Modernist Impersonalities: Affect, Authority, and the Subject
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The scholarly story of Victorian character has long been a story of interiority. According to Deidre Lynch's influential account, by the end of the eighteenth century, print consumers were stratified by their approach to character: reading with taste distinctly from the masses meant reading for interpretable insides. Since the work of Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, for instance, it hardly seems possible not to read a character like Jane Eyre as riven by deep selfhood. But in recent scholarship, another story is emerging.
Broadly speaking, this newer work emphasizes character as a dynamically relational form: a mobile entity shaped by interaction—whether with the reader, other characters in the storyworld, or both. Character here is experiential in a nearly physical sense—a matter of movement, perception, and change. It exists formally or phenomenologically, in time and space. With their attention to character as an experience of contact, such perspectives put pressure on the idea of interiority.
Indeed, in a tangential trend, other critics have questioned the individual's private outlines, claiming, rather, intersubjectivity or a blending with social or natural surroundings. This latter work, too, has a strong phenomenological bent. Pain's ontological incommunicability is a means for authors to navigate, and sometimes transcend, the distinction between self and other.
But perhaps the most provocative new views of fictional personhood are those that, more than simply tempering a notion of innerness, emphatically deny its existence. In general, in fact, there has been a remarkable overlap between Victorian and modernist theories of narrated selves.
Most relevantly here, he asserts a difference between this dynamic state of being and static Victorian personality. But as is apparent from the stimulating Victorianist criticism surveyed above, such distinctions are misleading—though also entirely predictable, given the way English studies often charts the course of literature. Moses's account is tacitly one of aesthetic progression: in the twentieth century, fiction outgrows its faith in coherent selves, becoming more attentive to the vagaries and perplexities of existence, as well as the flexibility of temporal, spatial, and hence narrative form.
Scholars often note that historical periodization risks obscuring valuable insights. And yet on the topic of aesthetics and representation, the distinction between Victorianism and modernism seems intransigent, often, as in this case, to the diminution of the former. In recent studies of character, however, I see an opportunity to jettison the idea of progression and to trace cross-period resonances instead. As this work highlights, questions of social ethics, often associated with Victorian literature, do not mutually exclude attention to perceptual and sensual form, often associated with modernist literature.
Aiding this reconciliation is the affective turn in both subfields. For Martin, sympathy—here theorized, like Moses's character, through a discourse of vitalism—moves between, and therefore disturbs the boundaries of, individuals. At the same time, paradoxical as it may seem, I'd urge that scholars not abandon the concept of interiority altogether, as simply synonymous with determined psychological identity. For on the contrary, the new physicalist view of character accentuates interiority or depth as itself a dimensional concept, and that we can read its interrelational position in multiple productive ways.
But, as narratives from Middlemarch and prior on through To the Lighthouse and afterward also depict, that moment of contact just as often entails an impression of isolation, misunderstanding, difference: a sense of separate insideness, necessarily opaque or exterior from the perspective of someone else. This, too, is a significant feeling. It is also significant aesthetically, as a matter of perception and point of view.
Ramsay thinks, in Woolf's novel.
If we were doing it today, we would probably be interested in what is now called Web 3. I get very weary of that. I think that we should support the humanities because they are good in and of themselves, not because they serve this greater instrumental purpose. But — I think one way, if not to justify the humanities, in a way, make the inherent value of the humanities more obvious, is by writing for a broader audience, is by sharing your work with people outside the narrow coterie that is modernism.
Since its original conception, the Modernism Lab has been widely used as a public resource for modernist research. For technical reasons, we have migrated the site to a new address and to WordPress. This version of the site, designed, assembled, and developed during the summer of , provides an archive of the original essays and collected media of the original site, which were primarily compiled between and Pericles would look at both of ours and offer suggestions.
One reason for this result was a concern with quality control—only about a hundred people had editing rights on the site—but another was probably the tendency of humanities scholarship towards sole authorship.
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After , Professor Lewis, the director of the project, largely stopped work on the Modernism Lab, in order to fulfill his new role as President of Yale-NUS College and aid in designing its curriculum. Here, he developed with his team a core curriculum which similarly strove for this spirit of collaboration and conversation in its approach to learning.
On these pages, you can find course materials, readings, and other resources used in the teaching of these courses, which serve as useful guides for approaching these subjects, in addition to their use as a pedagogical record. Anthony Domestico, who was a PhD student at Yale and worked with Professor Lewis building and editing the Modernism Lab, explained that part of the intent originally was to profile non-canonical works, by canonical Modernist authors.
This branched out into what the Modernism Lab is today, with essays on over 40 different modernist authors and artists, connected along the lines of time, correspondence, and collaboration. In an interview with Domestico, he emphasized the liberating volume of content that was needed to create the Modernism Lab, explaining that it encouraged students and scholars alike to share more provisional content, and to open themselves up to feedback at an early, more vulnerable stage of composition.
Generally, he explains, and particularly with graduate students, people can become isolated during the writing process, and unwilling to share their works-in-progress for fear of revealing flaws oropening themselves up to criticism prematurely.
Domestico argues this stems the flow of ideas which conversation and collaboration can facilitate, which is crucial to creating not only the most thorough end-product, but also a more enjoyable, community-based way of working. Because it forces you to do work, it forces you to be in conversation with other people, other ideas. Interestingly, this mode of creativity and collaboration replicates the way this period of literature was produced:. Eliot with Leonard, or something like that…talking to another modernist about another modernist. So network theory is important to modernist studies right now, and modernists themselves were a very networked movement.
Eric Keenaghan - University at Albany-SUNY
The structure and collaborative nature of the Modernism Lab, though perhaps imperfectly realized, draws on this value for connectivity and conversation in writing and engaging with literature. It can be described in much the same way that these modernist circles can be described: a group of enthusiastic people talking to each other, printing each other, and connecting each other to friends who could help them.
The web-presence of the Modernism Lab enables a new kind of connectivity in scholarship, and particularly in humanities scholarship. One of the founding goals of this project was to tap into this spirit of collaboration and community and create a more outward-looking kind of humanities scholarship, as Domestico described. Both agree that the accessibility of the Modernism Lab online has generated a much wider and more informal audience, facilitating access to the material and breaking down the often insular nature of humanities academia.
In our conversation, Domestico stressed the importance of provisional work, and the accessibility of that provisional work to feedback, in addition to its being more accessible in terms of being useful and understandable to a broader audience of non-specialists. Students were enthusiastic, and it was readily understandable what this project was meant to accomplish.
Dalloway, and I think that had a clear pedagogical purpose — the students got really excited to be able to see how characters were moving through the narrative, moving through a city. This project provided a visual and interactive use of literature, working toward the pedagogical goal of the digital humanities: increased engagement in art and literature by way of technology.
In the interest of cleaning up and facilitating the use of the modernism lab as this testing space, we have used the summer of to do some renovations.
In this next edition of the Modernism Lab, we have decided to do away with the YNote feature, as well as the Digital Archive. However, we will be preserving the Undergraduate Gateway as a record of courses taught by Professor Pericles Lewis, and which utilize the Modernism Lab as a pedagogical tool. In our renovations, we hoped to make the Modernism Lab easier to navigate and more user-friendly, creating a more streamlined look and intuitive interface. Our hope is that its content will continue to be used as a valuable tool in modernism research for many years to come.