Women: Subjects, Places, Links
Our project Networking Women: Subjects, Places, Links Europe-America, 1890-1939. Towards a Rewriting of Cultural History is yet another stream contributing to the widespread and extensive re-visioning of modernism, and of turn of the nineteenth and early twentieth cultural history, that has been going on for some time in almost all fields. The Modernist Studies Association is certainly an outcome of this re-visionist temper. Taking form at the turn of the twentieth century, “Networking Women” was also our way of reactivating a dialogue with women who, like us, lived in a transitional time and whose experiences we felt could be of use for present as well as for future times.
For over three years, 38 researchers from different Italian universities (Bari, Firenze, Macerata, Pisa, Roma, Trento, plus one UK university at Durham), and from different disciplines—mostly literary critics and historians, but also musicians, librarians and computing engineers—have organized their work around a common thematic and theoretical core and in response to a national directive that finances only research both nationally and internationally relevant. In those three years, we unearthed archival papers, went through letters and manuscripts, leafed through dusty magazines, sometimes feeling that very few scholars or readers had brought to life their pages in the intervening years. We carried to our meetings and seminars our discoveries, as if we had found gold in our treasure-hunting, and shared the sheer pleasure of discovery which acted as an energizer in our research work.
We looked at portraits, pictures, posters, films, re-read novels, poems, autobiographies we’d read a number of times before, trying to detect whether—to echo H.D.’s lines—the new maps we had planned to use would cover or discover yet unexplored territories. We did our best to carry out a proper research—proper, I mean, in the etymological sense of the word: i.e. to research, search again, and then to double check both our source materials and the narratives devoted to the period and to modernism.
We are now in the second phase of the “Networking Women” project, the first having been completed with the conference that took place in Macerata in March 2002, in tandem with the publication of our website and database, and the formulation of a proposal for cultural analysis based on the first two years of research.
Our project stems from two basic assumptions: both are political, as well as theoretical and critical. The first one we share with the Russian semiotician Yuri M. Lotman. Like Lotman we maintain that the past never ends once and for all but, rather, it always creates new values. Through our project we intend to contribute to the reconstruction of the multiple directions that were open in actual history at the turn of a century, directions just as epocal as our own turn of the millennium but which, in the first half of the twentieth century, were abandoned or disregarded. We wanted to bring them once again to the attention of the present.
In this we differentiate our position from that of Raymond Williams who, in The Politics of Modernism, maintains that that “we must search out and counterpose (to the avant-gardist tradition) an alternative tradition taken from the neglected works left in the wide margin of the century, a tradition which may address itself to a modern future in which community may be imagined again.” (35) We are questioning the whole structure of center-margin, its closed and enclosing spatial representation of relative power positions that can conceive only duality. By imagining a sheaf of intertwined historical possibilities or strands, by making “networking” the basis of our cultural model, we are moving out of static representation and entering a plural and dynamic one. This involves not only historical facts but also artistic facts and literary texts, whose very meanings “are produced through complex webs of intertextual relationships.” (Felski 29)
In our project we have focused on the complexity of cultural dynamics and taken into consideration personal, emotional and intellectual affiliations, as well as power relations. These have been the starting point for our re-reading of turn-of-the-century and modernist cultural history, a point-of-view that has yielded new information and has been highly rewarding. Not only have we read the available documents from a culturally materialistic perspective—interweaving so-called “high” intellectual activities of the avant-gardes and canonical works of modernism with more popular art forms and with “mass” socio-political movements that characterize the period—but we’ve focused our attention, first of all, on the interplay of the personal with the political and cultural.
However, we’ve aimed not so much at bringing existent or hidden and manifest connections to the fore, but also at questioning some of these connections. In his La ProcÈdure silence, Paul Virilio, while pinpointing the universalizing impetus of modernist avant-gardes, has shown how much an “aesthetic of disappearance” may be responsible both for the modernist work of art and for the nazi concentration camps, an aesthetic he maintains has shaped our present way of perceiving the world and may be responsible for the continuation of a mode of destruction. Cultural studies must, we believe, interrogate the negative forces of modernism and assume clear ethical stances.
