A book that I had a great fondness for last year but never got to spend a lot of time with, was Kevin Jackson’s Constellation of Genius (Hutchinson). Coming with the premise that 1922 was the ‘annus mirabilis’ of the modernist movement – mainly because the publication of the ‘twin towers of modernist literature’ top and tailed the year i.e. James Joyce’s Ulysses was published in February with T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land emerging towards the end of the year – Constellation of Genius offers a fascinating breakdown of the year in chronological order, in relation to the important political, social and cultural events that flavoured it.
Why is this book titled so? Well, picking up on a metaphor from famous American critic, Harry Levin, Jackson states in his introduction that while the literary works of Joyce and Eliot stand as ‘the sun and moon of modernist writing’ during 1922, they share a sky that was ablaze with a ‘constellation of genius’ i.e. there were other equally brightly shining ‘stars’ to be found in this ‘constellation’ at the time, with the book’s mission being to point some of them out.
As I said, I’m rather fond of Constellation of Genius and I want to do more with it this year than simply grazing on it as I did in 2013. I want to give the book the attention it deserves (press reviews have been few and far between) and so I’m going to use it to track 1922 month by month throughout 2014, detailing some of the monthly highlights, while offering afterthoughts on a few of the literary and cinema releases that emerged during this seminal year. I do intend to read and review both James Joyce’s Ulysses and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land during my interactions with the book, but more than this I want to give myself and the readers of RobAroundBooks a real taste of the so-called ‘year one of modernism’ that Constellation of Genius explores.
So what can you expect from me during the month of January in relation to my journey through Constellation of Genius? Well, aside from highlighting titbits on surrounding events in January 1922 – such as Ernest Shackleton dying of a huge heart attack (5th), Virginia Woolf celebrating her fortieth birthday (25th), and Marcel Proust succumbing more and more to illness – I’m going to be taking a look at Erich von Stroheim’s lavish and lengthy cinematic classic, Foolish Wives (released on the 11th January, and freely available to watch on Vimeo), and also sharing afterthoughts on Agatha Christie’s second novel, The Secret Adversary, which was published on the 26th January, 1922 (and available free to all, courtesy of the Gutenburg Project).
Please join me in my journey through January 1922, and indeed the entire year. And I don’t just mean in a passive role, but rather through indulging in the cultural highlights along with me, reading some of the key publications of the year, watching some of the cinema releases, and discussing some of the key events that not only shaped an extraordinary year but brought about, in time, this equally extraordinary book.