Continental conjecture: Ephemera, imitation and America’s (late) modernist canons in the Three Mountains Press and Robert McAlmon’s Contact Editions | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 32, Issue 3
  • ISSN: 1466-0407
  • E-ISSN: 1758-9118



Despite exciting occasional interest from critics of modernist fiction, autobiography and expatriate publishing, the writer-editor Robert McAlmon has remained on the margins of American modernist studies. Paradoxically, however, his fine press publishing house Contact Editions, in partnership with William Bird’s Three Mountains Press, played a central role in negotiating and problematizing mechanisms of canon formation at the onset of the late modernist cultural turn. The hallmarks of late modernism are revealed in prototypical form in selected titles they published – books which deliberately distorted the features of ‘major’ contemporaneous works to critique the failures and exclusions of high modernism. This essay examines the ‘American background’ of such responses through the lens of McAlmon’s editorial and literary career. Taking his contributions to American little magazines of the early 1920s as its point of departure, the essay explores how his publishing partnerships and intellectual transactions shaped his poetics of imitation, ephemera, and hybridity (emphases which modernists often connected to America as a literary subject). To this end, it also explores deluxe editions by William Carlos Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and Djuna Barnes, and concludes with readings of McAlmon’s Portrait of a Generation (1926a) and North America: Continent of Conjecture (1929a). Together, these works gave a physical shape to and archly satirical accounts of the themes and materials that accumulated in the wake of high modernism.


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