The past twenty years, along with the promises and perils of the digital turn, have seen a robust engagement with the modernist archive. One can map nearly point for point the rise of the New Modernist Studies and the Modernist Studies Association with the rise of digital resources that have reenergized the field: the Modernist Journals Project (1997), the Modernist Magazines Project (2006), the Blue Mountain Project (2012), the Modernist Versions Project (2012), ModNets (2013), and the Modernist Archives Publishing Project (2013), among others, have all contributed to the “expansive” forces enlarging the universe of material modernity.
This blog concerns itself with the messy, multidisciplinary spaces of the archives—both real and imagined. It brings together everyone involved in the creation of archives to discuss how these spaces shape, have shaped, and will shape the study of modernism.
Cushioned in an archival box in the Museum of Applied Arts, Belgrade, Serbia, lies a remarkable surrealist photograph: Nikola Vučo’s The Arrested Flight of Surreality (Zadržano bekstvo nadstvarnosti, 1929, fig. 1). Posing as a visual riddle, the photograph shows the figure of a woman with her back to the viewer, as if intent on moving on, or fleeing, and the semitransparent hands arresting her flight or gently pulling her in the opposite direction. The surreal effects of the photograph result from double exposure, considered an innovative technique at the time, wherein superimposition is obtained by apparatic means rather than interventions on the negative. Dual exposure photographs have to be premeditated and carefully staged performances, thus presenting great examples of what Pavle Levi has called “cinema by other means.”
Archival research possesses a hushed glamor. To realize that Marianne Moore carried around the very book you’re holding—or that Langston Hughes rolled that exact piece of paper into his typewriter late one night and yanked out a poem with the ink still damp—is like being visited by a character you thought you’d invented. Such knowledge can change how you think about art, and it certainly changes how you read.