London Modernism Seminar – Magic Modernism: Saturday 1 February

The first London Modernism Seminar of 2014 will take place on Saturday 1 February in Senate House, Room 349, 11-1pm. The topic will be Magic Modernism and we are very pleased to welcome as speakers Leigh Wilson (Westminster) on ‘C.K. Ogden, Basic English and Magic’ & Caroline Maclean (IES) on ‘Modernism’s Fourth Dimension’. Abstracts of the papers and brief speaker biographies can be found below.

The seminar is open to everyone interested in modernism.

Best wishes,

Suzanne Hobson, Queen Mary University of London,
Tim Armstrong, Royal Holloway University of London,
David Ayers, University of Kent, David Ayers,
Rebecca Beasley, Queen’s College, Oxford,
Helen Carr, Goldsmiths, University of London,

Seminar website:
Register for membership of the British Association of Modernist Studies here:

Leigh Wilson, ‘C.K. Ogden, Basic English and Magic’
This paper will look at the brief but significant collaboration between C.K. Ogden and James Joyce in the late 1920s. Rather than asking, as most Joyce scholars would, what was in it for Joyce, the paper will consider what was at stake in this collaboration for Ogden. As W. Terrence Gordon has argued, at the centre of Ogden’s work was an idea of ‘Word Magic’ and its destructive and dangerous effects. Through the concept of ‘Word Magic’ Ogden warned against allowing language tyranny over thought, and in the end sought to replace it with a language rooted in the experience of the empirically verifiable world, both theoretically and in his creation and championing of Basic English. Words in Joyce’s ‘Work in Progress’, on the other hand, are used, in John Rodker’s words, to ‘speak “in vacuo”’, sundered from instrumental meaning, in order to ‘still preserve much of their ancient magic’. The paper will ask what conclusions can be drawn from Ogden’s sense of the power of Joyce’s writing, and what implications this might have for our readings of language reform projects in the period.

Leigh Wilson is Principal Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Westminster. She is the author of Modernism and Magic: Experiments in Spiritualism, Theosophy and the Occult (Edinburgh University Press, 2013).

Caroline Maclean, ‘Modernism’s Fourth Dimension’

What do we mean by the fourth dimension? Time? Space? Both? In short, the idea of a fourth dimension was synonymous with time in the eighteenth century, but with the development of non-Euclidean and n-dimensional geometry in the nineteenth century, the concept of a fourth dimension of space became popular. Mathematicians such as Lobachevsky, Bolyai, Riemann and Poincaré began to question Euclid’s axioms of geometry. For example Riemann argued that space was curved thus proving that parallel lines would intersect at the ‘poles’ of a sphere—disproving Euclid’s parallel postulate. Although its roots were non-Euclidean and n-dimensional geometry the idea of an alternative space existing in parallel to our own captured the imagination of artists, writers and filmmakers (as well as spiritualists and theosophists). Russian ‘hyperspace’ philosopher Pyotr Ouspensky insisted that artists were the vanguards of this revolution in perception because perception of the fourth dimension required a new way of thinking and looking, a delayed perception, not unlike Shklovsky’s theory of ostranenie (estrangement). This paper briefly sets out theories of the fourth dimension and goes on to analyse some of the ways different modernists including Butts, Woolf and Eisenstein made use of the concept in their experimental works.

Caroline Maclean is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of English studies working on the ways in which the early twentieth-century vogue for Russia entered the story of modernism in Britain. Her book The Vogue for Russia: Modernism and the Unseen in Britain, 1900-1930 is forthcoming from Edinburgh University Press. Her article on Eisenstein and the fourth dimension appeared in Literature and History in 2012, and a chapter on Kandinsky, Michael Sadleir and Rhythm in Russia in Britain (OUP) in 2013, edited by Rebecca Beasley and Philip Ross Bullock.