This article recovers the 1918 chapbook that the understudied Vorticist poet and visual artist Jessie Dismorr composed for the American sculptor John Storrs and his wife Marguerite. It examines the ways the chapbook reorients the aesthetic criteria by which we recognize abstraction in the early twentieth century. Studying how Dismorr’s divergent and feminist approach to Vorticist practice exploits “the materialities of abstraction,” or the traces of the material world that evince the outside of the abstract art object, it suggests that these material traces lead us to reimagine the boundary between inside and outside, and thus the way an art object indexes and interacts with the material world. Proposing that the recovery of an object as seemingly inconsequential as an individual chapbook in fact raises questions about how we construct the literary- and art-historical field of modernism, the article situates Dismorr’s work in relation to other feminist understandings in British modernism of the socialized space of artistic practice across media exemplified by Virginia Woolf ’s account of sociability within the Bloomsbury Group, and argues for the importance of such unique objects as chapbooks to the study of material culture within literary history and within art history as well.
Materialities of Abstraction: Jessie Dismorr’s Poems, Transatlantic Modernism, and Feminist Poetics
Brandon Truett is a postdoctoral humanities teaching fellow in the English Department and the College at the University of Chicago. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Modernism/modernity, Grey Room, Los Angeles Review of Books, Hyperallergic, and the Virginia Woolf Miscellany. He is currently working on a book that examines how artists, writers, and activists across the world have responded to the Spanish Civil War since 1936.
Brandon Truett; Materialities of Abstraction: Jessie Dismorr’s Poems, Transatlantic Modernism, and Feminist Poetics. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 June 2021; 67 (2): 191–214. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-9084341
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