The phenomenon of celebrity burst upon the world scene about a century ago, as movies and modern media brought exceptional, larger-than-life personalities before the masses. During the same era, modernist authors were creating works that defined high culture in our society and set aesthetics apart from the middle- and low-brow culture in which celebrity supposedly resides. To challenge this ingrained dichotomy between modernism and celebrity, Jonathan Goldman offers a provocative new reading of early twentieth-century culture and the formal experiments that constitute modernist literature's unmistakable legacy. He argues that the literary innovations of the modernists are indeed best understood as a participant in the popular phenomenon of celebrity.
Presenting a persuasive argument as well as a chronicle of modernism's and celebrity's shared history, Modernism Is the Literature of Celebrity begins by unraveling the uncanny syncretism between Oscar Wilde's writings and his public life. Goldman explains that Wilde, in shaping his instantly identifiable public image, provided a model for both literary and celebrity cultures in the decades that followed. In subsequent chapters, Goldman traces this lineage through two luminaries of the modernist canon, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein, before turning to the cinema of mega-star Charlie Chaplin. He investigates how celebrity and modernism intertwine in the work of two less obvious modernist subjects, Jean Rhys and John Dos Passos. Turning previous criticism on its head, Goldman demonstrates that the authorial self-fashioning particular to modernism and generated by modernist technique helps create celebrity as we now know it.
"Modernism is the Literature of Celebrity is a magical book and a path-breaking study. . . . A series of stunningly prescient and apposite chapters on Wilde, Joyce, Stein, Chaplin, Rhys, Dos Passos, and Hemingway, among others, follows through on the book’s bracing, provocative, and polemical premise for the centrality of celebrity in delineating what modernist literature was, and is. The book displays Professor Goldman’s command of every aspect of literary scholarship, including his range within the genre of the novel, and his ease and substance in entering mass media forms, especially those of photography, film, and mass-mediated celebrity discourses. He brings the brio of a first-rate theorist of modernity to bear on mass culture and all its forms. . . . Each chapter explores fresh territory and original terrain: modernism will hereafter be unthinkable absent Jonathan Goldman’s critical flags and unrecognizable without this dazzling, luminous book."
Jennifer Wicke, University of Virginia
"Modernism Is the Literature of Celebrity is an important book, in which Jonathan Goldman makes a strong case for the position taken in the book’s title, supporting it with elegant readings of texts by an interesting range of modernists. It is well informed, clearly written, and very persuasive—a real contribution to modernist studies."
Robert Scholes, Research Professor of Modern Culture and Media and Co-Director, Modernist Journals Project, Brown University
"This book makes a very fresh, original, and substantial contribution to the study of both modernism and modern celebrity, and it is also a most enjoyable book to read. It is engaging in style and persuasively argued, and makes some unexpected and very insightful connections among a diverse range of authors. It is also founded on an impressive body of research. I strongly recommend it."
Faye Hammill, University of Strathclyde, author of Women, Celebrity, and Literary Culture between the Wars
"Goldman's thesis is ably pursued and very useful. He situates 'celebrity' as the 'missing link' between high and low culture in modernism, and I think he has a point."
James Joyce Quarterly