Flash Interview with Dr. Evi Heinz

FM: Can you summarize twentieth century book culture?
EH: The division of cultural history into “centuries” is of course always somewhat arbitrary but what perhaps characterizes “twentieth century book culture” (and what makes it so fascinating) is the particularly broad range of developments in the history of the book it encompasses: from the tail-end of the private press movement and the paperback revolution to the emergence of the e-book.

FM: Do you have a favorite Modernist publisher?
EH: Sylvia Beach and Harriet Shaw Weaver certainly did an impressive job publishing Ulysses. Any publisher who can handle Joyce deserves an award.

FM: How did little magazines influence Modernism?
EH: Apart from launching various “movements” and amplifying marginalized voices, I think little magazines also played a crucial role in building literary communities beyond the metropolitan centers of modernist cultural production. The Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, has a fascinating series of letters written by a young engineer who lived in the suburbs of Manchester in the 1920s, read all the French Surrealist magazines and dreamed of running away to Paris to become a writer. For “provincial” readers like him who didn’t have access to the bookshops, exhibition spaces and cafés through which modernist and avant-garde art was disseminated, little magazines were an important way to participate in that scene.

FM: What’s your favorite little magazine?
EH: For teaching, Fire!! because students are immediately captivated by it and find it easy to talk about. For reading, perhaps the Little Review because it experiments with the little magazine format in interesting ways.

FM: Which Modernist writer and/or text do you think deserves more attention?
EH: Here, I have to say John Rodker, of course, whose work as a writer and publisher I’ve been researching for many years and who has fundamentally shaped my own engagement with modernism. All of his writing (novels, poems, plays, essays) deserves more attention but the work I would most like to see republished is his translation of Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been reissued since the original limited edition of 1924 and is now very difficult to get hold of.

FM: What is your favorite non-canonical Modernist text?
EH: Hope Mirrlees’s Lud-in-the-Mist is an amazing modernist fantasy novel that I wish someone would turn it into a Netflix series already. The same goes for Rudolph Fisher’s The Conjure Man Dies, a detective story set in 1930s Harlem.

FM: Which Modernist work (musical composition, painting, piece of literature, etc.) do you think encapsulates the period best?
EH: When I introduce students to modernism for the first time, I usually use a Vorticist painting or an imagist poem to quickly give them a sense of the way in which modernist art/literature disrupts formal conventions and challenges our habitual modes of looking at art/reading. But I suppose a work that truly encapsulates modernism would need to reflect its productive difficulty alongside its somewhat problematic claim to cultural authority (and dodgy politics).

FM: What is your favorite Modernist fun fact?
EH: This has to be Hope Mirrlees and Jane Harrison referring to each other as the younger and elder wives of a teddy bear called “Herr Bear.”

FM: What is the most intriguing aspect of Modernist studies and/or culture?
EH: As a researcher working at the intersection between modernist studies and book studies, I’m particularly intrigued by modernist material culture. As much great research in this area has already shown, paying closer attention to material texts and contexts can help us to get away from some of the more deeply entrenched aesthetic value categories embodied in the modernist canon. To this I would add that an understanding of material culture is also crucial for coming to re-appreciate the social and political meanings encoded in modernist art/literature. In my own work on modernist small presses, for example, I try to achieve this by analyzing the form and content of small press books in relation to such concepts as skill, craft, labor and professionalism/amateurism.

 

 


Evi Heinz is a Research Associate in Book Studies at the University of Münster, Germany. She completed her PhD at Birkbeck, University of London, with a thesis on the modernist writer, translator and publisher John Rodker and has published on this research in Open Library of Humanities and as part of the Modernist Archives Publishing Project. Since 2017, she has also been a co-convenor of Avant-Garde Studies, a forum for discussing the historical avant-garde (Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, etc.) and other forms of experimentation in 19th and 20th-century literature, art, film, music and performance. Her research interests broadly coalesce around the topics of 20th-century book and print culture and global modernisms and avant-gardes. Her current research project “London’s Modernist Small Presses and the Literary Marketplace” combines these interests through an investigation of the cultural history of modernist small press publishing in London during the 1910s and 20s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *