“Improbable Life”: Bain, the Baroness, and Public Photography

I first encountered Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874–1927) at a conference on modernism and comedy. While her performance style is not exactly comical, the Baroness is most notable for her eccentric writing and elaborate costumes, despite the fact that her title brought her no monetary stability. Born in Germany, she immigrated to the US with a husband who soon abandoned her, she married the Baron (her third husband) who soon died, and she made her way to the Greenwich Village art scene as a figure model, poet, and sculptor in 1913.

Reworking the Collective Body: Practices of Choric Speaking in the German and Austrian New Radio Play

The present essay approaches the topic of this cluster—a Politics of Form Revisited—from a perspective that links up with current demands for reconceptualizing the relations between politics and aesthetics, based on a renewed interest in questions of collectivity.

Conscience, Doubt, and the Militarized Body in Pain

The Military Service Acts of 1916–18, passed under the more general Defense of the Realm Act (1914), implemented conscription throughout England, Scotland, and Wales. Opposition to conscription led to the imprisonment and abuse of thousands of conscientious objectors, who were in an ambiguous legal position, subject to punishment from both military and civil law, but protected by neither.

Picturing Nuclear Suffering: Raymond Briggs’s When the Wind Blows

[Content note: brief discussion and accompanying imagery of racialized propaganda.]

The bodily injury caused by nuclear warfare constitutes a massively collective form of modern suffering. However, for many in the West, it also represents a markedly “foreign” pain, inflicted on distant bodies in other lands. The only instances (thus far) of nuclear weapons being deliberately utilized in combat are the US deployment of the “Little Boy” A-bomb in Hiroshima and the “Fat Man” in Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945 respectively. The 100,000 immediate deaths and ensuing agonies of radiation poisoning were borne primarily by Japanese soldiers and civilians and Korean slave laborers–­­–who were, for many midcentury British and American citizens, unimaginably “foreign” bodies, caricatured and dehumanized in Allied war propaganda throughout the 1940s (fig. 1).

Mina Loy’s Nomadic Politics of Pain

Reading Loy in the twenty-first century, after the material turn in the humanities, sheds new light on her writing as particularly attuned to how the material and the incorporeal are embedded in each other. Perhaps today the question is no longer whether Loy’s poetics epitomizes the dance of the intellect or the dance of the body, but how it renegotiates intricate entanglements of mind and matter, spirit and flesh, or nature and culture.

Toomer, Marshall, and the Il/Legibility of Black Pain

Contemporary archival (The National Memorial for Peace and Justice), medical (Janice Sabin, “How we fail black patients in pain”), and political (BLM) practices continue to depend on the legibility of Black pain, where pain’s visibility is assumed to make it politically transformative. Rather than an obviously valuable experience, however, Black pain requires political validation by an American whiteness all too often unable or unwilling to recognize or respond to that pain. Miranda Fricker’s “testimonial injustice” describes this ethical failing, which “occurs when prejudice causes a hearer to give a deflated level of credibility to a speaker's word,” producing an “epistemic dysfunction in the exchange.”

The Aestheticization of Politics: The Case of Lynching Photographs

[Content note: this article contains graphic images of lynching.]

For a work that is pivotal to scholarship on Jim Crow racial violence, the phrase “Jim Crow” is conspicuously absent in Ida B. Wells’s The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States. Instead, she calls the epoch “nineteenth-century civilization,” a deceptively toothless choice of words until one begins to understand its full import.

“A thousand times more painful than death”: Survival and Unspeakability in Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore’s Post-1945 Unpublished Writings

On June 30, 1945, the Jersey Evening Post on the Channel Island of Jersey ran a story boldly titled “Sentenced to Death by Island Nazis: The Story of Two Gallant Frenchwomen.” It was an interview with French Surrealist photographers, writers, sculptors, political activists, Resistance fighters, and life partners Claude Cahun (born Lucy Schwob) and Marcel Moore (born Suzanne Malherbe), just over a month after their release from Gloucester Street Prison in St. Helier, where they had been serving several sentences (including an imminent death sentence) for their Resistance activities on the island in the early 1940s

The Body Politic in Pain

Literary modernism has a close relationship with pain, though not an untroubled one. To make a very general comparison, pain is to literary criticism today what illness was to literature for Virginia Woolf, and likewise betrays an under-interrogated dualism. “Literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind,” Woolf writes, and so “this monster, the body, this miracle, its pain, will soon make us taper into mysticism, or rise, with rapid beats of the wings, into the raptures of transcendentalism.”


A creature luminous and vexed, the firefly flits in melancholic briefness, brilliant yet burning out, its light’s little lifespan mocked by the starry fixtures of the sky. The firefly’s illumination is a chemical process, like the flash of a camera but without the photograph’s sense of permanence and history. Instead, summer by summer, children chase down these natural lanterns and collect them in mason jars, glass enclosures for viewing their darkening demise. Aquariums of lost energy.