La Nouvelle Revue Francaise in the age of modernism.
The danger in attempting to open trade lines in both directions is, of course, that the institutional force behind modernism as something akin to a literary brand is so great that it will swallow La Nouvelle Revue Francaise whole. But that prospect does not reckon with the uncertainties and reservations that eat into modernism, undercutting or countering its potentially expansive force. Propelling La Nouvelle Revue Francaise into the modernist constellation may also have the effect of restraining what has become an increasingly vacuous designation, stretched in all number of directions as critics search for ways of identifying the elusive substance of "modernism." La Nouvelle Revue Francaise poses a threat to the current ascendancy of this Anglo-American product inasmuch as any claim made now that it is a modernist review risks merely exposing the inconsequential nature of such a claim. The pairing of this volume's title does not, therefore, imply any explanatory hierarchy, and the preposition "in" asks to be understood as a passing through and out the other side. The trajectory of the one through the other tells us something about that environment or medium, while the context inflects our understanding of the review's trajectory. They interact in ways that challenge the sort of stability that would be implied by reversing the title, "Modernism in La Nouvelle Revue Francaise," which makes the NRF merely capacious; or by changing the preposition to "of," giving "The Modernism of La Nouvelle Revue Francaise," which reduces the NRF to being an exemplar of a larger phenomenon.
Of course it remains possible to protest that the concept of the modern was first and foremost a French invention. There is undoubtedly a connection to be made between "le moderne" and modernism, yet it is not clear that this connection would operate most directly via a term like "le modernisme." The complexity of this lexical map is touched upon by Fredric Jameson in his notes on a theory of modernism, which figure at the end of his major work on postmodernism "We need in fact to inflect the root adjective into three distinct substances--beyond "modernism" proper, the less familiar one of "modernity," and then of "modernization"--in order not only to grasp the dimensions of the problem, but to appreciate how differently the various academic disciplines, as well as national traditions, have framed it. "Modernism" has come only recently to France, "modernity" only recently to us, "modernization" belongs to the sociologists, Spanish has two separate words for the artistic movements ("modernismo" and "vanguardismo") etc. A comparative lexicon would be a four- or five-dimensional affair, registering the chronological appearance of these terms in the various language groups, while recording the uneven development observable between them. A comparative sociology of modernism and its cultures would alone offer an adequate framework for rethinking "modernism" today, provided it worked both sides of the street and dug its tunnel from both directions." (1) This collection of articles is conceived as part of an effort to work in both directions, between national traditions. It is based on the premise that while the term modernism may currently signify most self-evidently--in job descriptions and conference outlines, for example--in Anglophone academia, and its current uses in French are derivative of this Anglophone usage, it implies a transnational event or project. The nature of the transnational connections is explored variously in these articles as a form of influence, of desire, of imperialism or cross-cultural diffusion, all of which generate different narratives of the way in which the NRF passes through the field of associations evoked by modernism. The temporal frame is roughly the interwar years, bur the temporality of modernism that emerges from these essays is not so much one of a unifying break, bur rather of uneven development driven by specific encounters, priorities and efforts.
Most recent studies of the NRF have restricted their focus to the position and impact of the review within national literary, political and sociological developments. Gisele Sapiro's La Guerre des ecrivains 1940-1953, which dedicates a large section of its analysis to the NRF, is exemplary of this tendency. Sapiro offers detailed analysis of the way the review's editors--Jacques Riviere until 1925 then Jean Paulhan after Riviere's sudden death--negotiated a patriotic commitment to French greatness against the harder form of right-wing nationalism embodied by Action francaise and the more overtly progressive, even revolutionary publications associated with the avant-garde. (2) She describes an evolution from the moneyed, upper-middle-class background that characterized the first group of writers associated with the NRF and their intended, elitist audience towards a slightly broader socio-economic pool as the numbers of associates and readers increased massively, although the men most directly associated with the review remained of bourgeois, and generally of Parisian origin. The higher-than-average proportion of protestant and Jewish collaborators, combined with the growing presence of writers and critics with close ties with the university, strengthened the link between the review and Republican, even Popular-Front politics, and Sapiro argues compellingly that this link consolidated the review's juste milieu patriotism. What this analysis fails to account for, however, is the significant and strategic place accorded to foreign authors, who were included not just by means of extracts from new publications, but also as critics and central reference points for the definition of the editorial line.
