Aarthi Vadde is Associate Professor of English at Duke University, USA. She is the author of Chimeras of Form: Modernist Internationalism Beyond Europe, 1914-2016 (Columbia University Press, 2016, winner of the American Comparative Literature Association's 2018 Harry Levin Prize). She is also co-editor of The Critic as Amateur (Bloomsbury, 2019).
Global modernism is almost always talked about in terms of expansion: more archives, more languages, longer time frames, wider geographies. I would like to talk about it in terms of scalability. Has the global turn within modernist studies made the term “modernism” more or less scalable? Scalability refers to the ability of a system, network, or project to handle growth without changing its governing principles—that is, to accommodate more material with minimum expenditure. In software design, an algorithm that scales well can handle greater and greater amounts of data without changing its design. A scalable business model is one that can expand into new markets without changing its organization. When it comes to knowledge production in the sciences, scalability is a virtue. Anna Tsing writes, “the ability to make one’s research framework apply to greater scales, without changing the research questions, has become a hallmark of modern knowledge.”
It’s been nearly a year now since the publication of M/m’s special issue on Weak Theory, a year of conversations both here on Print Plus—and, as Aarthi Vadde and Melanie Micir point out, across a range of other professional and para-professional spaces of engagement. Many thanks to all who have taken part!