By the Rivers of Modernism

Law Lecture Theatre 3 (first floor)
Wednesday 8 May 2019 (17:15-19:00)

Join Leon Betsworth (London South Bank University) and the Centre for Modernist Cultures for a one-off talk on the subject of 'By the Rivers of Modernism'.

Modernism is often understood as very much a phenomenon of the city. However, accounts of urban modernism tend to overlook the central importance of the river to the city’s very existence. Looking to Paris, for instance, despite its economic importance, the Seine is rarely mentioned in the seemingly landlocked topoi associated with the development of Parisian modernity. In Walter Benjamin’s powerful paradigm articulated on the topography of the city in the nineteenth century, for example, the bourgeoisie emerge from their cossetted interiors and the working classes from their overcrowded faubourgs to gather in squares and boulevards that form the backdrop both for revolutionary struggle and for a culture of consumption, media, and the spectacle, spilling from the grands boulevards into arcades, panoramas, department stores, and cafés.

Moving into the twentieth century, the Seine maintains its crucial, material importance to Paris’s economy, life, and infrastructure, but there is a continued diminishing of and indifference to the river that results from its decreased importance to practices of urban sociability. This is reflected in the fiction of the time where it hardly features as subject matter at all. What we find instead is the language of the waterway transformed into a versatile metaphor for modernity: crowds flow over bridges that span urban rivers, city streets are ‘flooded’ with money and goods. The ebb and flow of the river conveys the exciting, sometimes threatening, and always dynamic flux of the modern metropolis. Exploring the effects and implications of this for conceptions of urban modernity, Leon looks at the work of Wyndham Lewis and Ernest Hemingway among others.

Dr Leon Betsworth is a Lecturer in English Literature at London South Bank University. His main research interest is the socio-cultural histories of modernism, particularly the spaces and places of modernism. He has published articles on David Bomberg, Wyndham Lewis, and Ernest Hemingway. He is editor of the forthcoming OUP Critical edition of Wyndham Lewis’s little magazine, The Tyro, and co-editor with David Peters Corbett of the forthcoming EUP volume onWyndham Lewis and the Arts. He is also co-editor of the OLH journal, The Working-Class Avant-Garde.

You can register for this event here.

***Please arrive by 5.15pm for a prompt 5.30pm start.***

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