The second assumption of our research stems from our awareness that the symbolic system that forces women’s transcendence out of history and into Myth and silence—and our concomitant social, political and cultural subalternity in everyday life—is still very powerfully at work. As sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has shown in his recent Masculine Domination, all power relations are rooted in the man/woman power relation and the symbolic system that perpetuates it. In modern times, ever since Mary Wollstonecraft’s vindication of rights, women have denounced this perverse naturalization of differences. Our research work and cultural analysis are rooted also in this awareness and extensive critical feminist production. Taking an anti-colonialist, anti-paternalist and antifundamentalist stance, Algerian writer Assia Djebar cries out, in her speech given when receiving the German Publishers Peace Prize: there is a first language of intellectual and moral integrity that says “no” to oppression, even by using the colonizers’ language.
Thus, at the root of our research project there is an ethical stance, as well as a survival strategy. To counteract the undermining force at work in society we have first of all focused our research on a number of women who, through their different initiatives, contributed to create and support the “modern” culture that produced modernist artefacts and assisted and supported the emergence of an inter-ethnic, international and supra-national culture, thus strengthening the interrelations between Europe and the United States, and between their metropolitan centers (London, Paris, Berlin and Vienna, New York) and their peripheries (Scotland, the Southwest of the USA, the Caribbeans).
These women have been considered in their role as founders of journals and publishing houses, promoters of salons and theater companies, and as social activists: in synthesis, as critical junctions, links, places of aggregation, of a complex network of human, political, cultural and artistic relations worth exploring: Dora Marsden, Adele Butti, Carlotta Kaderk Berk, Harriet Shaw Weaver, H.D., Bryher, Gertrude Stein, Natalie Clifford Barney, Marie Laurencin, Germaine Brooks, Nancy Cunard, Edith Craig, Margaret Anderson, Kay Boyle, Helen Diner, Frances Benjamin Johnston, Gertrude Kasebier, Muriel Rukeyser, Susan Glaspell, Fortuna Morpurgo Petronio, Rosa Mayreder, Elsa Asenijeff, Tillie Olsen, Meridel LeSueur, Elody Oblath Stuparich, Carlotta Kadel Beck, Wanda Wultz, Anita Pittoni, Willa Muir, Catherine Carswell, Rebecca West, Storm Jameson have been at the starting point of our discovery process. (For a complete list see our database http://reti.unimc.it).
By making networking the central metaphor of our research— together with its allied terms, “exchanges” and “crossroads”—and building this concept a model for the kind of relational work that Williams believed to be central to cultural theory, we were able to:
1/ better represent the actual historical conditions and roles played by many of the women whose contribution to culture we wanted to investigate, but also to move beyond the very notion of decade (the twenties, the thirties etc.) with its emphasis on groups and movements, which notion has often been responsible for excluding women;
2/ describe material and immaterial relations and put back on the map of existence historical actors and cultural agents that have been deleted from cultural histories. Human relationships, of whatever nature, are relevant for human development since, as neurobiologist Daniel Siegel has demonstrated, in each of us “the mind develops at the interface of neurophysiological processes and interpersonal relationships” (21);
3/ avoid segregating women and men in separate histories, for three reasons:
a) because many of the women we selected refused to be considered feminist activists or artists; b) because many women and men were, by and large, involved in the same projects;
c) because both women and men were participants in the same cultural sphere;
4/ deal with European and American Modernism, as with a single complex cultural sphere, rather than as separate fields of investigation, their respective value and contribution resting on the continuous give-and-take between people and their languages as well as between intellectual, artistic and material products;
5/ take advantage of the relational potential offered by hypertextual and hypermedia mapping and by the web, and thus follow the threads connecting people, ideas, events, artworks, and little by little re-construct the complexity of cultural dynamics;
6/ through the website and database designed and developed within the “Networking Women” project, as well as through our seminars, to relate as researchers, sharing our findings and contributing to the construction of networking paths between our women and men—the other fourteen subjects around which our database is structured—and the innumerable keywords that link them. The “Forum” section of our website also opens our project to contributions outside the group.
