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Modernism after Postcolonialism

Toward a Nonterritorial Comparative Literature

Existing studies of literary modernism generally read Anglophone Atlantic texts through the lens of critical theories emanating from Europe and North America. In Modernism after Postcolonialism, Mara de Gennaro undertakes a comparative Anglophone-Francophone study, invoking theoretical frameworks from Gayatri Spivak, Édouard Glissant, Françoise Vergès, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Dipesh Chakrabarty, and others. Examining transnational poetics of comparison that contest the comparative practices of colonialist, racist, and ethno-nationalist discourses, the book treats these poetics as models for a creolist critical method of reading, one that searches out unpredictable, mutually generative textual relations obscured by geographic and linguistic divides.

In each chapter, de Gennaro pairs a canonical English-language modernist writer (Gertrude Stein, T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf) with a postcolonial writer (Aimé Cesaire, Glissant, Patrick Chamoiseau, J. M. Coetzee, Edwidge Danticat), interpreting major works of prewar and interwar modernism in light of postcolonial and Francophone literature, cultural theory, and historiography. Read together, these texts suggest a turn—sometimes subtle or conflicted in earlier Atlantic modernist texts, while usually more overt in later Caribbean and postcolonial texts—toward comparative forms marked by irresolution and a wavering sense of authority. With the rise of world literature and global modernist studies, it becomes all the more pressing to examine how comparative forms can alert us to unspoken and misrecognized relations while also confronting us with the difficulty of representing the Other.

By bringing into relation these ostensibly unconnected, often discrepant texts, de Gennaro challenges entrenched territorial habits of literary meaning. An aspirationally nonterritorial comparative literature, she argues, diverges not only from Eurocentric formalist approaches but also from global comparatisms that emphasize incommensurabilities to the point of eliding significant textual and contextual connections. Drawing on interdisciplinary postcolonial efforts, especially in the social sciences, to deterritorialize categories of identity, culture, and community, Modernism after Postcolonialism dispenses with outdated modernist and postcolonial paradigms to reveal how the anxious, inconclusive comparisons of transnational modernist poetics can call us to imagine new solidarities across bounded territories.

About the Author

Mara de Gennaro is a lecturer in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University.

Endorsements

"This ambitious and compelling linkage of canonical modernism with what used to be called 'Third World literature' is original in focus. Modernism after Postcolonialism should be commended for its sparkling textual insights and lucidity. This is an important and innovative work of transnational scholarship that I am sure will excite enormous interest."

- Bruce Robbins, Columbia University, author of The Beneficiary

"Elegantly written, Modernism after Postcolonialism skillfully interweaves issues of postcolonial and migrant politics, modernist aesthetics, and issues of transnational comparison. It will be of great interest to researchers, teachers, and students of modernism, postcolonialism, globalization, comparative literature, Francophone postcolonial studies, human rights, and gender and ethnic studies."

- Laura Winkiel, University of Colorado at Boulder, author of Modernism: The Basics

"Modernism after Postcolonialism is a seductive, beautifully written work. Much of what seduces here is the clarity and delicacy of de Gennaro's close readings."

- Carrie Noland, University of California, Irvine, author of Merce Cunningham: After the Arbitrary

"Modernism after Postcolonialism provides a striking intervention in our critical understanding of twentieth-century verse. Reversing timelines in standard literary histories and moving the postcolonial forward to reframe a reading of modernism, Mara de Gennaro gives us a new, lucid, powerful, and convincing sense of a global poetry in the twentieth century."

- Vincent Sherry, Washington University in St Louis, author of Modernism and the Reinvention of Decadence

"Mara de Gennaro establishes uncertainty as a conceptual tool that enables and enriches the task of comparison. Beneath the surface of her text lies a much larger political project: the attempt to undo hegemonic modes of analysis that see total certainty as the necessary appendage to notions of cultural purity. This book is going to stir up debate well beyond postcolonialism and modernism."

- Ato Quayson, Stanford University, author of Oxford Street, Accra: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism

"This graceful and original book models new ways of reading canonical modernist writers in light of postcolonial fiction and cultural theory from the Global South. Celebrating creative opacity against imperial boundaries and rigid forms of knowledge, this is a book for our times. It eschews the rhetoric of fear and walls and proposes a wholly different vision: of the beauty of a world of new connections, new entanglements, and transformative relations. In the process, it redefines comparative literature as a project of deterritorialization and affirms the political potentiality of the field's characteristic anxiety."

- Rita Barnard, University of Pennsylvania, author of Apartheid and Beyond: South African Writing and the Politics of Place
Johns Hopkins University Press
Hopkins Studies in Modernism
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