MFS Modern Fiction Studies
Volume 55, Number 1, Spring 2009
E-ISSN: 1080-658X Print ISSN: 0026-7724
Regional Modernism and Transnational Regionalism
In lieu of an abstract, here is a preview of the article.
“Europe,” crowed Iowa-based painter Grant Wood in a lesserknown modernist manifesto, “has lost much of its magic. Gertrude Stein comes to us from Paris and is only a seven days’ wonder. Ezra Pound’s new volume seems all compound of echoes from a lost world. The expatriates do not fit in with the newer America, so greatly changed from the old” (19). Wood—he of American Gothic fame—titled his snippy comments Revolt against the City, and in this 1935 essay argued for a quiet revolution that would stymie metropolitan-based modernisms: “But if it is not vocal—at least in the sense of issuing pronunciamentos, challenges, and new credos—the revolt is certainly very active. In literature, though by no means new, the exploitation of the ‘provinces’ has increased remarkably; the South, the Middle West, the Southwest have at the moment hosts of interpreters whose Pulitzer-prize works and best sellers direct attention to their chosen regions” (8). “Because of this new emphasis upon native materials,” Wood went on to explain, “the artist no longer finds it necessary to migrate even to New York, or to seek any great metropolis. No longer is it necessary for him to suffer the confusing cosmopolitanism, the noise, the too intimate gregariousness of the large city” (22–23).
I do not want to dismiss Wood’s anti-urbanism, his insufferable claims against cosmopolitanism, his social and most likely racial conservatism, and his emphatically American exceptionalism. But I do want to highlight that in the midst of these questionable politics lays an inchoate theory for a “regional modernism” decades before the phrase achieved wide currency in academic circles. The term “regional modernism” first originated in architecture studies, where it came— and where it continues—to characterize building design that opposed the