FM: Which Modernist text inspired your studies and why?
GR: I had read Heart of Darkness in high school, like almost everyone. Then, I read it again in college, with new eyes and new politics. After that, I couldn’t leave the field—even if I could leave Conrad.
FM: Is Heart of Darkness also your favorite Modernist work?
GR: No. Mrs. Dalloway wins that award.
FM: Which piece of Modernist literature would you recommend to someone who hasn’t read anything from the period?
GR: I’d actually start with Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro.” Short, enigmatic, complex, yet accessible, so they could get a sense of how the world of poetry was about to be disrupted dramatically.
FM: And which Modernist writer do you think deserves more attention?
GR: A tricky question because I know all too well the politics of claiming someone as a Modernist, but I’d say Pauline Hopkins. She was ahead of her time in the genres she blended, in her narrative style, in her thinking about science and metaphor—all of it. Yet also composed, like Conrad, in a mode of realism that still prevailed.
FM: What is your favorite non-canonical Modernist text?
GR: Of One Blood, for the reasons I just mentioned. Absolutely and endlessly fascinating.
FM: Which Modernist work (musical composition, painting, piece of literature, etc.) do you think encapsulates the period best?
GR: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. When I taught my modernism survey, it was the easiest piece to use to illustrate the jarring departure from everything around it—so much so that it caused a riot at its premiere.
FM: What is your favorite Modernist fun fact?
GR: Joyce and Woolf were born just over a week apart and died only two and a half months apart. Strange, right? (Though I get that’s a little morbid for a “fun” fact…)
FM: Do you have a favorite Modernist writer or text to write about?
GR: Virginia Woolf, because her letters and diaries provide such amazing detail for any researcher interested in her works—which themselves are always great to dive into.
FM: For you, what’s the most intriguing aspect of Modernist studies and/or culture?
GR: The shifting political boundaries, alliances, and allegiances that the writers had to navigate. When I was a kid—much like Marlow in Heart of Darkness—I obsessed over maps. Somehow that never changed. And the changing maps during the Modernist era make it always fruitful to study: nothing ever rests. We always have the opportunity to try to understand how writers and characters worked out their relationships to nonstop, massive geopolitical upheaval.
FM: Time for a hot-take. Is there a piece of Modernist writing you think is over-rated and why?
GR: Forgive me, friends, but I never got on the Wyndham Lewis train. I just don’t think he’s a good writer, and Tarrstrikes me as straining and too often failing. I couldn’t get through it. I’m sorry. He was a much better painter, though.
FM: What is your favorite Modernist text to teach and why?
GR: This might sound trite, but it’s either Their Eyes Were Watching God or The Great Gatsby. Because almost every student read it in high school. But then they read it again with me, and much like my own experience with Heart of Darkness, it’s an entirely new text. They see such new things, whether it’s the eugenics that dominate the conversations in Gatsby or how Hurston employs free indirect discourse and anthropological methods in Their Eyes. I enjoy being able to help students “make it new,” as it were, with something that they thought they knew, in fact have probably already written about, and now can revisit as defamiliarized in hopefully refreshing ways.
Gayle Rogers is Professor and Chair of English at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Speculation: A Cultural History from Aristotle to AI (Columbia UP, 2021); Incomparable Empires (Columbia UP, 2016); and Modernism and the New Spain (Oxford UP, 2012). With Sean Latham, he is co-author of Modernism: Evolution of an Idea (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015) and co-editor ofThe New Modernist Studies Reader: An Anthology of Essential Criticism (2021). His articles and translations have appeared in PMLA, Modernism/modernity, Comparative Literature, NOVEL, and other publications. He is an incoming member of the executive council of the Association of Departments of English and former member of the executive board of the Modernist Studies Association.