Jens Elze (Göttingen) und Annika McPherson (Oldenburg)
Multiple Modernities / Multiple Modernisms? Scholarship in sociology, media studies, anthropology and cultural studies has quite extensively debated the notion of alternative or multiple modernities (Eisenstadt), especially in the wake of materialist critiques of culture. It has foregrounded the fact that social and technological modernisation has not created the same socio-cultural and institutional effects across different sites. The primary cultural semiotic shift that is proposed in theories of multiple modernities is the replacement of the idea of development with the idea of (global) difference and the challenge of so-called “eurochronology” (Appadurai).
Literary studies, in turn, rarely insisted on a monolithic narrative of modernism, but have emphasised influences from a wide range of global contexts on modernist art, as well as the multiple backgrounds of almost all of English modernism’s key figures. While less attention has been paid to the implications of alternative practices and theories of modernity on literary form and on the status of modernism as an aesthetic response to conditions of modernity, recent studies have begun to consider the positionality and multiple directions of modernisms in the plural.
These transitions, if taken seriously, pose significant challenges to the established cultural and historical temporalities of modernity and, by extension, must have significant consequences for semiosis and narrative. These consequences have not yet been sufficiently addressed other than by naturalising some literary and cultural phenomena. Magical Realism, for example, has been perceived as a postmodern literary mode that is said to have enabled the juxtaposition of ‘modern’ and ‘non-modern’ ontologies, epistemologies and technologies in the same (narrative) space. However, if one considers the relation of modernity to mimesis – in the sense of a progressive dignifying of the ordinary to the status of serious narrative (Auerbach) – as an overcoming of a separation of styles, does it not follow that some of the aesthetic signature topoi of modernism, postmodernism or postcolonialism must alternatively be understood not only as a performative encoding of historical relativity, social complexity and sensorial fragmentation, but also as a residual separation of styles that continue to portray the ordinary, the everyday and the marginal within distinct literary modes?