What’s New about New Modernisms?

The discourse of modernism has conventionally been dominated by a limiting attention to aesthetics, form, experimentation, and canon, often treated as standalone objects that capture the essence of modernist art — but what if we focus instead on social politics as a driving force behind the modernist movement?  What new perspective might be gained if we unite the typically separated categories of aesthetics and politics?  In their forthcoming book, Race and New Modernisms, REL Prof. Merinda Simmons and English Prof. Andy Crank confront these questions by offering a unique reevaluation of modernism, one that considers the racial ideology, colonial history, and regional complexity at work behind modernist form and aesthetic.

The book will be included in a series by Bloomsbury, titled New Modernisms, which includes volumes that critically exam the discourses that intersect with modernism, such as race, technology, sexuality, and material culture.  Professor Simmons, who works in religious studies but earned her Ph.D. in English, gets to combine her areas of expertise in this co-written project; she has written on African diaspora contexts and pursues research interests in African American literature and theory, postcolonial theory, and southern studies.  Similarly, Professor Crank does research that focuses on representations of class, race, and sexuality in southern culture and literature, having written on topics such as playwright Sam Shepard and Gone with the Wind.  Both spent the summer in Durham, NC, where (funded by UA’s College of Arts and Sciences) they used a month-long residence at the National Humanities Center to complete the project.

Now approaching the production process, Race and New Modernisms engages the contemporary scholarly discourse surrounding race and modernism as rhetorical tools deployed differently based upon the interests of those using them.  Prof. Simmons hopes the book shows that tropes like race and modernism do not fit a stable narrative arc, but are used rather to create a social world with real consequences.  We’re looking forward to the book’s forthcoming publication.

This is the first of Keeley McMurray’s posts on news in the Department
of Religious Studies. Now working on her MA in the Department,
she received her BA from the University of Alabama in 2018.