Bad Modernisms by Douglas Mao, Rebecca L. Walkowitz

By Douglas Mao, Rebecca L. Walkowitz

Modernism is scorching back. on the sunrise of the twenty-first century, poets and designers, designers and critics, academics and artists are rediscovering the virtues of the former century’s so much bright cultural constellation. but this common include increases questions on modernism’s relation to its personal good fortune. Modernism’s “badness”—its emphasis on outrageous habit, its elevation of negativity, its refusal to be condoned—seems necessary to its energy. yet as soon as modernism is authorized as “good” or precious (as loads of modernist paintings now is), its prestige as a subversive aesthetic intervention turns out undermined. The individuals to undesirable Modernisms tease out the contradictions in modernism’s dedication to badness.

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54 As David Johnston has noted: “The existence of a text is not a bounded site, but rather an itinerary between there and here, then and now, and that itinerary is configured by a series of translations that take place in and across the various temporal and cultural engagements. . ”55 The very existence of translations has fundamentally shifted the national or ethnic borders within which writers such as Langston Hughes have traditionally been enclosed. Such shifts suggest that it is more fruitful to regard Hughes as a nexus than as a solitary author who wrote in a single language identified with a particular nation.

There is only one small problem: superimposing a Soviet future upon a USAmerican past creates a clash of cultural sensibilities that, to Hughes, distorts the present almost beyond recognition. Like the movie scene in which a “hot-blooded white aristocrat” from Alabama would ask the “lovely dark-skinned servant” to dance at a party, “it just couldn’t be true. It was not even plausible fantasy—being both ahead of and far behind the times” (IW, 78, 79). While Hughes’s recourse to Cervantes’s “slightly demented knight” is a suitable response to this travesty, invoking Don Quixote also has another effect.

Language as the space for communication is displaced onto the body. Once the bodily exchanges reach the issue of identity by way of shared skin color, it is necessary to return to speech to articulate different cultural and political affiliations. Interestingly, Hughes is first identified as “Russki,” not as American. Hughes again represents this speaking as a mixture of Russian and English. English phrases that translate gestures to the reader are now cast in italics, usually reserved for unfamiliar languages in an English text.

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