Alys Moody is Lecturer in English at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and the 2018–2019 Early Career Fellow in the Humanities Center at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of The Art of Hunger: Aesthetic Autonomy and the Afterlives of Modernism (Oxford University Press, 2018), and the co-editor, with Stephen J. Ross, of Global Modernists on Modernism: An Anthology (Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2019).
In the Modernism/modernity Print Plus cluster on “Modernism’s Contemporary Affects,” Claire Barber-Stetson writes probingly of the relationship between the precarious existence of graduate students and early career academics in English and the rise of global modernism. She sees the expansion of modernist studies, of which global modernism is perhaps the signal instance, as “driven—at least in part—by more pervasive precarity in literary studies as a profession,” and worries about the various challenges it poses to modernism as practiced in English departments. “It threatens,” she writes, “to dilute the term modernism beyond critical purchase, to leave graduate students without sufficient institutional support, and to divert resources from other fields, periods, and movements, including contemporary literary studies.”
About halfway through Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station (2011), the protagonist, Adam Gordon, declares that he has “achieved a new emotional state, or a state in which emotions no longer obtained.” In this state, he reports, “I now felt nothing, my affect a flat spectrum over a defined band.” At the same time, he comes to experience a sort of meta-affect, “a kind of euphoria at my sudden inability to feel” (Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station, 103). Immediately, Adam finds, he is a better poet. In this state of indifference, he feels, “for the first time, like a writer, as if all the real living were on the page” (104). He can at last imagine becoming the poet he wanted to be, the poet he thought would most impress the women to whom he was now so indifferent, “a poet who alone was able to array the fallen materials of the real into a song that transcended it” (104). He buys new notebooks to accommodate his poetic outpouring and feels a sudden invigorating certainty in his aesthetic vocation.