One of the most important features of literary modernism is its emphasis on ‘the now’, its insistence on the present and the immediacy of experience. Modernist writers rejected the 19C fascination with the past and heralded a new present. Marinetti’s 1909 ‘Futurist manifesto’ is the most famous example of such a stance but it is also found in British pre-war modernist writings. Some critics, e.g. Winter, have argued that WWI interrupted this. Wartime writing, Winter argues, reverts to the traditional vocabularies of mourning to be found in classical and romantic writing. This project seeks to modify his theory of the backward gaze by demonstrating the continued insistence on ‘the now’ in wartime writing. It focuses on British periodicals published at the front and in Britain. Its working hypothesis is that the context of these periodicals’ publication demands they be explored in relation to the pre-war modernist fascination with the now. When Lloyd George declared the state of total war in 1916, he broke with the 19C tradition of British
liberal democracy. While it is true that a wartime regime often witnesses a ‘return’ to feudal conceptions of power, the backward gaze in such a ‘state of exception’ is not to be seen as a recycling of the past but part of a reconfiguration of the present. The WWI periodicals, written in response to the political situation, show that WWI writing does not simply return to older traditions. The ways in which these texts represent their ‘now’ demand they are read as continuations rather than interruptions of pre-war modernist understanding and representation of time and temporality. The project’s focus is on British periodicals (hence the title) but it will look at other language publications in order to contextualise, compare and explain the phenomenon of trench journalism.