Because our networking project is based on a relational model of the cultural sphere as a complex system, I’d like to point out the specificity of our choice of the words “relational,” “sphere,” and “complex system.”
1. Relational: the adjectival form of the noun relation emphasizes the dynamic tendency—with internal formations moving at different speeds—and the relatedness of all elements in the sphere. This relational model is better suited to represent the relevance of interpersonal relationships in human development and the interaction of local and global. The term relational also implies the existence of relations between different domains of knowledge, as well as between different experiential realities. Though the term relation may connect us to Raymond Williams’ Hegelian model for cultural studies, and though we owe him much, the relation he establishes to solve the opposition between art and social praxis, culture and society maintains the binary Kantian opposition between the two and is of limited use for our model.
2. The word sphere, while it is consonant with Yuri M. Lotman’s semiosphere, i.e. his idea of culture as a sphere of signs in which we are all immersed, moves beyond Lotman’s opposition of culture to nature and non-culture articulating western man’s self-centered world. For we want to emphasize the continuum which makes it impossible to oppose these three terms as well as the reality they refer to. In our sense, the word sphere, because of its inclusiveness, takes into account what feminist critics have been arguing for a number of years now: that it is not possible to disentangle nature from culture, self from other, productive processes from reproductive processes. The concept of a “cultural sphere” also widens and expands the structural metaphor of “cultural field” adopted by Bourdieu, and represents our consciousness of the fact that we are all—women and men—set within the object that we are trying to comprehend; we have embodied the historical structures of the masculine order in the form of unconscious schemes of perception and appreciation. When we try to understand masculine domination, we are therefore likely to resort to modes of thought that are the product of “domination” (Masculine Domination 5).
3. As for the third expression, complex system, we consider culture a complex system in which dynamic tendencies—casual and potentially disruptive—interact with structural and systemic organizations. As a complex system, it is consistent with Lotman’s representation of culture as a complex whole, with internal formations moving at different speeds and sometimes simply evolving, other times exploding with no apparent cause and taking a completely new course. When “the complex intertwining of events causally and casually determined called ‘history’ becomes an object of description first on the part of its contemporaries, and then on the part of historians,” however, both descriptions tend to eliminate causality from the events. This process of transformation begins when some of its actors appropriate the role of codifiers and define the whole present from their own perspective, a perspective which is then taken by researchers and historians who “reduce what was simply synchronic into a structural unity and transform a dominating description in a structural unity.” 
In building their narratives as a sequence of inevitable causalities, historians hide the fact that the present and the “continuous present”/s (per Gertrude Stein) of each historical moment were much more complex and held in their bosom many more possibilities than were actually developed. As Walter Benjamin has shown, in those presents lie the latent possibilities which, on the one hand, give a different depth to the actual development of facts and, on the other, can be considered a potential resource for our present.
Finally, in order to better represent what is actually happening in a specific moment of time or in a specific situation within a complex system, sub-systems can be individuated.  In this way the interior functioning of each sub-system can be explored, together with the relations it establishes with other sub-systems, and with the whole system at various levels. There are a number of assumptions we all share. The first and central is: given the empirical set of elements we have selected in the cultural sphere—women, journals, theaters, salons, art galleries, cities, etc.—each has been considered a place/and an intersection of a number of different relations.
Since, moreover, each place is characterized by an internal dynamism, the term “locality” as defined by Doreen Massey has been adopted, rather than that of place. Though originally and exclusively used by Massey to denote a geographical place, the concept of locality as “construction(s) out of the intersections and interactions of concrete social relations,” and as a place of “interaction” (138-39) containing and partly constituted by conflict, can apply to different types of entities. The term “locality,” moreover, conveys the time dimension as well as the construction and interactivity of elements in each subsystem.
