- Modernism, Feminism and the Culture of Boredom by Allison Pease
Allison Pease’s Modernism, Feminism and the Culture of Boredom illuminates how feminist texts treat the cultural malaise of boredom in the hopes of providing a new paradigm through which to understand literary modernism. Pease boldly asserts, “literary modernism shaped—and was shaped by—a broad-ranging set of ideas about women’s boredom” (vii). Pease places earlier works including Reinhard Kuhn’s The Demon of Noontide: Ennui in Western Literature (1976), Patricia Meyer Spacks’s Boredom: A Literary History of a State of Mind (1996), and Elizabeth Goodstein’s Experience without Qualities: Boredom and Modernity (2005) in conversation with affect theory in order to reevaluate the value of boredom. She refutes Kuhn’s dismissal of boredom and its “typical portrait of the suburbanite” (qtd. in Pease 23), which marginalizes and stigmatizes boredom as feminine and opposed to the noble (and masculine) ennui. In a clear articulation of her feminist intervention, Pease indicts our patriarchal culture for manufacturing and employing this affect that has marginalized and stigmatized women especially, and, more importantly, how feminist texts of the modernist period renegotiate what it means to be bored. By reading a cluster of representative male-authored feminist texts such as E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View and D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover followed by a series of close readings on the work of May Sinclair, Dorothy Richardson, and Virginia Woolf, Pease adumbrates a growing awareness with boredom amidst this coterie. [End Page 189]
Although Pease’s project of illuminating boredom’s constitutive role in literary modernism is important, her methodological decisions are out of sync with her feminist orientation. Problematically, her philosophical approach to boredom anchors the analysis in both Nietzsche and Heidegger. Pease’s invocation of The Will to Power is concerning since the text was compiled posthumously from notes to say nothing of its blatant misogyny. For an authoritative account of Nietzsche’s thoughts on boredom and meaninglessness, readers should also consult The Gay Science. Concerning Heidegger, Pease justifies her reliance on his diagnosis of boredom as modernity’s fundamental condition because “it is [temporally] concurrent with the body of literature examined in this book” (31). Pease then rehearses Foucault in chapter one, “Boredom and Bored Women in the Early Twentieth Century,” in order to highlight the impact of this Heideggerian boredom on subjectivity, which is supported through an etymological analysis of “bored” that reveals how the term originally meant to be pierced. Since the bored person is pierced by cultural discourses, his or her subjectivity is passively positioned at a permeable intersection: “Boredom is a metaphorical permeability, an awareness of, at the same time that one is without, subjectivity” (4). While Pease makes the requisite Freudian citations, this reviewer found the turn to feminist psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin a welcomed reprieve from the theoretical dominance of Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Foucault. Indeed, the Benjamin reading of masochism and how the masochist gains her identity by sacrificing herself to her master thereby gaining access to the power system through submission and its manifestation in bored women proves both controversial and convincing (19–21). Aside from passing references to Lauren Berlant, Sianne Ngai, and Judith Butler, Benjamin is one of the only female theorists treated seriously in this text, which seems like an oversight in a book examining the marginalization and stigmatization of women through the lens of boredom.
Structurally speaking, the decision to treat male-authored feminist texts first in chapter two, “Overcoming Nihilism: Male-Authored Female Boredom,” exacerbates the dissonance created by privileging male philosophers. In chapter two, Pease concentrates on how male-authored feminist texts attempt to transcend Heideggerian boredom and its inherent nihilism. By surveying a variety of these texts, Pease discerns a generic pattern whereby sexual self-discovery and its fulfillment in heterosexual monogamy allow the female character to transcend boredom (50). Problematically for Pease, as articulated through her reading of Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the celebration of female sexuality found throughout these New Woman novels naturalize heterosexuality thereby fitting...