Sunny Stalter-Pace is the Hargis Associate Professor of American Literature. She specializes in the interdisciplinary study of modernist performance, literature, and urban space. Her first book, Underground Movements: Modern Culture on the New York City Subway was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2013. Her current book is under contract with Northwestern University Press, due to be published in May 2020. Titled Imitation Artist: Gertrude Hoffmann’s Life in Vaudeville and Dance, this critical biography considers how a vaudeville performer and producer transmitted European culture to American mass audiences.
Recent critical work in theater and modernist studies has homed in on the problem of circulation: how a performance moves from one language, one country, one medium to another. A host of business interests made the international performance circuit a reality—from transatlantic shipping lines to the theatrical syndicates who sent producers overseas in search of new talent. Mass media and the burgeoning culture of celebrity often paved the way, establishing expectations before a dancer or a show arrived. Sometimes these performances followed unexpected paths. Cross-cultural adaptation can lead to (generative) mistranslation, as Carrie Preston discusses in her work on Japanese noh and the uses to which it’s put in English-speaking modernism. I’d like to consider a form of circulation even more prosaic than mistranslation: copying. In A New Vocabulary for Global Modernism, Jacob Edmonds points to the prevalence of copying in twentieth-century world literature, discussing how it might help scholars rethink long-held beliefs about influence in the modernist canon. “Attending to repetition, reproduction, and copying as modernist practices,” Edmonds says, “undoes the privileging of originality, origins, temporal priority, and progress in commonplace accounts of modernism.” Attending to the copy moves us away from concerns with authorial intention and truth claims. Instead of a centripetal analysis (where it came from), this critical position demands a centrifugal analysis (how it spread).