Each of the empirical sets of elements we have selected in the cultural sphere has been considered a locality in the network and a subsystem in the cultural sphere—that is, a complex unity modified by time as well by construction and interactivity.
Moving on from localities and subsystems, we need further to specify the types of relations that obtain between localities. The topological model proposed by Michel Serres in the first of his Hermes books, La communication, has helped find a way. Though limited by the structuralist perspective in which it is set, Michel Serres’ “ìloganalyse” offers a useful representation of the number of possible ways of travelling between different domains and even between the different realities we represent as locations in the cultural sphere. 
To sum up, we have imagined a sphere of culture in which our women, journals, theaters, salons, cities, etc.—that is, our empirically determined ensemble of points/localities—is the set of elements participating at one and the same time in more than one relational sub-system: a self-referential or individual system, a local sub-system, a set of sub-systems or a larger complex system like Anglo-American Modernism.
There are a number of relations that obtain between two or more localities, and as interpreters of these relations, we can build either descriptive or interpretive paths, or links. Through these paths we reconstruct and represent our understanding of these relations. In all cases, there are no logically necessary steps between localities, no single paths, but multiple and complex paths joining/mediating/running through the locations. Paths are always the result of a choice.
We selected fifteen subjects as the largest organizing subsystems of our database. Though clearly limited in number, they represent our first effort to put into the cultural sphere of modernity and modernism a number of localities and to join them up through interpretive and relational paths that are our keywords. The subjects are:
Each of the fifteen subjects is associated with a keyword. We can make up to 100 associations. In this way, records with identical subject or keyword are linked and both subjects and keywords become connecting paths between localities.
To make this model and our work clear, I shall offer a couple of examples of relations obtaining within a single sub-system, and between this subsystem and related systems.
Locations and Paths 1: women-men
I have chosen two locations from the women-men subsystem of our database. The two are Bryher and Ezra Pound. In both cases, I’ve selected the word “money,” or its equivalent, material support, as an interpretive and critical path deriving from a precise selection of facts, and linking each location to other localities in our cultural sphere.
I have selected Bryher for a number of objective and contingent reasons, the first one being that she provides a powerful model of networking woman. In one of the letters in which she planned the future of Life and Letters To-day, she explicitly cut out for herself the “liaison work” with the contributors and the role of collector of manuscripts, though she decided not to figure as the journal’s editor. And she did connecting work all her life long, connecting people at all levels. Here is an instance of how she worked. When in 1933 in Germany the Nazis started to persecute the Jews and to silence opposition, Bryher’s friend Pabst was blacklisted. Besides thinking of helping him leave Germany, her first idea was to launch an exiles’ paper to help him and all the others with the same dilemma. When Heinrich Mann wrote asking her to help him find funding to make a film out of his last book, all the while complaining that living in Germany had become problematic, she wrote to everyone she knew: V. Hunt, D. Richardson, Virginia Woolf and Marianne More, among others. Later she would do wonderful and dangerous work helping the persecuted to escape from Germany. 
Bryher played a very important role in shaping Anglo-American culture and promoting some of its avant-garde figures and publications. Her money was behind Robert McAlmon’s Contact Editions. She established CloseUp, the journal that launched film as an art-form that could join high and mass cultures. She launched Life and Letters To-day, through which she tried to build a transnational European culture capable of contrasting Nazist and fascist nationalisms, while finding contributors and contributions from different continents and opening up her journal to a transcontinental culture.
Following the money path, I can join her to H.D., Dorothy Richardson, the Sitwells, Freud and the school of psychoanalysis, Kenneth Macpherson, Rober McAlmon and Horace Gregory—all of whom benefited from her money—and build a European and Transatlantic subsystem. By following the money path we can also build a network of relations that, though first of all personal and economic, also branches out into intellectual, political and artistic paths. This economic relation was in more than one case life-saving—and I include H.D. in the case list.
