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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis project challenges the conventional assumption that representations of subjectivity in modernist fiction, while innovative in their own right, were ultimately limited by overriding concerns with determinacy, order, and coherence. This view has been widely adopted by postmodern critics, many of whom rely upon a "straw-man modernism" (a term I borrow from Marjorie Perloff) in order to legitimize postmodernism as a descriptive artistic category and substantiate the existence of a post/modern divide. This project argues that in fact representations of subjectivity in modernist fiction anticipate postmodern theory in ways that have not been sufficiently explored and that highlight continuity rather than rupture. It analyzes six novels published between 1904 and 1941 that articulate subjectivity as "in process," a term used by Julia Kristeva to describe identity as constituted by linguistic, ideological, and social processes rather than ontological fixities. I argue that the central modality in each of these novels is deconstructive, in the sense that each uncovers the processes through which the subject is interpellated into larger discourses oscillating between order and disjunction. Each novel, therefore, represents subjectivity as radically indeterminate, decentered, and fragmented. Ultimately, this project suggests that from its earliest moment modernist fiction was concerned with the "crisis of representation" that would not be theorized until well after modernism had been declared over. This reading not only calls into question the notion that postmodernism represents an overcoming of modernism's alleged limitations, but reappraises modernist fiction in its own right as the seminal expression of twentieth-century subjectivity. Taken together, the novels that comprise this study reflect the complexity and multiformity of modernist fiction's concern with subjectivity as it intersects with issues of ideology, race, spatiality, violence, and other factors. The version of modernist fiction thus arrived at looks much different than the one described by Hassan, McHale, and many other postmodern critics. The authors covered make no attempts to envision new coherent versions of subjectivity or recover a challenged or lost transcendental ego. They not only depict and confront the fragmented self, but maintain an intentional open-endedness that explicitly rejects any sense of closure.
Degree ProgramGraduate College