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Narrating Demons, Transformative Texts

Rereading Genius in Mid-Century Modern Fictional Memoir

Daniel T. O'Hara

Publication Year: 2012

Narrating Demons, Transformative Texts: Rereading Genius in Mid-Century Modern Fictional Memoir, by Daniel T. O’Hara, acknowledges that the modern conception of literary genius is probably most lucidly expressed in the criticism of Lionel Trilling. But O’Hara also demonstrates that certain important and widely read mid-century modern fictional memoirs subversively return to an earlier conception that emphasizes the demonic nature of genius, a conception that is associated with the occult and the visionary and embraces the vision of evil articulated in earlier literature. O’Hara argues that Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus (1947), Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1955), and William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch (1959) all demonstrate an imagining of genius in art and in life that stands in stark and total opposition to the emerging post–World War II age of conformity. These influential works show that genius is inherently a dangerous reality, albeit a creative one. Despite its most transcendent appearances, the full immanence of this conception of demonic genius condemns the modern world to a Last Judgment that is every bit as severe as any envisioned in the Western religious traditions.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-9


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pp. vii-11

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pp. xi-xiv

I began working on this book project some thirty years ago after noticing how the tropes and techniques intimately associated with modernism— irony, parody, unreliable point of view—while still present and active in certain “big” or important novels of the post-war period no longer determined the way to read them. The three “classics” or canonical novels of this kind, all fictional...

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pp. xv-17

To Alan Singer for his continued support and critical powers of reading and to the other members of the Spinoza reading group, especially Phillip Mahoney and Michelle Martin, I express my profound gratitude. To my friends and...

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The Culture of Genius at Mid-Century

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pp. 1-9

Derrida’s recent deconstructive version of genius is so much like his paradoxical theory of the gift (to be a gift it dare not seem to give) that it does not generally help illuminate any specific understanding of genius. His stress on its event character, however, does serve. In its long history, the idea of genius takes on many...

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Of Love and Death in Modern Culture

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pp. 10-32

The first time I discussed Thomas Mann’s 1947 novel Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn As Told by a Friend was in the early 1980s.1 The occasion was an annual special session at the Modern Language Convention entitled “Defining Modernism.” My memory of the details of panel membership is a bit vaguer than I would like, but I believe that I, along with Paul...

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Deus sive Natura

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pp. 33-46

My relationship to Lolita (1955; 1958) has not been an easy one. I chose not to read it in the 1960s when I first heard about it because of its subject matter (pedophilia, kidnapping, murder) and because it was already such a controversial success as a cultural icon (“You’ve read the book, now see the Stanley Kubrick movie!”) among the intellectual class to which I then aspired. I preferred...

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Visionary Contactin the Interzone

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pp. 47-60

These lines, a few pages from the end of the Atrophied Preface attached to Naked Lunch, combine the major features of this anti-novel’s novel discourses.2 As a would-be fictional memoir of the surreal and visionary experiences in Tangier of its putative author, William Lee, while taking the cure (yet again) for his addiction to heroin and other substances, these lines cram...


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pp. 61-68

Works Cited

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pp. 69-74


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pp. 75-76

E-ISBN-13: 9780814270455
E-ISBN-10: 081427045X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814211793
Print-ISBN-10: 0814211798

Page Count: 120
Publication Year: 2012