As for Ezra Pound, this time he is considered not as the impresario, or the creator of a movement or an era, but as the recipient of money and support from two other women who figure in our cultural map: May Sinclair and Margaret Cravens. Once again, the interpretive path followed is that of money. Ezra Pound, writes Suzanne Raitt, author of the most recent biography of Sinclair, “had been one of May Sinclair’s protégés, and had been accepting substantial gifts from her, ever since he arrived in London from the USA as an unknown writer in 1908.” (182) Theophilus Boll, Sinclair’s first biographer, informs us that Pound never acknowledged the material aid May Sinclair had given him. (85) Whereas in End to Torment, H.D. recalls that in her will May Sinclair left “50 or 100 pounds each, to Ezra, Richard, and (her)self, and a choice of some fifty books from her library.” (10) As for the suicidal Margaret Cravens, a cultivated woman from a wealthy American family, she had moved to Paris in 1907 to continue her training as pianist and musician. There, in March 1910, she had met Pound. “On a basis of one or two days’ acquaintance, (she) offered him such a large sum of money that he was able to put everything out of mind except finishing The Spirit of Romance and getting on to new projects.” It has been calculated that her contribution “would have been roughly $1,000 per year.” Since a trust arrangement allowed her to get only $1.500 per year, “her assistance to Pound amounted to a considerable sacrifice.” (10)
The editors of Cravens’ letters, Omar Pound and Robert Spoo, believing that, though “A true, dedicated bohemian… unlike most of her circle, she never enjoyed or sought more than a private reputation.” (p. 3) They emphasize Cravens’ infatuation with Pound, and attribute her suicide to her romantic search for fulfilment in love and marriage, thus disposing of her artistic aspirations. However, we may build an interpretive path that reads in Cravens’ gift of money to Pound not love—or not only love—but the sign that she was trying to fulfil her desire for success in the artistic world by proxy, through someone who had in himself the kind of faith she did not have in herself.
Bryher, Sinclair, Craven each enter a larger subsystem whose localities are joined by a relation of human and economic support of avant-gardist culture and of avant-gardist men. Considering this relationship from the cultural point-of-view, we can use Pierre Bourdieu’s analysis of the cultural and artistic field. If, as he maintains, “The work of art is an object which exists as such only by virtue of the (collective) belief which acknowledges it as a work of art, “a full understanding and appreciation of the work of art has to take into account everything which helps to constitute the work as such, not least the discourse of direct or disguised celebration.” (“The Field of Cultural Production” 319)
Bourdieu’s picture of the cultural field in its relations to the fields of economic power and class power, may help clarify my point once I integrate it within the masculine domination system. In Bourdieu’s diagram within the wider field of class relations, the artistic field is contained in the negative pole of the political and economic field though it possesses a relative autonomy marked by the square surrounding it. However, the field of economic power occupies the upper and dominant space of the field of class. No matter what political positions single individuals in the cultural field take, they of necessity belong in the positive pole of the field of class relations. (“The Field” 319)
If I inscribe Bourdieu’s fields within a larger frame representing the sexual power system, we shall have a diagram in which class, economic and artistic power relations are all located in the upper and dominant pole of the field of sexual power relations.
Following once more Bourdieu and his definition of cultural space as a structured field in which agents both occupy positions and take positions, I can say that in the modernist cultural sphere women could occupy positions in the literary or artistic field but were not allowed to take their position within it as women.
This consideration makes the cases of Cravens and Bryher very similar. Cravens, the well-to-do, well-educated, turn-of-the-century American girl in Europe can be taken as a typical example of a woman who could enter the cultural field but not take a position within it. Though ambitious and desirous to make a career as a pianist, as the novelist Alice Woods put it in her novel Fame-Seekers, she could not “own the aim, even to herself.” (3-4)
Martha Nussbaum has amply demonstrated how much “differences in options construct differences in thought” and “affect the inner lives of people, not just their external options: what they hope for, what they love, what they fear, as well as what they are able to do.” (31) The Pound-Cravens relationship reveals their respective awareness of sexualized power relations within the field of culture and the clear cut division of gender spaces within turn-of-the-century Euro-American culture. Bryher herself, notwithstanding her economic power, can be taken as a clear case of powerlessness in the cultural field as a woman and a writer.
