chapter  5
40 Pages

Ulysses and Manhattan Transfer

As the broad and highly contested field of contemporary scholarship reveals, the history of American modernism, like its European counterpart, is an elusive and complex phenomenon as disparate in its polemics and manifestos as it is rich and evocative in its artistic productions.2 While theories of modernism have traditionally focused on the work of a small cadre of predominantly white Anglo-Saxon males working in major European and American cultural centers during the opening decades of the twentieth century, revisionist readings have progressively challenged such exclusive conceptions so as to include writers from a variety of ethnic and cultural groups.3 The increasing urgency of these re-readings of modernism seeks not so much to diminish the importance of canonized artists or cultural events taking place in cities like Paris, London, and New York; rather, the collective aim has been to increase the circle of understanding regarding what all too often has been a restricted terrain of artistic and intellectual inquiry. As Richard Poirier has ably argued, the major achievement of such reassessments in recent years has been “the effort to break down the co-herencies that have passed for literary history,” with the result that we now “see that the very cult of modernism is in itself a demonstration of the arbitrariness and impertinence by which literary history gets made and remade.”4