's a very almost lyrical introduction, and very specific and looking at autobiographical writings as an entry point into the study of the, you know, of the post-imperial British novel. And so I'm very fascinated by that choice. And whether you were tempted to explain that choice at any time in the book itself?

PT: Yeah, so, well, first of all, I actually wrote the introduction last, and I wrote it in a style that sets it apart from the rest of the book. So I only talk about memoirs and autobiographies in the introduction, and not in the rest of the book, because my goal was to speak to the largest possible audience. So the body chapters analyze literary texts, and my focus is on questions of form and aesthetics. And the target audience is more specialized, right? My target audience for the body chapters would be academic readers in modernist studies or in literary studies in general, but the introduction caters to a wider audience. So I wanted to write in a more accessible way. And I thought that memoirs and autobiographies are a great tool for that, you know, instead of offering a dense theoretical analysis of texts that I'm going to read in the book, I wanted to give a more accessible, a more reader-friendly approach to my topic. So, the introduction focuses on late colonial subjects, or the figure of the "last colonial" because these subjects exemplify the particular relation to time that I want to explore. That is, they imagine themselves at the end of a historical line, but unable to move beyond that end. So I take stock of an inventory of feelings, such as unrequited attachment, and shameful desire that are specific to the late colonial world. But these feelings are only a starting point for the body chapters, in which I aim to show how the distinct formal features of the works in question can be attributed to geopolitically inflected desires and attachments. In other words, my goal in the book is not simply to trace an archive of feelings, but rather to show how the connective tissues of each writer's particular cultural formation shaped their aesthetic practice. So on the whole I am less interested in biographical details than in rhetorical gestures, formal ambiguities and stylistic experiments.

PT: So my question to you, Tavi, has to do with Isherwood, actually. You mentioned that a study of the Isherwood archives was the starting point for your book. So what did the path from Isherwood to the final book look like?

OG: That is an excellent question. However, I don't want to let go of your introduction quite yet, Philip. I think obviously I can talk about Isherwood all day long. But I do want to go back to this very, very strategic choice that you made to have the introduction be grounded in what you could say is the everyday experience, right? And I also thought, it's more accessible for a more general academic audience than the more subtle understandings of modernist form that you look into. But I also thought it was interesting in the sense that you are drawing on the evidence of experience with these memoirs, right? And for me, it struck me as if you were saying this is the truth of this predicament, because it's been written about in the real lives of these writers, right? So it's not simply a fictional formation. And I think that's a really compelling argument for establishing the claims of your book itself, right? So you're talking about this attachment to Empire, and you are actually drawing on these figures who wrote about these attachments as real-life, real, historical people who felt these attachments. And I think that's a very compelling way to do this, as opposed to if you had launched directly into the study of narrative form, in the fictional realm, where you have all of these mediations that are really hard to line up as evidence, per se, right? Because of the thickness of aesthetic form and narrative form. And so I think it's a really canny way of establishing the parameters of your argument to give you that substance of, you know, as I said, the evidence of experience, which I think anyone can relate to, right? The first-person biographical has always been the evidence of experience. I'm thinking also, of course, of abolitionist slave narratives that were predicated on very much the same formation, right? This is the truth of American enslavement, this is the witness to such, you know, written by herself or written by himself, right? And that appeal, I think, is, again, very, very much historical, and has a lot to do with, you know, the waves and waves of these Imperial formations that even predate obviously, the 20th century, right? If we're talking about, you know, American enslavement, and also, you know, the British Empire, right? So I just think it's a really interesting choice that I think could even be the subject of a longer conversation, right? Really wonderful. And that's why I guess I wish you had talked about that a bit more — of a self-consciousness to your choices. And of course, it's really hard to do that in a monograph, where you're still, you know, establishing your main claims, but I just thought it was a really interesting decision on your part.

OG: So to turn back to your question about Isherwood. Just before this interview, I printed out my very first dissertation chapter on Isherwood. And so I guess Isherwood became the first glimpse of what I thought I wanted to study as a doctoral student. And weirdly enough, the theme, the title, everything changed, except that Isherwood was still the first chapter. But to go from the first chapter to the second version of the first chapter was a lot of storm and stress, shall we say? In fact, I almost dropped out of graduate school, given the storm and stress of submitting my first dissertation chapter to my committee. So that's a very, very, in some ways, a fairly painful episode. And I think, just more generally speaking, graduate school has a lot of peaks and valleys and I think the first dissertation chapter can be one of those, you know, one of those really, you know, turning points in your graduate career, right? Unfortunately, for me, it was not a linear progression, but, for many, I think it takes about a year. Whereas the other chapters, once you get the hang of it, usually by the second chapter, you get the hang of it, and you're pounding them out every semester. But the first one usually takes a whole year and that was the case for me. So, the theme for my first chapter was initially going to be on masochism and modernism. And so I was going to be looking at Isherwood for the evidence of this self-flagellating ethos, which again, never left, it's just that the lens of masochism became too restrictive for what I was trying to pick up on, and also too technical and too psychological. And I think one of the things that I realized is that a lot of these authors that I'm focusing on through the lens of the misfit and misfit-ness, are not interested in these technical formations. In fact, they're in some ways creating their own formations through their own language and their own aesthetic choices. And there you have Isherwood's notion of the nonconformist. There you have, you know, Thurman's notion of the total misfit. You have Larsen's notion of the unconformity. So again, these all line up fairly, fairly accurately, with very similar synonyms for this situation that they're analyzing, all from very different standpoints. Right? But it did begin as a love affair with Isherwood and his very strange identifications. So actually started with his book, My Guru and His Disciple, speaking of memoir, and even in the title of that book, My Guru and His Disciple, you see the sense of the self-attenuation, the self-distancing in the Isherwood persona, right? And, of course, Isherwood is famous for that embracing of impersonality, where he's always referring to himself in the third person, right? It's always Christopher this, Christopher that, even though it's all extremely autobiographical, whether fictional or not, it's a very strange, again, self-othering, which I was very interested in from the very beginning of my project. So the terminology changed, but the predicaments, the situations, and the attachments remain the same. So I guess I'll stop there for now. So a little bit of the process of developing the theme and the theme as it evolved, but the authors still remaining fairly constant.

OG: So I guess for me, I'll turn the question over to you. What was the beginning of your monograph as a dissertation? Was it Naipaul? Was it Joyce?

PT: So, my dissertation began with the exact four authors that ended up in my book. So I guess the origin of my dissertation was actually a parallel reading of Henry James's The American Scene and V.S. Naipaul's The Enigma of Arrival. Few people would put these two books together, but for me, they seemed to be two versions of the same book. So both texts have been deemed highly problematic. In The American Scene, for example, Henry James bemoans the passing of Anglo-America, he laments that the America he returns to, in his late years, bears little resemblance to the America of his youth. This is an America which was an America that was an extension of England. Now, many of his comments seem conservative and even eccentric, but he also writes himself off, he registers his own obsolescence and renders himself absent from America's future. And that's why I described James's late style as a style of self-effacement. And similarly, in The Enigma of Arrival, V.S. Naipaul is obsessed with an ideal English past that he has missed. He imagines himself as temporally and culturally excluded from that perfect English order — temporally because of his belated arrival, and culturally because he is a colonial, because even after decades of living in England, he is not English. Now all of this may seem deeply problematic. No wonder so many critics have accused Naipaul of being an Empire apologist. But when Naipaul imagines his exclusion from reflection, there is also an elevation in perspective, a deeper understanding of his own relation to England. So in both James's and Naipaul's books, a reflection upon an obsolete English order results in a unique historical awareness and intellectual openness, and a refusal to rest content with any fixed notions of identity or community. So I just wanted to say that the obsolete and the untimely may have surprising potentialities for critical and reflective thought. So, you know, I'm sure you've noticed that I'm particularly drawn to texts that are ideologically ambiguous and problematic. And in fact, I think that, in a way, both our books are a misfit within modern studies, in a field that prizes the imperative to make it new. So when I was writing, when I was turning my dissertation into a book, I was really apprehensive about having the words “obsolete” and “untimely” in the title because I thought that wouldn't fly in a field that is so invested in newness and innovation. But then I also found myself asking, who gets to make it new? Who gets to embrace newness to welcome newness into the world? Why is it that some writers are eager to make it new, while others are stuck in outmoded or discarded experiences and attachments? So I hope that, you know, my book can speak to the field of modernist studies in that the obsolete and the untimely can have, you know, all these surprising affordances. And I guess, you know, your book is something of a misfit with a notion of making it new as well. And I'm particularly taken by your forceful critique of minoritarian overcoming. So can you say more about that?

