Emily James is assistant professor of English at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. She has written about scenes of composition and creativity in the work of Joan Easdale, Virginia Woolf, and Aldous Huxley.
This essay explores the inkblot as a modernist motif, from gothic children’s rhymes to the unlikely source material for Hermann Rorschach’s psychoanalytic measures. In the work of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, the ephemeral trappings of pen and ink give rise to wayward, even subversive, scenes of writing. “The Modernist Inkblot” argues for the importance of material privacies to creative process, suggesting that the modernist imagination depends on inky free play. At stake here is modernism’s commitment to materiality—a steadfast attachment to pen, ink, and paper that unsettles critical assumptions about modernist technophilia.