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Advertising localist modernism: William Carlos Williams, Aladdin Einstein and the transatlantic avant-garde in Contact

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Critics of early twentieth-century American modernism traditionally divide its key literary figures into two camps: the cosmopolitan exiles who expatriated themselves from the United States, and those who stayed at home. However, recent studies have challenged such dichotomies in the modernist canon, and drawing on the emerging field of transatlantic literary studies, this article investigates Contact, a specialized little magazine edited by William Carlos Williams and Robert McAlmon which has been frequently characterized as an exclusively national(ist) project. My argument is that Contact actually represents a sophisticated expression of localist modernism, a specific element of the transatlantic avant-garde that emerged (rather than diverged) from an international network of artist-run journals in the early twentieth century. Using a combination of literary-historical analysis, textual studies practices and extensive archival research, this article focuses on the Advertising Number, a special issue of Contact that has until now been overlooked by critics. Albert Einstein's arrival in America initiated a heady collision of avant-garde poetics, mainstream print culture and global economics in the pages of New York's little magazines. In the Advertising Number, Williams enlisted his literary milieu, including a surprising contribution from the exile Ezra Pound, to explore a pivotal cultural moment in the evolution of the transatlantic avant-garde.

Keywords: American avant-garde; Ezra Pound; William Carlos Williams; economics and literature; modernist little magazines

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Newby Trust Fellow, University of Edinburgh.

Publication date: July 1, 2009

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  • The European Journal of American Culture (EJAC) is an academic, refereed journal for scholars, academics and students from many disciplines with a common involvement in the interdisciplinary study of America and American culture, drawing on a variety of approaches and encompassing the whole evolution of the country.
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