One of the modernists who contributed most strategically, albeit unknowingly, to the orientation that the NRF intended to give to contemporary literary production was Joseph Conrad. Although himself more of the generation of the Mercure de France and indeed committed to publication in French with Remy de Gourmont's "maison," he was wooed by Gide, who undertook to translate Conrad's novels himself, at a rate of one every two years. Winning Conrad for the NRF was not just about securing a prominent literary voice, as Niels Buch examines in his article "The Colonial Metropolis and its Artistic Adventure: Conrad, Congo and the Nouvelle Revue Francaise." Both Jacques Riviere and Gide saw his work as a vital component in an attempt to reinvigorate the French novel, widely credited as being moribund. A self-conscious desire to infuse French literature with some of the energy perceived abroad thus informed the NRF effort in its early days.
Yet, as Buch examines, this preoccupation with the health of French literature also resulted in a failure to perceive the critique of colonial policies in the various forms it was taking at the time in Paris. Michel Fabre's contribution to the present volume confirms this failure, adding a richly detailed account of how peripheral voices from the colonized world were breaking through into the Parisian literary world, feeding into some of the literary experimentation in American poetry that Michael North has examined in particular, yet finding no echo in the NRF.
The focus of interest around Conrad's oeuvre also reveals a significant lag in the NRF's engagement with modernist poetics as they were being articulated notably by Pound, Lewis, Hemingway and Joyce, all of who spent periods of time in Paris. The fact that some of the major figures in Anglo-American modernism lived alongside the milieu of the NRF in the French capital yet remained singularly apart from the "indigenous" literary culture has been noted in a variety of contexts. Two contributions here venture beyond this generalizing observation, exploring aspects of the editorial mechanisms that shaped the interplay between Anglo-American interests in Paris and Gaston Gallimard's increasingly prominent publishing house and review. Sophie Robert focuses on Adrienne Monnier's bookshop and lending library as well as her review Le Navire d'argent, which frequently offered a first place of publication to both French and Anglophone authors later picked up by the NRF, while Claire Paulhan investigates the fortunes of the review Mesures, created by Jean Paulhan, then editor of the NRF, in collaboration with Henry Church, a wealthy American patron of the arts. Both self-consciously modernist, and both actively seeking to demarcate themselves from the weighty institution of the NRF while depending upon it for their capacity to attract young talent, these two reviews and their respective openings onto Franco-American relations--Monnier lived and worked with Silvia Beach, while Church spent his life in France yet maintained a lively interest in American culture, often following Beach's recommendations of books--generated radically different bridges between the prestigious middle ground of Parisian literary circles and more peripheral enterprises. These differences partly reflected the general evolution of literary and artistic preoccupation over the ten years that separate the two reviews. Monnier, for example, remains refractory to surrealism, while Mesures constitutes one of the privileged sites for post-surrealist experimentation. Where they concord, however, is in the prominent place they gave to Anglo-American poetry in their efforts to reflect developments in the English-speaking world. Whitman, Dickens, Cummings, Carlos Williams, Hughes and Stevens come to the attention of French readers through these marginal reviews, and not through the pages of the NRF.
Indeed, the relative disinterest in new poetry amongst the NRF's guiding forces, notably Gide, Riviere and later the chronicler Julien Benda, is another important consequence of their attraction to the adventure novel and their concern with the vitality of French literature as the symbolist period drew to a close. In his contribution, "L'antimodernisme de la NRF," Antoine Compagnon identifies the preference for the novel as one of the primary signs of an antimodern current that runs particularly through the contributions of the critics Thibaudet and Benda throughout the interwar years. Focusing closely on Benda, and his tortuous relation with Paulhan, be charts the curious combination of literary antimodernism and radicalist sympathies, suggesting even an opposition that puts modernist experimentation in the NRF on the side of political reaction and hatred of democracy, an association perhaps best exemplified by Marcel Jouhandeau. In this reading, then, the concern with national renewal fuels a strong Republican ethos, which only grows stronger through the Popular Front era, and which finds a particularly forthright voice in Benda's regular admonitions of a literature that has lost its universalistic ambitions.
