Encyclopedia of Literary Modernism
Book by Paul Poplawski; Greenwood Press, 2003
Scope of This Book.
Despite intense critical debate and disagreement over its very name, nature and scope, modernism continues to be widely acknowledged as probably the most important and influential artistic-cultural phenomenon of the twentieth century, whether it is considered primarily as a movement, a period, a genre, a style or an ideology. Within literature and literary studies especially, modernism looms large as an established canonical category, for publishers, readers, critics, students, and scholars alike.
It is surprising therefore to find a relative dearth of ready reference material devoted specifically to literary modernism, especially when there exists such a plethora of handbooks, companions and glossaries on literary topics generally, and a plethora, too, of developed critical scholarship on modernism in the shape of introductory overviews, scholarly monographs, edited essay collections, and anthologies of primary source materials. The classic survey of the field presented in Malcolm Bradbury's and James McFarlane's seminal essay collection, Modernism 1890-1930 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976; rptd. 1991), and the similar more recent collection edited by Michael Levenson, The Cambridge Companion to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 1999), are perhaps the nearest we have to the sort of reference guide I mean here. However, though these are both invaluable sources of information and critical insight, neither of them is specifically designed as a reference book and certainly not as a source of quick reference (though the former contains such elements as a detailed chronology of events, a hundred "Brief Biographies," and an extensive general bibliography).
The present volume, then, has been designed to fill the gap suggested above by providing a comprehensive and accessible source of quick reference to the key authors, works, movements, theories, places and events commonly associated with literary modernism. Written by expert scholars from around the world and covering hundreds of different topics in a clear, incisive and critically informed manner, this Encyclopedia presents a unique range of detailed entries-many in the form of mini-essays-mapping out the complex and variegated field of literary modernism in a fresh and original way from an early twenty-first century perspective.
Although the principal focus of the book is on English language literary modernism and the period 1890-1939, many entries extend substantially beyond these loose parameters to include important precursors and successors of modernism, as well as to cover the crucial European and interdisciplinary dimensions of modernism, and to provide complementary comparative perspectives from countries and regions not usually included in traditional accounts of the subject (thus there are entries, for example, on India, Southern Africa, and Hispanic America). Each entry includes a selected bibliography to guide the reader to essential primary and secondary sources, and a simple system of cross-referencing by means of bold type directs the reader to relevant related entries elsewhere in the book. There is also a selected bibliography of useful general works on modernism at the end of the Encyclopedia, as well as a comprehensive index. It should be noted that the index clearly highlights all main entries and may therefore be browsed to provide an initial overview of the book's contents. The index will also prove useful for locating discussions of significant authors, movements or topics that do not have their own main entries because of having been incorporated within some of the more substantial synoptic entries, such as those dealing with countries or regions (e.g., France, Spain, Russia), or with art movements (e.g., cubism, impressionism, surrealism), or with general topics (e.g., dance, feminism, film, music, psychoanalysis, thought).
Definitions of Modernism.
As I suggested at the start, the field of modernism is a highly complex and hotly contested one, and there is no universal consensus on precisely what constitutes modernism. The name itself remains radically unstable, shifting in meaning according to who uses it, when, where and in what context-to the extent that several critics now prefer to talk of discrete and disparate "modernisms" rather than of one overarching "modernism." Whether or not this merely multiplies problems of definition is a moot point, but it certainly reflects the dynamically conflicted and heterogeneous nature of our current understanding of modernism.
In addition to its straightforward reference function, therefore, this book has been conceived and developed also to encourage critical reflection on established views of what the term "modernism" means or might mean. In compiling the book, I have taken a very catholic and pragmatic approach as to what falls within its purview, erring purposely on the side of inclusiveness in order implicitly to challenge any narrow or neatly programmatic views of modernism; and I have allowed contributors a free hand to develop their own ideas, in relation to their particular topics, as to what modernism means to them. In this way, I hope to have given clearer definition to shifting conceptions of modernism as they have evolved over time, place, and culture, and to have generated multiple and multifaceted perspectives on modernism which may suggest new ways of conceiving it in the future. The book's twofold aim overall, then, has been to provide comprehensive and reliable factual information on the people, places, principles, and texts normally identified with literary modernism, while also interrogating conventional, canonical conceptions of what, when, why, how and who modernism was (and/or is).