The ghost of philosophical nihilism lingered over the modernist landscape like a dank fog that refused to lift. Literary figures of the time observed this nihilistic atmosphere, with Elliot Paul declaring in his essay “The New Nihilism” (1927) that after the Great War, “old values had become meaningless” and in his introduction to “A War Diary” (1915–1918), Herbert Read recalling that “nihilism—nothingness, despair” was literary modernism’s “universal state of mind.”
From its inception, much of the discussion around the terms realism and modernism stems from the fact that both are responses to a historically shifting conception of the “real,” naming different procedures for representing it, with implicit and explicit claims as to their adequacy for doing so. This means that modernism can become either another iteration of what was called realism, or a renovation of it.
Virginia Woolf’s memoirs resonate richly with seating, beginning with the rocking chair from which she heard her father drop books to the floor at Hyde Park Gate. Leslie Stephen had “written all his books lying sunk in that deep rocking chair,” Woolf would recall in the essay “A Sketch of the Past,” his feet clear of the ground, a writing board across his lap. Yet Woolf did not herself begin as an armchair storyteller.
The relationship between human beings and their environment is one of the key problematics explored in twentieth-century literature. As modernist studies has turned its attention to contexts beyond Britain, Europe and the United States, so questions around space, place and geography have been necessarily reconfigured to take account of the effects of imperialism and globalization, and to destabilize the Anglo- and Eurocentrism of prevailing critical perspectives on space within modernist writing. Roughly concomitant with the development of these geomodernist approaches, significant advances have been made within the field of spatial humanities by scholars who have sought ways to use powerful GIS software in pursuit of research questions specific to the humanities. Some of the most interesting research in this area has sought to directly confront the difficulties of using software that requires quantitative input to account for the complexities of spatial imaginaries, understood here as an imbricating set of discursive constructs concerned with the elaboration of spatial meanings. While such discursive constructs can sometimes be anchored to locations in the material world with specific latitude and longitude coordinates, they are more likely to occupy an ambiguous position in relation to the exigencies of georeferencing, or even to float entirely free from such constraints. Unravelling the workings of spatial imaginaries within a corpus that combines both georeferenceable and non-georeferenceable entities thus engages one of the core debates animating work in the digital humanities: using technologies that often mandate binary distinctions and discrete categories to represent and interrogate a world of non-binary human experiences.