Modernism, Race and Manifestos.
Manipulating Masculinity: War and Gender in Modern British and American Literature. Kathy J. Phillips (New York: Palgrave, 2006) v + 227 pp.
Given the field of modernism's recent interest in recasting its dominant or canonical narratives, pulling them out of their own hegemony, and dissolving the center from which they come, it is no wonder that many studies are beginning to embrace the task of reading major authors alongside lesser-known writers of the "periphery." The field finds itself at an exciting, yet problematic juncture in its attempts to reconfigure the way that we read high modernist writers such as Woolf, Conrad, and Eliot in an effort to displace them from the metropolitan British center, or at least in an effort to balance them with other writers of their period. The trouble, as many critics have noted, is the task of contesting the foundations of a field that is extraordinarily Eurocentric and rooted in the tattered remains of imperialism without appearing to just be playing "catch-up" with postcolonial and cultural studies. Both Laura Winkiel's and Kathy J. Phillips' new books approach this concern with fresh and dynamic readings of peripheral texts not in contrast to, but alongside, canonical themes in modernist scholarship in an effort to "usher in the new while looking backwards and sideways" (Winkiel 237). While the texts are not necessarily in direct conversation with one another, nor are they particularly focused on Woolf, the way in which Woolf's Three Guineas (1938) imbues each text suggests a promising direction in the project of recasting larger debates about imperialism, activism, gender, and geography.
By examining the historical and performative elements of the manifesto and its contribution to making and unmaking racial myths, Winkiel's book offers a rich corrective to what she sees as a major blind spot in contemporary understandings of how the genre exposes political and aesthetic tensions along the color line and what they say about the process of modernity (6). She views the manifesto as a liminal genre, capable of looking to the future by critiquing the past. Its genesis comes from moments of crisis that give it its performative power; thus, the manifesto is crucial for a re-imagining of counter-histories. Her argument that manifestos indicate the various temporalities of experiencing modernity paves the way for displacing narrative structure to make room for exposing racial myths and signaling alternate communities (2). Winkiel's book is divided into two sections, "Cosmopolitan London, 1906-1914" and "Transnational Modernisms, 1934-1938," each with a distinctive set of arguments that allow her to explore a wide range of documents born out of myriad social provocations. By digging into the archives, Winkiel upsets progressive narrative in favor of reconstituting a series of socio-political events through the words of the manifestos and the corresponding activism of their readers. In the first section of the book, her model is to show the metropolitan seat of modernism's influence outward onto the periphery (a traditional and familiar way of reading modernism). Her second section reverses that model to show how texts of the periphery infiltrate and alter the dominant colonial narratives of the center, and it is in this section that she considers Woolf's Three Guineas. Rather than choosing documents that neatly allow for the rupture of racial myths, many of the texts she explores in the first section are pro-imperialist, nationalistic rewritings of history that "make visible competing versions of community formation" and "open a space for [the] anti-colonial contestations of Anglo-European racial myths" she explores in the second section (2). Because the manifestos operate on radically different agendas and come from many locations, at times it is difficult to maintain a clear vision of Winkiel's argument, and the effect on the reader is a sense of unevenness, uneasiness, and discomfort; yet, it may be the result of Winkiel's attempt to defamiliarize the way we read modernism's trajectories. Through this method, she is able to prepare us for an unexpected repositioning of Woolf's Three Guineas alongside the work of C.L.R. James and Aime and Suzanne Cesaire.
The first section, "Cosmopolitan London, 1906-14," establishes a link between the manifesto and performance in the metropolitan center in an effort to destabilize conceptions about the center of modernity's production. Beginning with the women's suffrage movement's use of nationalistic rhetoric, Winkiel shows how in an attempt to recast their role in British society as participants in history, women created a contradiction in how national narratives were perceived and how colonizing female subjects determined their place in the hierarchy of culture and class (46). She illustrates this by exploring the militaristic language employed by manifesto writers, language that indicated the suffragette's rhetorical adoption of a belief in the unifying condition of war as a period that stabilizes national values (50). Alongside the textual manifestos, women of the suffrage movement employed public entertainment in the form of melodrama and burlesque. Winkiel suggests that these two forms of performance (forms which Rebecca West termed "riotous living" ) mobilized women to develop collectivities and adopt theatrical identities by which they could challenge hegemonic narratives by acting out in public spaces such as music halls or urban squares.