OG: Sure. Yeah, I think it's an interesting question, right? What role does our own formation as modernist scholars play in our intellectual projects? And so I think, for myself, I didn't necessarily think about making modernist studies new, for me, I think it was, in some ways, bringing modernism to the present day by looking at a pre-contemporary moment, right? And using terms that would be obsolete, like misfit, right? That people haven't really used or thought about, because we have much more precise, much more culturally appropriate terms, like identity, for example, right? But I think understanding these older, pre-contemporary idioms is really helpful for us for understanding these authors and the world in which they lived, and how they wrestled with the same issues of identity and intersectionality, more importantly, that we do, but they just had a very different language for those processes, right? And so I think part of it is similar to you, that, I think, even though these are discarded or obsolete terms, they still hold a purchase, because they're looking at the world, they're trying to describe a world that's very similar to our own. Right? And obviously, intersectionality was coined in the early 1980s. But the thought of intersectionality goes all the way back to the 19th century, right? And so I think that's a very important lesson for us to not be so beholden to this rhetoric of the new, especially at the level of terminology. So I really appreciate that in your project, Philip. In terms of the politics of my project, I think the notion of, it's related to what I just spoke about, which is, we have this — in the wake of the social movements, I think we have this notion of how minoritized communities are able to access the mainstream public sphere. And I think that integration, or perhaps assimilation, has a lot of costs, and, I think, is not always automatic. And I think there's obviously, you know, writers like Naipaul have been criticized, as you say, for having this, you know, this vexed relationship to the Imperial order that they wish to insert themselves into. And I think for the authors that I studied, they also had these questions, right? So for the two black American authors that I study, they had real reservations about the political expectations of the new Negro movement on their own aspirations as artists, right? They didn't want to forsake their vision to this, you know, this need to present uplifting archetypes of Blackness. And, you know, Thurman, Wallace Thurman, is famous for his acerbic anti-normative anti-respectability ethos, right? Very famously, when he edited the collection Fire!!, he, this is probably apocryphal, but he and Bruce Nugent another, you know, Harlem Renaissance, queer author, they basically took, they flipped a coin to decide which of them would write about homosexuality and which would write about prostitution. And, of course, that issue of Fire!! was the first and only issue because they had almost no support from the New Negro intelligentsia, precisely because they were such anti-bourgeois, anti-black-bourgeois, in particular, in their politics and their poetics. And so I think that's really important to think about, that sometimes we expect minoritarian artists and authors to uphold these positive values in their cultural production, that, in some ways, are seen as too limiting or too narrow. And in some ways they are, right? And so I think expecting these uplifting narratives, these positive role models, that kind of discourse is not something that, for example, white authors have to contend with. So I think that's really important for me that I saw in these authors their own political aspirations were much more vexed and much more anti-bourgeois than they had a quote-unquote right to be given their standpoint and given their patronage system that was in place to give them a platform. So in some ways they were unsuccessful in trying to bridge that gap in trying to have their aesthetic autonomy as well as having the patronage system that supported them, right?

That's where you have the disconnect, and that's why Thurman, you know, had a lot of trouble after his first two novels, especially because his second novel was a roman á clef of the Renaissance where, again, he caricatured a lot of these establishment figures, biting the hand that fed him, quite literally. And so I think the idea of minoritarian becoming is this aspiration to overcome systems, interlocking systems of oppression, which in some ways is a very flat understanding of resistance. And I think what I appreciate about your book and mine is that we both are looking at these forms of resistance that are not linear, that are not so simplistic as we'd like to think of it, right? I think resistance can be much, much more nuanced in negotiation of these forces, even by simply describing these forces, right? So for example, to go back to Thurman again, his study of, you know, a Black female subjectivity, looks at these interlocking, again, intersectional, issues of class, of race, of gender, and of sexuality. And it's a very dark novel. It's a very… it's not an uplifting novel at all. And for that reason, it was not very well received, because it was said to perpetuate these negative stereotypes, right? And so I think these expectations that minoritarian authors are placed under are part of what they're rebelling against. They're not just rebelling against the, you know, the white supremacist, or the imperial supremacist order, but they're also rebelling or negotiating the expectations within their home culture or home community that expects them to be a certain way and not in other ways. Right? So in some ways that's a double bind that they really struggle with.

