Urmila Seshagiri is Associate Professor of English at the University of Tennessee. She is the author of Race and the Modernist Imagination (Cornell University Press, 2010). She is writing a book about modernism's legacies in the twenty-first century.
What distinguishes modernism’s legacies from the afterlives of other literary or cultural movements? To begin to answer this question, let’s glance back to 1941, when several writers of transatlantic renown composed what we might call obituaries for the modernist arts. Djuna Barnes’s “Lament for the Left Bank,” for example, an elegiac piece published in the American periodical Town and Country, memorialized a Paris made brilliant by overlapping arcs of collaborative innovation: Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes; George Antheil and Ezra Pound; Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, and Coco Chanel. The essay ends with the line, “The dreadful thing is not that all these things were done, but that they are over.” The things that were done and the things that are over: Barnes identifies the tensions that would come to mark modernism’s legacy in the twenty-first century, the dialectical occurrences of cultural continuity and discontinuity, of originality and repetition. For Barnes, Left Bank artists in the 1920s and 1930s did “things”—a single, compact word for modernism’s kaleidoscopic transformations—that were over by 1941, a conviction varied and echoed in other coeval “art-historical post-mortems,” to borrow from Richard Meyers, by Wyndham Lewis, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Anaïs Nin, and Cyril Connolly.
“Mind the Gap! Modernism and Feminist Praxis” marks Modernism/ modernity’s first forum dedicated to feminism and women modernists. Our forum situates its arguments at the nerve center of twentieth-century feminism, engaging diverse aspects of modern women’s lives through equally diverse methodologies. Feminism serves as a mode of critical discourse as well as an object of study, a rich doubling that shapes our dialogues about two constitutive aspects of modernism