From women's suffrage in England, Winkiel moves into territory she argues is more clearly marked by racial myths and anarchic attempts at alternative national discourses as she interrogates the work of the Italian futurists, spearheaded by F.T. Marinetti. Like the suffragette's interruption of narratives in public space through the use of theatricality, the futurists attempted to stall the acceptance of linear time and historical progression by making violent speech acts. Interestingly, Winkiel's reading of futurism links Marinetti quite tightly to British and American avant-garde writers such as Rebecca West, Wyndham Lewis, Djuna Barnes, and Ford Madox Ford, a connection that is often avoided because it exposes various extremes of polemical racism and violence in the works of these writers. In so doing, she is able to continue her own practice of recasting multiple narratives of modernity, even those that cause discomfort. In particular, her reading of Mina Loy's phenomenological imagining of maternal bodies with Marinetti's fascination with machinery creates a powerful link between gender, politics, progress, and art. The third chapter of the section moves back to England and addresses Wyndham Lewis's Vorticist movement through his journal Blast and his contributions to the first British avant-garde cabaret, the Cave of the Golden Calf. Winkiel theorizes this space as a Foucauldian heterotopia where racial boundaries were dissolved in the name of art. However, she takes care to show that Lewis's work, especially in Blast's twenty page manifesto, promotes a dangerous alternative nationalism of Anglo-Saxon superiority by both celebrating "a wild and artificial heterotopia" and "contain[ing] and coloniz[ing] the heterotopia's energies" (130, 132). Overall, this first section makes an excellent contribution to the emerging interest in manifestos, because it offers such a comprehensive close reading of the texts within their cultural milieux by aptly demonstrating the complexities and contradictions in the way in which discourse on coloniality permeates calls to action and mass culture just prior to World War I.
Winkiel's second section, "Transnational Modernisms, 1934-1938," will be of use to Woolf scholars interested in the contradictory nature of Woolf's writings on Empire, anticolonization, and women, and the uneven spread of modernism's progression through marginal communities. The first chapter rigorously explores how the rhetoric, tone, and style of earlier manifestos influence and motivate Nancy Cunard and the black transnational texts she collected into her anthology Negro to build up pan-African activism and bring it to metropolitan centers. Winkiel's close examination of Cunard's life and work that present evidence of alternative modernisms within diasporic communities is a pleasure to read as it shows her own pleasure in doing her research.
The second chapter in this section takes Woolf to task for the way in which the pageant staged in Between the Acts (1941) imagines a postcolonial world that "avoids the question of racial difference" (191). Winkiel asserts that Woolf persists in creating a history that unfolds from a white perspective without irony, a view that counters scholarship that seeks to make Woolf's views more satirical and cosmopolitan than they may have been. In her effort to rescue Woolf from the nationalistic discourse analyzed in the first section of the book, Winkiel asks a difficult question: "how might the call for an avant-garde undoing of representation in Woolf's political rhetoric suggest a space for anticolonial contestation of Anglo-European racial myths, as well as for contesting the gendered boundaries of race and nation?" (193). Her answer lies in Three Guineas wherein Woolf acknowledges that while her position is from within the Empire, nationalistic feeling is an "irrational" emotion (TG qtd. in Winkiel 193). Winkiel works to reposition Woolf, one of Empire's daughters, by asserting that the limitations placed on women posited in Three Guineas can be juxtaposed with the limitations placed on "outsiders" such as C. L. R. James and Aime and Suzanne Cesaire in order to challenge "European universalism and the hierarchies of value that arise from a Eurocentric model of literary historical inquiry" (194). By exposing how Woolf at once employs and critiques the manifesto, Winkiel demonstrates the limitations of the genre. Woolf critiques it for its promotion of masculine ideals, vanguardist tone, militarism, violence, and linear staging of time. However, she also applauds the manifesto for its ability to promote healthy debate within (British) society (200).
Throughout this section, Winkiel alternates between clear analysis of the text that shows Woolf's engagement with creating an alternative modernism and her repudiation of Woolf's racial blind spots that keep her thought process trapped in a Eurocentric space that supports a post-imperial world in which inhabitants on the periphery are catching up to the West. For this reason, the manner in which she sets Woolf alongside C.L.R. James and the Cesaires requires her to offer parenthetical apologias for Woolf's dependence on race and class hierarchies within her writing. These small justifications work to keep Woolf and the transnational writers firmly separated despite Winkiel's desire to link them. Nevertheless, by situating Three Guineas in dialogue with progressivist manifestos of the mid-1930s, Winkiel succeeds in her objective of exposing the simultaneous imaginings of future possibilities and in showing that multiple modernisms, once visible, rupture linear narratives through literary and performative action.