Martyn Cornick approaches the cohabitation of Paulhan and Benda within the Gallimard house from the other angle, however, underscoring first the early modern canon that the review's contributors did draw on--Mallarme, of course, but also Dostoevsky, Rimbaud and Lautreamont--as well as the foreign authors featured--Joyce in 1922 in the form of a major critical appreciation by Valery Larbaud and Kafka in 1928--before drawing attention to Paulhan and Gide's predilection for the "saugrenu," that touch of oddity or peculiarity that counterbalances the more classical contributions. Indeed, Gide's capacious appetite, his interest in foreign literatures and his relatively sustained connections with Bloomsbury literary circles surface again and again in the connections that link the NRF to a broader modernist conjuncture. They offer the impression that it would be possible to tie something specifically modernist to the NRF via the unifying figure of Gide. Yet the NRF is pushed out of shape from within by the very person who contributes most substantially to giving it its identity up until 1940. Gide's interests and affinities spread in all directions, stretching the parameters of the review beyond any identifiable aesthetic movement or school of literature, generating too many potential alliances to settle into any resolute direction. The very intersections with modernism, centered on Gide's expansive literary activities, thus propel this notion in all directions.
Cutting across this capaciousness is, however, the more doctrinaire current that flows from the NRF to T.S. Eliot, which brings the review back within the more recognizable ambit of modernism. Benoit Tadie, William Marx and Suzanne Guerlac all consider the role played by the NRF for Eliot in his elaboration of a new poetic and critical project. Through association with Valery's poetry and theories of poetic form, it represented the culmination of the movement in French poetry away from reference that, for the author of The Wasteland, enabled modernism. Eliot also contributed to the NRF in the form of Lettres d'Angleterre, which Gide envisaged as a regular survey of English literature when he contacted the young poet to seek his participation as a replacement for Percy Lubbock. In fact, Eliot dedicated the very few letters he ended up contributing to the NRF to clearing the decks and established the essential critical references for what he imagined as a new European literature, released from the provincial limitations he perceived which ever way he turned within the Anglophone literature of the day. Marx and Tadie draw significantly different conclusions from this critical operation carried out by Eliot in the pages of the NRF, prompting a more general consideration of the modes of articulation of tradition in the French and the English worlds. Yet they concur in analyzing Eliot's vision of the NRF as a space where the unity of culture could be found or, better, founded.
A model of unity for Eliot, a practical opportunity, and sometimes necessity, for Gide to experiment with different ideas and further his associations with writers from all number of walks of life: this contrast encapsulates the complexity of the issues raised when we attempt to situate the NRF within the era of modernism. It has been a privilege to assemble this collection of essays that reflect such a wide range of the questions emanating from this attempt and brings together contributors of quite different scholarly and national horizons. In the light of the different pressures placed on a univocal notion of modernism that I have merely touched on here, the danger of such an enterprise was evidently that the collection would lose all focus. The frequent echoes and connections across the different pieces are, however, sufficient indication that the notion or project of transnational modernism holds good. They are also testimony to the attention to and engagement with the work of others that characterized the colloquium at the Maison Francaise of Columbia University where these papers were aired in their initial forms. I would like to thank all contributors for their patience as this manuscript has passed through its various stages, as well as the team at The Romanic Review, especially Dominique Jullien for her valuable advice.
The University of London Institute in Paris
(1.) Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Austin : Duke University Press, 1991, pp. 303-304.
(2.) Gisele Sapiro, La Guerre des ecrivains 1940-195.3, Paris : Fayard, 1999, in particular pp. 377-466.
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|Title Annotation:||literary magazine|
|Publication:||The Romanic Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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