The Introduction argues for the pertinence of the category of French modernism in the field of modernist studies. By first discussing the few existing fragmentary accounts of French modernism as a unified phenomenon, this introductory essay wonders why the story of French literary modernism has not yet been told, despite the centrality of Paris as a real, imaginary, and symbolic metropolis of modernity. The essay thus suggests that decentring modernism away from the Anglo-American paradigm and opening it into a consideration of the global, which has been the dominant tendency of the transnational turn in modernist studies, may need to start with an examination of what the Anglo-American modernism considers as its origin and point of reference: French modernism.
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.
1913: The Year of French Modernism is the first book to respond to two deceptively simple questions: “What constituted modernism in France?” and “What is the place of France on the map of global modernism?” Taking its cue from the seminal year 1913, an annus mirabilis for French modernism with the publication of Du côté de chez Swann, Alcools, La Prose du Transsibérien, among others, the book captures a snapshot of vibrant creativity in France and a crucial moment for the quickly emerging modernism throughout the world. While studies on modernism have turned increasingly toward neglected, peripheral, national traditions in order to illuminate modernism as a global phenomenon, this book offers a view of one of modernism’s central occurrences, the French. 1913: The Year of French Modernism shows that even ostensibly central manifestations of modernism remain to be explored, demonstrates how the global is embedded in the regional, and finally reconstructs and rethinks the centrality of France for modernism as well as the meaning of centrality all together for a global phenomenon. Essays from specialists on works of literature, art, photography, and cinema, that were created or made public on and around 1913 in France outline the physiognomy of French modernism: its protagonists, strategies, and genres, its dynamics, themes, and legacies.