Wednesday, 4 February 2015

My Sabbatical in Brief

Julie Taylor

While on sabbatical last semester I had the opportunity to complete one research project and begin another.

Jean Toomer, courtesy of the Beinecke,
Library, Yale University.
Modernism and Affect, which will be published by Edinburgh UP later in 2015, brings together essays by scholars working across several disciplines within modernist studies. Reconsidering modernism’s complex relationship with questions of emotion, feeling, and embodiment after theory’s ‘affective turn’, the collection encompasses work on literature, architecture, philosophy, dance, visual art, and design. In the introduction I outline some of the key works and concepts within the humanities’ recent engagement with affect, and chart modernism’s troubled relationship to matters affective. My own chapter contribution to the book considers the Harlem Renaissance writer Jean Toomer’s critical deployment of a racist stereotype that links African American subjectivity to extreme emotional expressiveness.

The sabbatical also gave me time to explore my new research project.  It is an examination of the pedagogical dimensions of American modernism, taking up the implications of Hugh Kenner’s famous claim that the modernists were ‘poets at the blackboard’. My key questions revolve around the points of contact between experiments in writing and experiments in education in the early twentieth century, which included theories and projects as diverse as Bauhaus, Montessori, Deweyism, and psychoanalytic approaches to learning. My research has so far centered on the literary innovator and theorist, modernist mentor, and occasional lecturer, Gertrude Stein. Stein expressed scepticism about certain educational innovations she encountered (such as the ‘Great Books’ scheme at Chicago University), but her work guides us towards a reading practice that challenges many traditional ideas about pedagogy. Recently, I have become fascinated by Stein’s writing for children, including her 1939 book, The World is Round, written on the invitation of the successful children’s author, would-be modernist, and member of New York’s Bank Street Experimental School, Margaret Wise Brown. Stein’s work invites us to ask important questions about the relationship between modernism, children’s literature, and theories of learning at the beginning of the twentieth century.

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