PT: So I think our final question would be about, uh, what our research means outside of modernist study. Would you like to ask that question?

OG: I would love to ask that question! What does our research mean outside of modernist studies? Now that we've talked about how… what it means or what it might mean within modernist studies?

PT: Yeah, so, I think that… I wanna say two things. You know, one broader implication, or one logical question raised by my book is: what can literature do for us? In particular, what is literature's potential to unsettle notions of identity and community? So the writers in my book grew up reading English literature, and literature became a site for identification and disidentification, attachment and detachment. And I described their reading process as a tense interplay of intimacy and exclusion. It was intimate because they could build an English landscape in their minds with the words on the page, but they also felt excluded from that literary world because they did not actually live in England. And I think this interplay of intimacy and exclusion applies to literary reading in general because literature opens up new worlds as much as it alienates us from them. We identify with literary characters and other things in books, but literature also challenges the way we perceive the world. So one thing that I hope my book can do for the general reader is to prompt a deeper thinking of what literature can do for us today. And second, I, you know, I would like to think, I would like to call for more attention to this idea of attachment. I hope that my book can call for more attention to all kinds of improper desires and unreciprocated longings in our collective imagination today. If you think about it, attachment is an interesting thing, because we don't always get to choose what to be attached to. We may realize that our objects of attachment are wrong and inappropriate, we may learn to deconstruct or demystify those objects, but it is hard to retract our attachment to those objects. Sometimes we get attached to certain writers and books simply because we read them first, because we grew up reading those books. So I think that examining attachments at the individual and collective levels can reveal a lot about the violence and trauma that we are subject to. We can learn to denaturalize attachments and live with them even when they cause us pain. And I think that, you know, in a world of migrants, refugees, and half citizens, all these popular models of cosmopolitan dialogue or alternative modernities can no longer fully account for all the challenges we face. Instead, we need to look at those unacknowledged or illegitimate desires and attachments to understand the messy complexity of cross-cultural interactions. So, Tavi, I would ask you the same question. You know, what does your research mean outside of modernist studies? If you had to sum up your research and why it matters for a group of undergrads, what would you tell them?

OG: I like your response a lot. I think the idea of denaturalizing attachments is really persuasive. I also love the centrality of literature in your arguments. I think in some ways today's readers take these productions for granted as somehow quaint, so I think for me, my work is, again, looking at intersectional understandings of identity that are in some ways anticipating the more nuanced understandings that we work with today. But I think one way that I understand my ideological commitment is — Kadji Amin has a very fabulous first book himself called, um, uh, oh my God, I'm blanking on, uh, on Amin's book, uh, something. Attachments. Speaking of attachments.

PT: Disturbing Attachments.

OG: Disturbing Attachments! Thank you. And I think the notion of de-idealization is a fairly influential notion from that book. And I think the idea of denaturalization for you, de-idealization for Amin, I think these are young scholarly interventions in a field that has been trying very hard in the last, you know, 20 to 30 years to go beyond its very narrow Eurocentric canon. And so I think in some ways what I'm trying to do outside of modernist studies is what I'm trying to do within modernist studies, which is to expand modernist studies outward, so that there's not such a huge gap between the objects of our study and the contemporary readership of those objects. And I think in some ways because modernism is now, you know, over a century old, it's easier to historicize it, but also to make it new in a sense that it does reflect who we are today in the 21st century. And I think it's a lot easier to make that case when you're making arguments about, you know, post-imperial attachments to empire or about intersectional understandings of identity before intersectionality was really a term of art. And so I think those kinds of arguments that we're making are compelling to a contemporary audience because they translate these modernist formations into contemporary terms, right? I think we're doing that. But I also think this attachment to literature itself is important to underscore, as you just did.

Anyway, as you know, the first chapter of my book is actually a chapter on methodology where I talk about the methodology that brought me to these insights, and what I call imminent reading is looking at literature as itself, as I.A. Richards says, a way of ordering our minds as opposed to — I think a lot of scholarly work in the humanities has really, for many reasons, turned to other discourses to try to boost the profile, right? So you have a lot of turns to, obviously, to cognitive science, you have a lot of turns to the sociology of literature and all of these methodologies that borrow from other disciplines. I think they're great, however, I think I'm doubling down on literature as its own discourse of studying literature. And I think that is in itself a very modernist gesture. But I think you're also, on board with that, with that idea that literature means a lot. And it meant a lot to these writers who were trying to produce it themselves, and who were also formed by it. And I think in today's world, I think we discount literature even though we are immersed in all kinds of aesthetic representations, whether they be literary or not. And so I think just bringing back this attention to the aesthetic, whether it's mass mediated or whether it's a niche market like modernism, I think is important. And to see how it really does reflect realities, that, you know, you might be able to understand those realities through other structural discourses, like psychology, like psychoanalysis, but in some ways there's no need to turn to them if you have — you know, I mean, people say this, right? If you have a really, really good novel, you'll learn empathy, right? And there's a reason why that is actually an empirically sound argument to make. And so I think we're both in some ways arguing for the importance of remaining attached to literature despite this, you know, this explosion of mass mediation primarily through image, right? And so I think our attachment to the word in particular may seem old-fashioned, but I think also there's a certain nuance and ambiguity, to use your term, that rests within narrative form that I think a lot of modernists exploited and that I think a lot of us have discounted because we are no longer dominated by the written word, the way we used to be. And I think that's in some ways a loss, right? When we're bombarded by imagery, I think language becomes all the more important, precisely because it is how we understand other minds primarily. There's something to be said for understanding another mind through writing and not through imagery, which is inherently objectifying. So that's my little philosophical argument for why literature matters, beyond simply modernist studies and beyond simply the academy.

PT: Yeah. And I'll just say that I was really inspired by your discussion of imminent reading in your book. You know, it reminds me of immanent critique in the Frankfurt school. But at the same time, you know, your method of imminent reading resists what you call the taxonomy of  knowledge. And you're not trying to make a critique of those books. You're not trying to come up with any sort of, you know, definitive or theoretical categories of identity or knowledge. But you're thinking with the authors and that is what I am really inspired by. And I think I was actually doing the same thing in my book. And also in my own teaching, I don’t like to, you know, as you said, apply these extrinsic modes of analysis or interpretation to text. Instead I, you know, wanted to let the texts speak in their own words. You know, I just finished teaching a course on Joyce's Ulysses, and I said to my students: you know, at the beginning of the semester, you will be confused by the book, you will really struggle with the book, you will never master the book. You know, if that was your goal, you will never succeed. But if you let it, Ulysses can be a great teacher. Reading it can teach you how to read, not just how to read it, but how to read anything. So, you know, I think when we were both in graduate school, there were a lot of debates about reading methods, you know, surface reading, distant reading and so on. But for me, the question is always: how does a book want to be read? You know, how does a book communicate to its reader? I think that in my own formation, Ulysses taught me how to read, Ulysses taught me how to deal with ambiguity, with multilayeredness, with complexity and all of those things. So I've always been less interested in methodologies of reading than in, you know, than in my own intellectual growth as a reader. And I think that that entails some kind of open-mindedness, that entails some kind of openness to what the authors try to say to us and what the authors try to do to us. And that's what I try to promote in my own research and teaching.

OG: I love that. I love that. Yeah. I mean, I think it's really important. Thank you so much for that, for that compliment. And thank you so much for joining us in this inaugural issue of our podcast Two Authors, Two Books. On that note, I think we should probably wrap it up. I guess I'll just say to finish that reading these creative authors as having their own philosophical statements to make is a way of, you know, honoring their seriousness. Right? And I think that's something that we should understand, that you don't need to draw upon Adorno to understand Henry James. Henry James can teach you how to read Henry James, as you're saying. So thank you again, Philip. This has been wonderful. And, we'll be in touch. I, hopefully, will see you at MLA!

PT: All right. All right. Thank you so much for the invitation. I really enjoyed it.

[V.O.]: You’ve been listening to Two Authors, Two Books, a public humanities podcast created by Tavi González and brought to you through the Suzy Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College. Join us next time for a conversation between Joe Cermatori, author of Baroque Modernity, and Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen, author of Modern Art and the Remaking of Human Disposition.