Modernism and Subjectivity:
How Modernist Fiction Invented the Postmodern Subject
Louisiana State University Press, 2020
Modernism and Subjectivity argues that theories of subjectivity coming out of psychoanalytic, poststructuralist, and adjacent late-twentieth-century intellectual traditions had already been articulated in modernist fiction before 1945. Offering a bold new genealogy for literary modernism, the book finds versions of a postmodern subject embodied in works by authors who intently undermine attempts to stabilize conceptions of identity and who draw attention to the role of language in shaping conceptions of the self.
Focusing on the philosophical registers of literary texts, Modernism and Subjectivity traces the development of modernist attitudes toward subjectivity, particularly in relation to issues of ideology, spatiality, and violence. Its analysis explores a selection of works published between 1904 and 1941, beginning with Joseph Conrad’s prescient portrait of the subject interpolated by ideology and culminating with Samuel Beckett’s categorical disavowal of the subjective “I.” Additional close readings of novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Aldous Huxley, James Joyce, Nathanael West, and Virginia Woolf establish that modernist texts conceptualize subjectivity as an ideological and linguistic construction that reverberates across understandings of consciousness, race, place, and identity.
By reconsidering the movement’s function and scope, Modernism and Subjectivity charts how profoundly modernist literature shaped the intellectual climate of the twentieth century.
Adam Meehan’s Modernism and Subjectivity takes up perhaps the key theoretical problem of twentieth-century theory and traces its roots in modernist prose. Developing the increasingly accepted notion that literature thinks (see Nancy Armstrong, and Judith Butler)―that novels do theory―Meehan opens up the conversation so that we may begin at last to consider the intellectual contributions of modernist novels as vital precursors to late-century philosophical extensions of their elemental concerns. It’s an important book that will make a timely contribution to modernist studies. -- Stephen Ross, editor of Modernism and Theory: A Critical Debate
Meehan is right. The link between modernism and postmodernism is not one of historical succession but of ideological anticipation, both resting on the creation of a new mode of subjectivity. This wonderfully lucid account expands Lacanian approaches to literature while demonstrating the resilient impact of modernism on today’s cultural sphere. -- Jean-Michel Rabaté, editor of A Handbook of Modernism Studies
“Specters of Ideology in Joseph Conrad's Nostromo.” Studies in the Novel 50.3 (2018): 359-377. Winner of the 2017 Bruce Harkness Young Conrad Scholar Award, presented by the Joseph Conrad Society of America.
This essay argues that Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo (1904) employs a unique form of spectral narrativity, which operates at a textual level but also penetrates the world of the novel, in performing a self-contained ideology critique that overhauls the contemporaneous Marxist notion of ideology as false consciousness and anticipates late twentieth-century conceptions of ideology and ideology critique that emerge from the Althusserian tradition, most notably that advanced by Slavoj Žižek in his influential essay “The Spectre of Ideology” (1994). It shows that Nostromo’s characters are ideologically constituted as subjects through processes of interpellation that reproduce their submission to existing power structures and reveals how the Costaguanan people participate in their own subjugation by perpetuating an imperialist ideology that is thinly veiled as religious parable. In doing so, it demonstrates how the novel lays bare (a la Žižek) the ways in which ideology can be critiqued from within.
"Repetition, Race, and Desire in The Great Gatsby." Journal of Modern Literature 37.2 (2014): 76-91.
Although disagreement persists over exactly what role race plays in The Great Gatsby, the issue cannot be ignored, especially in recent critical studies. Yet Gatsby reveals an unexplored angle that intersects with psychoanalysis in relation to Lacan’s “fundamental fantasy.” The protagonist's object of desire (objet a), Daisy, is the maternal figure in a (self-) destructive adult repetition of the oedipal drama, complicated by her metaphorical associations with the American landscape and her husband Tom’s patriarchal and nativist views. Ultimately, the novel’s symbolic structure is haunted by a latent desire to reconstitute Gatsby's ambiguous socially-projected racial makeup as only figuratively white.
"'All the World’s a Stage': Performance in Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man." The Explicator 69.4 (2011): 167-170.
The conventional conception of "masquerade" presupposes a Cartesian conception of coherent subjectivity that is displaced through the act of disguise. But Melville's mystifying novel The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857) articulates a more philosophically and psychologically nuanced conception of subjectivity that not only utilizes Lockean notions of self that were popular at the time, but anticipates those elaborated by Lacan and Bakhtin. Through the process of his various masquerades, the Confidence-Man acts as a Lacanian mirror who reflects back upon us the inherent duplicity of our existence.