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[FEBRUARY 2010.]

Nommer une dissertation, c'est supprimer les trois quarts de la jouissance

Readers, circle and sphere: your assistance? I’ve dotted the last MLA-stipulated ‘i’ in the last footnote to my dissertation, and it now has everything but a name. I’ve made things difficult by refusing to employ the colon, foreclosing the usual Hand-Waving Phrase: X Trope or Quality in Y Body of Literature. But I still need something that more or less conveys what the thing is about and contains some scrap of poetry. Since M.H. Abrams is one presiding spirit, I had thought of doing a derivative title, until J. pointed out that a phrase like “The Mirrors and Lamps of Modernist Fiction” could be taken all too literally.

As a best shot toward what the thing is about, I’ve copied some introductory material below. I am ambivalent about it and glad I don’t have to publish it. If any phrases cross your mind, no sally is too feeble. Mit tiefer Dankbarkeit.

What follow are some notes on the modernist novel in English. In sequence they tell a kind of story. In assembling this story I have had to ask myself the same narrative questions that confronted the figures who are its subjects: where to start, where to stop, what balance to give empirical detail and imaginative pattern, how to draw a shape which both reflects facts as they are and displays intelligible form. If my answers are not always the best, I hope they cast some light on the answers the modernists found.

I conceive the modernist novel as arising from a problem in genre. The end of the nineteenth century had left English literature with a rich tradition of narrative prose describing the social and material world. At the same time, its aesthetic discourse was dominated by a Romantic poetics which described artworks as staging an opposition between spirit and matter, nature and freedom; and which placed lyric poetry, as an expression of spirit rather than a mimesis of nature, uppermost in its ranking of genres. The difficulties in reconciling this aesthetic to novelistic form account for the strangeness of the modernist novel, whose language aspires to the condition of lyric at the same time that its plot stages the failure of such an aspiration, the inability of Romanticism to imagine its own fulfillment. I begin with Henry James as a transitional figure; continue with William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf as exemplars of a Romantic-lyric poetics; and conclude with James Joyce, whose fictional forms resemble those of his contemporaries but ultimately reject many of their Romantic commitments. While I am conscious that these experiments took place in particular historical moments, I have chosen not to structure this as a historicist study. For better or for worse, it is best classed with Charles Tansley’s dissertation in To the Lighthouse as being about the influence of something upon somebody.

My working method has been to assume that literary forms carry within them philosophical commitments about language and its relation to other areas of human experience, and that criticism can do the work of elucidating these commitments, even—or especially—if the commitments prove incoherent. My own views on philosophical questions of language and knowledge have been influenced by modern philosophers including Ludwig Wittgenstein, Wilfrid Sellars, Donald Davidson, John McDowell, and Cora Diamond. Here and there I make reference to these philosophers, and over the course of my narrative it will become apparent that I see Joyce’s fictional forms as providing an especially close fit to the views I have taken from them. It should go without saying that this concordance does not imply a critical judgment for Joyce and against others. To treat philosophy, including the subset of philosophy known as “theory,” as an orthodoxy for the evaluation of literature is to obscure all literary interest. Nor would anything be at stake in such a judgment, since we are fortunate to occupy a historical moment in which a question like Lukács’s “Franz Kafka or Thomas Mann?” does not make sense. A view that is incoherent as philosophical doctrine can become a productive tension in literature; at least I have assumed so.

"For better or for worse": being about the influence of something upon somebody in To the Lighthouse (Note to librarians, this dissertation is best classed with Charles Tansley's dissertation)

This is humblingly well written.

And the winner is ....?

Following a useful tip from josh blog, proprietor, on the lyric trope of the voice, I’m working with “The Modernist Novel Speaks Its Mind,” which is at least easy to remember and not pompous. J. points out that the trope of the voice is actually one of the things I complain about all the time, but there it is: just serving back up what school fed me. Thanks!

I recommend: “notes on the modernist novel” I love “NOTES ON” - manan

“Impressions of Modernism Viewed by a 21st Century Flâneur”

Where’s my tortoise? Do you think the flâneurs named their tortoises? “Eh bien, je vais aller me promener avec Cicéron.”

i meant flaneur in a positive way -- an observer, a part of yet apart from the crowd, noticing and experiencing life for the purpose of immortalizing it in an art form, not in the negative way of being an idle person which i know you are not! but either way i suppose you could have a tortoise :-)

Thanks for the kindness! But if you can tell the difference, you're doing better than I am....

hey let's not insult the idle among us

Thank you for writing your dissertation in English in actual English.

“Diminished Digits Prove Too Titillating for Frisky Frumps”

I resemble that!


This defection of two top Communist leaders had an electrifying effect on Japanese who were in police custody, and it was followed by what can only be called a mass apostasy. Within a month 45 percent of those not yet convicted (614 out of 1,370) and 34 percent (133 out of 393) of those who had been convicted of radical thought or activities followed suit and defected. Within three years 74 percent (324 out of 438) of those convicted of subversion were ready to announce that they, too, had returned to the fold.

These defections were of great interest for psychology and for theory. Although coercion in various forms was undoubtedly exercised, interrogators were warned to avoid the resistance that argument or duress would provoke. The radicals, most of them still young, were, after all, better educated than most of the police. Instead every effort was made to get them to “return” to the values of home and hearth that had now been threatened by the clouds of war and crisis. A workbook prepared for interrogators recommended that they begin by providing a bowl of chicken and egg on rice (oyako dombori, lit. “parent-child” bowl) which would remind the prisoner of the parental bond. The policemen should say nothing about ideology, but offer a reproachful reminder that “your mother is worried about you.” He should by all means avoid mention of the father, as that might trigger defiance of authority.

Marius B. Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan


ἔτι τὸ κινοῦν το ἄπειρον τί ἐστιν; εἰ μὲν γὰρ αὐτὸ ἑαυτό, ἔμψυχον ἔσται. τοῦτο δὲ πῶς δυνατόν, ἄπειρον εἶναι ζῷον;

What moreover is it which moves the infinite? If it moves itself, it must be alive. Yet how could this be possible, that there should be an infinite animal?

Aristotle, On the Heavens 1.7.


said it was moving forwards
but I can see it going backwards
so I think you must be cowards
when the train is going backwards
don’t you tell me that it’s forwards

H                          O                            P                            E


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