Similarly, Kathy J. Phillips' newest book works to resituate narratives about masculine bravery, camaraderie, and sexuality during times of war. Wartime is particularly susceptible to the production of nation-building narratives, or myths. The wide scope of Phillips' study contributes to the emerging trend in studies on masculinity from modernism to contemporary literature and explores both British and American texts. This book productively fills a gap by extending her argument about the construction of male identity in collusion with the discourses of Empire during World War I to current debates about gender and the military in the United States' wars with Iraq (and the Middle East) in the past fifteen years. Phillips avoids couching her work in the discourse of trauma studies and does not venture too deeply into psychoanalysis by asking not about what war does to men (and women in the case of the Iraq wars), but why men consent to go to war in the first place. Her argument is clear: "societies which arbitrarily label a number of purely human traits 'feminine' possess a tactic useful to war making, for men are bound to detect some of these human traits in themselves--and then to worry that they have strayed into a feminine, inferior realm" (2). She explores how slang words like "sissy," "wimp," and "wuss" (insults with distinctly feminine etymology) coupled with other kinds of bullying and manipulation appear in literature about soldiering experience in an effort to show the performative nature of enlisting to prove manhood.
Phillips' previous work on Woolf shows as she subtly injects this project with hints of Three Guineas. While the book is not in any way about Woolf's position on Britain's great men's inability to prevent war, Phillips urges a Woolfian tone into her own analysis by employing the rhetorical devices of hesitation and reflection within the actual chapter subtitles which all employ a contradictory clause (for example, 2a, "I Fight to Prove I'm Not My Sister (but I Suspect I Am)," is also the subtitle for 3 a and 4a). Whereas Winkiel's vast collection of texts feels slippery and difficult to string together into a coherent argument, Phillips' insistence on a strict model within which she applies her argument often traps her close readings. Chapters two through four are about WWI, WWII, and Vietnam, respectively, so by applying the same mode of analysis to each war, and despite historical context and analysis on sexology and gender during each period, these three chapters homogenize the wars. As others have noted of Phillips' work in the past, she is a very strong close reader and each section of the book offers beautiful analysis of a wide variety of war themed memoirs, novels, plays, and poems, many of which are critically overlooked. While Phillips offers a formidable theoretical frame in her introduction, which establishes her feminist reading of masculine manipulation to create national mythologies, she does not apply her lens as rigorously as she could to her close readings of the texts in the war chapters.
Nonetheless, Phillips' statements in her conclusion that "modern Britain and America have pushed men to war (1) by artificially polarizing gender definitions and keeping women secondary and (2) by devaluing pleasure and miseducating people about sex" are both bold and useful claims especially for those interested in the relationship between sex and violence (175). In fact, the concluding chapter is perhaps the most engaging as it responds to these two claims by considering social phenomena like the Kinsey reports, recent discussions in feminist theory on the link between sex, gender, and war, and pop cultural texts that challenge the tight close readings of the previous chapters. The Epilogue opens an important interdisciplinary link between war literature and its sharp gendering of an age gone by and the contemporary examples of war narratives coming from soldiers' experiences in Iraq. Phillips does well to include this preliminary look in her book, because despite the fanfare around the military's attempts toward gender equality, she shows that the language of masculinity is even more sharply reified now. Those who study literature must remain aware of war language's power to manipulate expectations placed on the men and women of the military. Furthermore, this new sort of war will certainly produce a body of work that redefines experiences of humanity in the face of violence and rhetorical tactics.
Winkiel and Phillips engage in asking difficult questions that challenge assumptions and accepted mythologies promoted by dominant rhetoric and are able to open up spaces for peripheral voices. Both texts encourage readers to consider the relationship between speech acts, the written text, and performance as they contribute to or defy nationalism and the place of the individual (and his or her community) within that context. Both authors are committed to exposing writers who remain "outsiders" from the canon, a choice that produces fresh material and perspectives that have the ability to inform Woolf scholarship's commitment to continually resituating Woolf's life and work to reveal new possibilities in understanding it as studies in literature embrace an increasingly global reach.
--Sarah E. Cornish, Fordham University
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|Author:||Cornish, Sarah E.|
|Publication:||Woolf Studies Annual|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2010|
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