But, if we look at the man-woman power relation in the context of the cultural field we have to take into consideration not only a specific time and place frame but also what historians call the longue durée, that is, inscribe the specific cultural field within the more extended cultural system and its transformations in time. May Sinclair’s critical fortune is an example of the continuing effect of hegemonic critical work. Though she was in her own time a respected and important writer, the critical hegemony of the avant-garde and the masculine occupation of the cultural field, has managed to make her work irrelevant for our understanding of modernism. And this attitude continues. In Euro-American culture we are still, I believe, within an avant-gardist frame-of-mind as well as within a male dominated cultural power system.
Locations and Paths 2: journals
If we take as a starting point the journal The Freewoman—The Egoist (on which the Macerata group has worked) as a location and a subsystem in itself, we can build a number of different paths connecting it with other similar sub-systems. Synchronically, The Freewoman—The Egoist can be first of all considered as a location in the sub-system of British journals, such as The New Age and The Clarion, which occupy an antagonistic cultural space. Contrasting both hegemonic patriarchal cultural discourse and an official suffragist stance, The Freewoman developed what Mark Morrisson has called a “counter-hegemonic discourse.” But we can also form an empirical sub-system along the diachronic axis and the geographic transatlantic Anglo-American relationship, in which The Freewoman and all other journals are locations characterized by having been created and directed by a woman with a feminist perspective or within the emancipationist perspective. We can then follow this path and link syncronically Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Forerunner—Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth (suffragist papers)—to Time and Tide, but also to The Little Review and Poetry and, moving on in time, to the journals financed and created by Bryher—Close-up, and Life and Letters To-day, until, following a diachronic path, we get to the journal Kathleen Fraser has created in the nineteen-eighties, How(ever), and its sequel, the hypermedia journal on the web, HOW2. In this way we will be able to follow the role played by women like Rebecca West and Storm Jameson, who link The Freewoman—The Egoist and Time and Tide, or Time and Tide and The New Age. Or we can follow the connections linking The Egoist, Close Up & Life and Letters To-day, through the contributions of H.D., May Sinclair, Dorothy Richardson, Gertrude Stein and Muriel Rukeyser. In different ways these papers joined political and artistic discourse.
Through Rukeyser we can branch out into leftist papers like New Masses and connect American Marxism with the Spanish Civil War. We can enter the Marxist and syndicalist discourses relating Meridel LeSueur or Tillie Olsen, Nancy Cunard and Rebecca West, and contrast them with the individualist path carved out by Dora Marsden, along which we meet Gertrude Stein and H.D.
When we read them in relation to How(ever), we can also detect the changes in women’s consciousness that have made it possible for Kathleen Fraser to weave into her journal artistic, political and feminist discourses, appropriate language and its material and symbolic power, with experiment again taking its position in the cultural field as woman-identified woman. Notes
his La semiosfera and Universe of the Mind.
Boll, Theophilus. Miss May Sinclair:
Novelist. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University
BIO: Marina Camboni is professor of American Literature and Chair of the Department of Modern Languages, University of Macerata (Italy). Her fields of research include literary semiotics, Anglo-American modernism, poetry and feminist theory and criticism. She has translated and edited a selection of Adrienne Rich’s poetry and prose (1985) and Anne Sexton’s poems (1990), as well as H.D.’s Trilogy (1993). She edited the volumes Utopia in the Present Tense: Walt Whitman and the Language of the New World (1994). A volume of H.D.’s poetry, the meaning that words hide (originally published by AMS Press), is forthcoming in June 2003.
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