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LOCAL MODERNITY, GLOBAL MODERNISM: BLOOMSBURY AND THE PLACES OF THE LITERARY BY SARA BLAIR Ina recent history of London as townscape, a popular historian makes the following claims about the phenomenon we know as Bloomsbury: [Ihe term “Bloomsbury.” whether used in approbation or derision, had... not all that much to do with the place esa place ‘The briliant aura of Lytton Strachey, the Bell, [Roger] Fry, [Virginia] Woolf, and the rest might almost as easly have been attached Wy Marytelame or St olin's Worl if two oF thice of them had happened to live there—though one may doubt if a "Marylebonite” or “John’s Wooder" would ever have had quite the ring as “Bloomsblerry” This assessment exemplifies two familiar assumptions. First, it im- plies that Bloomsbury is constituted by an “aura,” a distinctive mode of self-presentation that makes its projects and politics notoriously difficult to situate, Second, it asserts that these identifying features of cultural performance and reception are virtually (“almost”) indepen- dent of material location. Both these longstanding assumptions can be productively chal lenged via focus on Bloomsbury—and the cultural phenomenon it names and births—"as a place,” in the sense defined by scholars working under the rubric ofthe new cultural geography. The writings of David Harvey, Sassia Sasken, Anthony Giddens, Edward Soja, Doreen Massey, Arjun Appadurai, and others have called for a more nuanced account of what it means for culture and subjects to be located. Both, they argue, come into being not merely in a geographi- cal or material landseape, but in a site of social activity that produces itself and its defining relations through local, personal, and public exchanges.? Spatial tropes have of late been ubiquitous on the fields of cultural studies and modernist studies—as in the “cognitive mapping” of modernist activity with respect to class and taste ELH 71 (2004) 513-898 © 2004 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 813 hierarchies, and the quantification of the “ortgebunden, place-bound nature” of particular genres." But far ess work has been done to map cultural production onto the changing face of lived urban experience. More specifically, the move to nationalize and transnationalize mod- ‘emist cultural production has tended to obscure its life as a local phenomenon. Yet, as many of modernism’s most resonant original narratives suggest (Ezra Pound and H. D. in the teashop of the British Museum; Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso in the painter’ studio; Charles Baudelaire haunting cafes on the Champs-Elysées), modernism is among other things a determined response to the specific spaces in which it takes shape, advertises its cultural value, and contests for social power. If Bloomsbury has hardened, even assified, as an object of ertical attention—if, as one critic has recently argued, the question of its membership, polities, and meaning has cecasioned “[slome of the most pained and soporific passages in modem letters’—-it offers all the greater challenge with respect to rethinking the dynamics and contours of modemnism’s literary-social worlds.* To read Bloomsbury in this way, not as a movement or group or coterie or junta but asa local world, offers certain distinctive payoffs, The familiar line of argument against modernism tout court—that it represents nothing more or less than an evasion of social exigency and of modernity itself—has been endlessly debated if not suffi- ciently countered; it seems, in the case of Bloomsbury, to have an especially robust life. All the more reason for exploring, in the fillness of their complication, the specific circuits of production and exchange in which its work and works participate, the geocultural landscape in which they unfold. In particular, an insistence on Bloomsbury’ cultural location within Bloomsbury allows us to under. stand quite differently the trajectory and afterlife of the group's politics and cultural practices. Itis paradoxically, I argue, the distine- tive entanglement of Bloomsbury (the project) with Bloomsbury (the place) that enables the former to become more than a local phenom- enon, or even an international one in the uncontested modernist sense. For Bloomsbury’ embeddedness within Bloomsbury is what leads it to become worldly in another sense—that is, global in its resonances, a site of cultural contact and contestation where both canonical high modernisms and an emergent anticolonial modernism take shape. As long as the connection between cultural production and place is severed, the afterlife of Strachey and Bell and Virginia Wools Bloomsbury remains a matter of coterie marketing, pander sid Local Modernity, Global Modernism ing to middlebrow taste and commerce in lifestyle. Restored to a social landscape in whieh its producers negotiate a dense network of relations to emergent modern institutions of pleasure, labor, and social exchange, Bloomsbury can be seen quite differently—as one birthplace ofa literally postmodernist world literature that would first appropriate, then come to reject, its definitive practices. Ultimately, then, the stakes for situating Bloomsbury in the material life and social history of Bloomsbury, for reading “place as place,” are Dracingly high: a more nuanced understanding of modernist produe- tion, and a elearer view of its ongoing history as a resource for global social praxis 1. LOOKING FOR BLOOMSBURY ‘The difficulties of reading cultural embeddedness are legion and pronounced in the case of Bloomsbury, Even more than most recognizably modemist phenomena (Village bohemia, the Harlem Renaissance, the Left Bank salon), both Bloomsbury as project and Bloomsbury as place appear to defy material mapping. Virginia Woolf herself raises the issue in a memoir delivered to that quintessential Bloomsbury institution, the Memoir Club, in 1922. “[W]hat is Bloomsbury?” she asks: “where does [it] end,” and where does it begin?” “[W]hat are the qualities that admit one to it, what are the qualities that expel one from it?? Is it temporally bounded, encom- passing only the prewar community? Or is it more appropriately defined on the ground? Does it emanate securely from the Hogarth Press or Omega Workshops? “Does it for instance include Bedford Square?" ("OB,” 368). Woolf's staged hesitation underscores the of drawing a confident circumference around a cultural phenomenon constituted through networks of conversation, contact, and exchange. But she also inadvertently directs our attention to Bloomsbury itself, the locus of urban experience as a made and inhabited space. Searching for the appropriate metonymy for the group as a whole—Bed¥ord Square? Woburn Square? ‘The Bell houschold?—Woolf anticipates a much cited moment in the work of Michel Foucault. What defines the group turns out to be its “quali ties,” which themselves turn out to look uncannily like what Foucault has dubbed “the litle tactis of the habitat.” Its, afterall, not place alone but the generation of a host of tactics—the notorious salons and private theatricals, the public lectures and activism, the modes of public and semipublie performance of the qualities of “Bloomshury’— Sara Blair 815