Synopses & Reviews
The Dialect of Modernism
uncovers the crucial role of racial masquerade and linguistic imitation in the emergence of literary modernism.
Rebelling against the standard language, and literature written in it, modernists, such as Joseph Conrad, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams reimagined themselves as racial aliens and mimicked the strategies of dialect speakers in their work. In doing so, they made possible the most radical representational strategies of modern literature, which emerged from their attack on the privilege of standard language.
At the same time, however, another movement, identified with Harlem, was struggling to free itself from the very dialect the modernists appropriated, at least as it had been rendered by two generations of white dialect writers. For writers such as Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Zora Neale Hurston, this dialect became a barrier as rigid as the standard language itself.
Thus, the two modern movements, which arrived simultaneously in 1922, were linked and divided by their different stakes in the same language. In The Dialect of Modernism, Michael North shows, through biographical and historical investigation, and through careful readings of major literary works, that however different they were, the two movements are inextricably connected, and thus, cannot be considered in isolation. Each was marked, for good and bad, by the other.
"All readers...will be hard-pressed to deny North's revisionary insight for twentieth-century literary studies: black dialect as performance is an unrecognized bridge between modernism and the Harlem Renaissance. With North's generative paradigm, we can examine the movements together in new ways."--American Literature
"[A] long overdue study....This may be the most significant rereading of traditional American modernists in years."--South Atlantic Review
"Michael North's new book makes an indispensable contribution to the study of transatlantic modernism....Of the many recent attempts to historicize modernism, North's stands out as what will surely become an enduring model of literary and sociological analysis."--Novel
About the Author
About the Author -
Michael North is Professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles.