The anxious centre
in 1913: The year of French modernism
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This essay outlines perceptions of Paris, the cultural ‘centre’, and its modernity and timeliness in the debates among the British, Italian, and French avant-gardes. Their antagonism was often encoded in clear nationalist terms and culminated in 1913 with a quarrel around the term ‘simultaneity’, which became a hot term of contention with bitter attacks over who invented it first. Denoting a specifically modern perception of time and synchronicity, simultaneity seems to transcode issues of a perceived belatedness and of a generalized sense of time's unevenness from the ideological, political, and economic level to the representational and conceptual one. Rentzou shows that in these debates but also in the poetry of the time, Paris, the alleged ‘centre’ of modernism, acts as anxious as the ‘peripheries’ in measuring its own modernity, and thereby argues that Paris as a weak ‘centre’ discredits the logic of ‘centre/periphery’ within modernism as a global phenomenon.

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