Ian Whittington is Associate Professor of English at the University of Mississippi, where his teaching and research focus on radio, modernism, and mid-century British and Anglophone culture. He is the author of Writing the Radio War: Literature, Politics, and the BBC, 1939-1945 (Edinburgh University Press, 2018). His essays have appeared in Modernist Cultures, Safundi, and Literature Compass, and in the collections Around 1945: Literature, Citizenship, Rights (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016) and A History of 1930s British Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2019).
If “expansion” has been the watchword of the past two decades of modernist studies, as Rebecca Walkowitz and Douglas Mao have it, we could be excused for identifying Peter Kalliney’s Commonwealth of Letters: British Literary Culture and the Emergence of Postcolonial Aesthetics (2013) as a signal instance of this trend. The operating principle of Kalliney’s monograph is one of extension: of the geographic edges of modernist cultural production; of the chronological boundaries of the movement; of the range of cultural forms that might be brought under scholarly scrutiny; and of the forms of attention that might be applied to systems of literary influence, promotion, distribution, and debate. Post-Bourdieusian, institutionally-focused, closely-read, globally-minded, belatedly-modernist: the approach signaled by Commonwealth of Letters appears at once invigorating and emblematic of recent shifts in the field. Not yet seven years old, this volume already seems ripe for a forum on “Re/discoveries” not only because it captures the energies of its expansive scholarly moment, but because it has already had a considerable impact on multiple branches of the literary-critical tree. Count my own sub-field of radio studies among those branches that felt the shake: Kalliney’s 2007 article in PMLA, “Metropolitan Modernism and its West Indian Interlocutors: 1950s London and the Emergence of Postcolonial Literature” (which laid out some of the key arguments of Commonwealth of Letters and forms the core of its fourth chapter) has quickly become a touchstone for scholars working at the intersections of media and global anglophone literature, as evidenced by a surge of recent work in the field by Julie Cyzewski, Daniel Ryan Morse, James Procter, Leonie Thomas, myself, and many others.
Reading through these two excellent new volumes situated at the intersection of radio studies and modern Irish literature, one feels presented with two very different instantiations of the radio listener. On the one hand, we have the dial-twirling shortwave enthusiast, stationed in (perhaps) Cork, and tuning in to transmissions Irish in affiliation but emanating from Dublin, Addis Ababa, New York City, Belfast, Geneva, London, and Berlin—transmissions that dazzle by their variety and that impart an awareness of their connectedness in dispersal.