Modernism and Subjectivity:
How Modernist Fiction Invented the Postmodern Subject
Forthcoming from Louisiana State University Press, Spring 2020
Modernism and Subjectivity confronts the contemporary critical consensus regarding subjectivity with a bold new genealogy that reasserts modernism’s seminal role in what was perhaps the central intellectual preoccupation of the twentieth century. Although many critics have relegated questions surrounding subjectivity to part of the “moment” of theory that is now past, much remains to be understood about how this critical category came to be so prominent in twentieth-century thought, what role modernist literary explorations played in that emergence, and why the time is ripe for reconsidering the relationship between modernism and theory. With this in mind, Modernism and Subjectivity argues that theories of subjectivity coming out of psychoanalytic, poststructuralist, post-Marxist, and adjacent late twentieth-century intellectual traditions had, in fact, already been articulated in modernist fiction before 1945. We must acknowledge this unexplored genealogy, the book maintains, if we are to understand the full legacy of the twentieth century’s unprecedented intellectual and artistic contributions and adequately appreciate modernism’s seminal role in them.
The book takes a broadly (but not strictly) chronological approach to exploring works published between 1904 and 1941, beginning with an examination of Conrad’s prescient portrait of the subject interpellated by ideology in his novel Nostromo and culminating in a study of Beckett’s categorical disavowal of the subjective “I” in Murphy. Rather than apply theoretical concepts to the literature at hand, like so much of the theoretically-oriented literary criticism being produced, the book operates in the vein of a work like Judith Butler’s “Passing, Queering: Nella Larsen’s Psychoanalytic Challenge” in showing the philosophical registers of the literature itself, thereby “consider[ing] literary narrative as a place where theory takes place” (from Butler’s Bodies That Matter, 135). Amid a bevy of recent scholarship in the new modernist studies that has sought to expand our appreciation of the movement’s function and scope, Modernism and Subjectivity fills a major gap in our understanding of how profoundly modernism shaped the twentieth century’s intellectual climate. In doing so, it enhances our understanding of the contemporary state of modernist studies in an unexpected, compelling, and much needed way.
Available here June 2020
Abstracts of recent work:
“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.