late modernism

“A Quickening of the Heart”: Night Mail, Paul Bunyan, and the Multimodal Rhythms of Late Modernism

In the editorial statement of the first issue of Rhythm, John Middleton Murry writes: “Our intention is to provide art, be it drawing, literature or criticism, which shall be vigorous, determined, which shall have its roots below the surface, and be the rhythmical echo of the life with which it is in touch.”[1] He would later explain that the magazine treated rhythm as “the distinctive element in all the arts, and that the real purpose of ‘this modern movement’ . . . was to reassert the preeminence of rhythm.”[2] In 1911, Murry was articulating two foundational tenets of his conception of modernist art: first, different artistic media can and ought to be brought together and, second, rhythm is the principle under which the various arts can be unified. Though Rhythm, like many of the small magazines, had a narrow distribution and short print run, it is representative of a certain school of thought within modernism: one that understands particular formal structures and aesthetic principles as points of contact allowing for the co-existence and co-constitution of multiple artistic practices within one phenomenal space.[3] The common and preeminent rhythmic elements of different media, this school of thought suggests, facilitate the composition of multimedial art. In the same way that fiction, poetry, and visual art could occupy the space between Rhythm’s covers, rhythm, as a distinctive element, could facilitate a combination of these individual practices. An aesthetic cornerstone of literature, visual art, music, film, and dance, rhythm also operates as a common principle such that it can extend beyond any singular mode and allow for the development of multimedial and multimodal works defining of this modern movement.

Philip K. Dick, Late Modernism, and the Chinese Logic of American Totality

How did the novel, which shared most of its history with the rise and consolidation of the modern nation-state, adapt to a new world order scrambled by war, colonialism, and migration? Rebecca Walkowitz and Matthew Hart, among others, have traced high modernist experiments with multilingualism, which seemed to offer the utopian possibility of an idiom to heal broken continents.[1] Nobody articulated this sentiment with greater bombast than Eugene Jolas, a self-declared “intercontinental amalgam” who found in Manhattan “a super-Occidental form of expression with polyglot overtones,” an “Atlantic, or Crucible, language . . . the result of the interracial synthesis that was going on in the United States, Latin America, and Canada.”[2] Though Jolas was convinced that “this titanic linguistic compound would facilitate intellectual communication and creative expression on a universal basis,” James Joyce, who indeed experimented with a “linguistic compound” in Finnegans Wake, did not herald an era of transnational communication (Man from Babel, 273).[3] Those earlier disappointments with cosmopolitan polyglossia, Jed Esty claims, spawned a regression to nativism, as the aging high modernists tried to salvage a sense of national identity in the wake of imperial overexpansion.[4] But what about the late modernists, those younger writers who were born headfirst into “the interracial synthesis,” and arrived too late to find consolation in either cosmopolitanism or nativism? In what follows, I identify a third way in the late modernism of Philip K. Dick, who impounds a foreign, non-verbal, empirical form to manage political and cultural instability.

Modernism after Modernism

In the introduction to his superb book Realism after Modernism, Devin Fore describes a “shared modernist aspiration to achieve conditions of perception and consciousness outside of what is customarily arrogated to the human.”[1] He sees this as the tie that binds avant-garde movements across early twentieth-century Europe: from José Ortega y Gasset to Jean-François Lyotard, Paul Cezanne to Velimir Khlebnikov, modernism was a radically diverse enterprise with an eye to the aesthetic transcendence of language, figuration, an

Surveying American Late Modernism: Partisan Review and the Cultural Politics of the Questionnaire

From 1920 to 1932, the Literary Digest—a weekly American magazine—accurately predicted the winner of each presidential election in the United States by conducting massive straw polls. In 1936, however, the magazine fell into irreparable ignominy when, after distributing over ten million questionnaires, the editors predicted a landslide victory for Republican candidate Alf Landon, only to have Franklin Roosevelt win handily, securing sixty-one percent of the popular vote. George Gallup’s American Institute of Public Opinion, founded just the year before, gained widespread notoriety for not only correctly predicting the election’s outcome using only 50,000 respondents, but also estimating the Digest poll’s error in advance of their publication, with a sample of just 3,000.[1] Gallup took the technique of the questionnaire, made politically potent by mass print culture, yet still employed as a blunt instrument, and infused it with a newfound statistical rigor.[2] Gallup’s confrontation with the Digest at once exemplified and accelerated the growing influence that questionnaires had in American culture in the 1930s, and particularly highlighted how modern periodicals might thrive—or wither—by using this technique to actively engage national political debates.[3] The Literary Digest, founded in 1890, endured its shame only briefly, being sold in 1938 and shortly thereafter dissolved into Henry Luce’s Time.[4] Gallup’s Institute, meanwhile, became a leading authority in evaluating public opinion, his name soon treated as metonymic for the use of modern, quantitative polling.

The Extinct Scene: Late Modernism and Everyday Life by Thomas S. Davis

A brilliant and timely book, The Extinct Scene joins the growing list of scholarly works that deal with Anglo-British modernism in the middle of the twentieth century, such as Tyrus Miller’s Late Modernism (1999), Marina MacKay’s Modernism and World War II (2007), Leo Mellor’s Reading the Ruins (2011), Peter Kalliney’s Commonwealth of Letters (2013), and Gill Plain’s Literature of the 1940s (2013). These works establish continuities from the interwar years through the Second World War and into the era of British decolonization.