On 29 October 2018, members of the Midlands Modernist Network (MMN) met to discuss modernist legacies and recovery practices. The MMN, founded by Rachel Eames (University of Birmingham) and Séan Richardson (Nottingham Trent University), facilitates modernist dialogue for researchers in the Midlands and beyond; the reading group is chaired by two different members each month, each of whom leads a discussion of a pre-distributed journal article. CMC Member Rhiannon Cogbill co-chaired this month's meeting and writes about the discussion below.
On this occasion, our meeting was centred around two 2018 articles, both broadly concerned with what the bounds of modernist literature are or might be. Liam Harrison (University of Birmingham) chaired our discussion of Jacqueline Rose’s ‘Modernism—the unfinished legacy’, and I did the same for Jessica Berman’s ‘Practicing transnational feminist recovery today’.
When we initially took up Rose’s ‘Modernism—the unfinished legacy’, an article about representation and memory and history, many of us spoke about her idiosyncratic voice and intense breadth of reference. Liam outlined Rose’s background and career, and we agreed that the piece read as though there was a strong reputation behind it. Rose is interested in repetition as crisis, and interestingly, as we worked through the argument of her article (and even after we moved onto Berman’s work), our conversation repeatedly circled around questions of modernism’s capacity, and how far we might push the term. Given its critical currency in certain circles, we asked, when does modernism become cliché? We also used Rose’s close reading of Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing (2013) to discuss the weight of history versus capital-H History, and to spark a conversation about gendered sexual violence in modernist literature.
Turning to Berman’s ‘Practicing transnational feminist recovery today’, we considered the value of ‘woman writer’ and ‘feminist’ as categories, and how we might work through affective connections to our research. We commented upon Berman’s clarity of expression and argument, particularly with regards to her useful précis of the history of gynocritics. Drawing parallels between Berman’s piece and Mary Poovey’s 2000 article ‘Recovering Ellen Pickering’, I then guided our conversation onto the subject of value, and we discussed the importance of reading recovered texts on their own terms as well as relating them to those more securely positioned within the canon. Berman’s reading of Iqbalunnisa Hussain’s 1944 novel Purdah and Polygamy prompted us to discuss how we define modernism, and the ways in which a proliferation of interpretations of different texts benefits us all. We concluded the session by thinking about the researchers we knew undertaking recovery projects, and the difficulties and importance of doing such work.
The meeting was a rigorous and thought-provoking two hours of modernist discussion and, as always, the range of interests and specialisms brought to the table by different MMN members produced really generative dialogues.