Literature and Film, Dispositioned: Thought, Location, World by Alice Gavin (review)
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Reviewed by
Alice Gavin. Literature and Film, Dispositioned: Thought, Location, World. Basingstroke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. xi + 180 pp. $100 (Hardback).

In Literature and Film, Dispositioned, Alice Gavin wishes to offer a counter-narrative to that “optimistic” narrative of modernity that claims that modernist narrative and aesthetic techniques can expose a world of interiority that may be said to exist by virtue of the invention of those very techniques. Instead, Gavin argues that the poster child for modernist narrative strategies—free indirect discourse—when deployed scriptively in fiction and visually in film, renders a paradox, as it “involves both a disposition (a subjective temperament) and a dispositioning (subjectivity’s displacement)” (7). For Gavin, the venerable technique of free indirect discourse in its modernist versions results in a recognition that subjectivity is the “silence” of silent film and the inarticulate “stuff” of consciousness in twentieth century literature. While the concept may not be news in the wake of those theorists upon whom Gavin relies—Barthes, Agamben, Deleuze, Rancière, etc.—the ways in which Gavin brings modernist literary and cinematic sensibilities into alignment as discursive entities equally enthused and troubled by the comparable techniques that enable the invention of modernist subjectivities are compelling. Putting Henry James’s “pre-cinematic” imaginary and Woolf and Beckett’s discernments of the cinematic aspects of their fictions alongside Buster Keaton’s silents and Deleuze’s theory of the movement-image effectively reveals the interdiscursivity of modernism in its ongoing conversation about its own capacities and limits. Suggesting the ways in which the free indirect discourse of modernist writing (often inaccurately described as “stream-of-consciousness”) is paralleled in Deleuze’s notion that the camera’s movements yield a form of perception neither identical with that of a character nor with objective reality, Gavin observes an important trajectory in modernism from James to Beckett that manifests what lies outside communication, both verbal and visual. This “excommunicative” limit, she argues, can be said to limn the “dispositioned,” uninhabitable space paradoxically inhabited by modernist subjectivities. [End Page E-9]

Literature and Film, Dispositioned is above all a discussion of the intermedial poetics of film and literature, and it is structured accordingly. An opening chapter on literature provides the theoretical framework for the consideration of free indirect discourse in its linguistic, stylistic, and narratological registers while touching upon a diverse array of literary works by James, Woolf, and Joyce (especially Joyce’s “The Dead”) that convey the ways in which literary free indirect discourse anticipates or parallels silent film’s visualization of “dispositioned” subjectivities. Two chapters entitled “Intermedium” and “Intramedium” follow. The first of these focuses on Henry James’s “The Jolly Corner” and The Portrait of a Lady and brother William James’s studies of cognition and perception in order to demonstrate that the vaunted “inward turn” instigated for modernism by Henry’s narratives does not result in an exposure of the putative riches of consciousness so much as reveal the “anxiety of mediation” (65) that occurs when the newly discovered “inside” necessarily configures an “outside.” “Stream of consciousness,” in this perspective, becomes centrifugal, a flight outwards as the exteriorization of thought manifests a blank or absent center. In “Intramedium,” the focus is on Virginia Woolf, primarily The Years and A Room of One’s Own. In this chapter, Gavin suggests the ways in which Woolf’s portrayal of consciousness as a receptive vehicle parallels developments in radio technology and cinema that illuminate the ways in which, for Woolf, “the animation of the interior [as it receives sounds, voices, images] is the dissipation of interiority” (93). In my view, these two chapters are the most compelling of Literature and Film, Dispositioned: they contain full, intensive readings of the works under discussion that provide convincing evidence of James’s and Woolf’s intermediality as they configure what consciousness is for them, thus preparing the ground for the book’s final chapters on cinema.

In those chapters—both entitled “Film”—Gavin traverses a host of film theorists and several silent films to describe how early film visually manages free indirect discourse as it “inscribes the streaming of a consciousness that does not speak” (105). The parallels to what...