Aarthi Vadde is Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professor of English at Duke University. She is the author of Chimeras of Form: Modernist Internationalism Beyond Europe, 1914-2016 (Columbia UP 2016). She is currently at work on a new book entitled The Amateur Spirit: Contemporary Literature in the Sharing Economy and an edited collection on the history and multimedia practices of criticism.
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.”