Date

2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

English

First Adviser

Singh, Amardeep

Abstract

Operating within—and arguing for the utility of—a transatlantic scholarly framework for the study of literary modernism, this dissertation re-evaluates notions of modernist literature’s intersection with the concept of self. Current scholarship regarding the history and the development of the concept of self enters into conversations about that same subject as they occurred in and around the time period of literary modernism. Through a series of literary close readings and a linked engagement with literary history, this project examines the narratives of subjectivity that emerge from the expatriate Americans living in Europe between the years 1908 and 1937. Through major critical treatments of Ezra Pound, Nella Larsen, Gertrude Stein, and Claude McKay—guided by key secondary sources from Charles Taylor, George Hutchinson, and Wayne Cooper—this dissertation project explores the open question of how modernist literature aims to renovate concepts of selfhood into more capacious ones about subjectivity.In undertaking this critical endeavor, the aim is to adjust scholarly narratives about modernism, which too frequently attend to that period in literature as one almost exclusively characterized by alienation and despair. In uncovering modernism’s explorations of the concept of self inherited from the Enlightenment that had come to seem unsustainable—or, more precisely, how modernism works to replace a concept of self—this dissertation hopes to shift both scholarly and popular narratives about modernism. Ultimately, this project concludes that while modernism strikes a fatal blow to the Enlightenment concept of self, it only makes gestural attempts to fully flesh out new concepts of subjectivity that function in its place. But by examining the experiments modernism does undertake to do precisely that, this project highlights underrecognized experiments in modernism that, hopefully, will serve to alter popular and scholarly perceptions of that artistic moment.

Available for download on Wednesday, August 17, 2022

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