In 1927, Christian Zervos, the editor of the prominent art magazine Cahiers d’Art, published an article on the “Dernières œuvres de Picasso.” This article discussed the new direction in Pablo Picasso’s recent body of surrealist-influenced paintings: unlike the restrained compositions of the postwar rappel à ordre, these paintings demonstrated a new expressive dynamism, and signaled Picasso’s openness to novel, disruptive currents in the cultural life of les années folles. For Zervos, this body of work exemplified the path forward for contemporary painting in the wake of cubism, a return to a more expressive pictorial form—a tendency sometimes described as a type of néo-fauvisme.
Sometimes, when entering a text in search of an angle on translation and modernism, we end up with something altogether different. Alejo Carpentier’s “Lettre des Antilles” (1929) was a starting point of what became for me a game of modernist serendipity. The article appeared in Bifur (1929–31), a multimedia magazine edited by Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, a one-time affiliate of the Surrealists who turned his back on André Breton in the company of Georges Bataille, who had become something of a bête noire for Breton.
In a charged essay recently published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Daniel Allington, Sarah Brouillette, and David Golumbia offer a sharp corrective to the utopian claims that have so often been used to describe the digital humanities. Noting the overlap with Silicon Valley’s rhetoric about “disruption,” they contend that digital humanities is about “the promotion of project-based learning and lab-based research over reading and writing, the rebranding of insecure campus employment as an empowering “alt-ac” career choice, and the redefinition of technical expertise as a form (indeed, the superior form) of humanist knowledge.” This new field, they conclude, aligns too neatly with a neoliberal view of a higher education that uses the digital to hollow out the core critical, intellectual, social, and even professional practices of the humanities.
Writing of the Great Depression, historian John Egerton observes that, “The whole country was in pain, and the South, by almost any measure you could apply, was suffering much more than the rest of the United States." Economic distress heightened racial tensions, as southern whites tightened their hold on the precious little wealth and privilege available to signal their supremacy. Despite the grip of poverty and rigid racial hierarchies, the 1930s was a period of cultural ferment, particularly in the literary and political realms, and especially in the South. The decade witnessed a brief (but ill-fated) marriage between literary experimentation and revolutionary politics, as writers such as John Dos Passos, Langston Hughes, and Muriel Rukeyser attempted to wed modernist formal experimentation with leftist social protest.