André Breton's Mad Love deserves more attention both as a literary narrative and as a set of theoretical propositions about art and politics. This article studies its narrative time-structure and examines its arguments, and asks what each of these aspects of the text can tell us about the other. Breton's theoretical claims are put in conversation with some key texts of later Marxist thought, and Mad Love's story of prophecy and self-interpretation is read as a way of thinking about time.
This essay reads Kenneth Fearing's Depression-era poetry as an innovative body of Marxist verse, one that attempts to craft an aesthetic reaction of shock and disorientation in the reader. In order to explicate the use-value of aesthetic shock to a Marxist politics concerned with anti-capitalist praxis, it draws on Susan Buck-Morss's interpretation of Walter Benjamin, an interpretation that focuses on the latter's theorization of aesthetic sensation in the modern period. Because the modern condition is one of anaesthetized sensory existence (an existence managed by and conducive to hegemonic capitalism), the use of poetry to spark sensation in the reader can be a revolutionary project. Fearing accomplishes this project by confronting the primary agent of shock in the modern period, electricity, and exploring it in its full dialectical complexity. Fearing is a Marxist poet, but of a different sort than most Depression-era proletarian poets. His poems do not provide ideological guidance in the manner of propaganda, nor do they stop at ideology critique. Instead, they act upon the senses of the reader in order to awaken him or her from the dreamworld of modern capitalism to the real need for transformative struggle.
This essay examines the politics and poetics of William Carlos Williams as developed in his critical prose of the 1930s and 1940s, especially those works written in response to mounting political pressures at home and abroad. Using parallel and contemporary writings by Walter Benjamin as a guide, the essay shows that Williams in this period reconciles his romantic and modernist commitments—his belief, on the one hand, in the artist's supremacy, and his fascination, on the other hand, with technology and mechanization—so as to produce an account of art's function that links "rigor of beauty" to emerging forms of social control. The culmination of the political-poetic project is Williams's long poem Paterson, which enacts formally and takes up thematically the artist's attempt to impose order on chaotic reality.
Critics have done little to contextualize the Inkling Charles Williams within the tumultuous period of the mid-twentieth century, ignoring his connections to high modernism and treating him as a minor writer of fantasy fiction. The 2002 publication of his letters to his wife, however, reveal the danger of divorcing him from his historical moment and permit a more nuanced biographical contextualization. Neither altogether incredible thrillers, nor mere defenses of his extraordinary Christianity, all of his novels represent an odd marriage of the supernatural and the realistic, the latter informed by the terrible uncertainty of the early- to mid-twentieth century. His last novel, All Hallows' Eve (1945), is best understood in the context of profound angst provoked by the war: here we see Williams in his modernist guise, using literature as a direct and urgent response to the century's second climacteric.
"The Familiar Attractions of Fascism in Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" presents Spark's most famous novel as a provocative critical representation of fascism, comparing her analysis with those of Gilles Deleuze, Theodor Adorno, Virginia Woolf, and others. Spark highlights fascism's modes of consensus-building rather than its more readily visible authoritarian qualities and in doing so, usefully shifts our attention from the regimes' culpable deception of the masses to the fascist subject's motivations for shielding him or herself from the recognition of fascist violence. In particular, it inquires into how and why followers invested fascism with a rebellious capacity to break up a sedimented status quo, especially how some female subjects attributed to it a capacity for radical departures from patriarchal conceptions of womanhood.
Agatha Christie's The Murder at the Vicarage, E.H. Young's Miss Mole, and Ivy Compton-Burnett's A House and Its Head are inter-war, middlebrow, domestic and detective novels characterized by narrative ambiguity and illusion. Through the voice and gaze of their spinster protagonists, socially marginal, yet potentially transgressive figures, these novels covertly query power and gender relations, while simultaneously upholding the status quo. Each novel's techniques of focalization and narration are reviewed in order to demonstrate how normalizing concepts of home and heterosexual families are explored and critiqued. During cataclysmic events like murder or the death of a mother, ways of seeing are pushed to the fore. Yet in each case, once the cataclysmic event is resolved, the conventional order is restored by the effective surveillance of these spinsters.
This essay argues that "After the Race" and "Two Gallants" narrate the psychological functions of capital in order to develop an economy of language and text. Desire is intimately tied to the objects of exchange and their contingent values. Focusing on the split nature of the commodity—as material object that refers to the immaterial form of exchange value—together with Georg Simmel's theory of exchange, the essay first shows how a psychology of loss in the stories expresses the imbalances of exchange that structure the production of surplus. It then argues that early Joycean narrative employs this contradiction of capitalist exchange by repeatedly staging the arrest of circulation and desire. Finally, this narrative tension is read as a way of redefining the relationship between epiphany and inter-textuality in the modernist textual economy of Dubliners.
Joseph Schumpeter's term "creative destruction" can be employed to examine Joyce's representation of the rise of the modern city in Finnegans Wake. The Wake re-enacts the story of how the modern city, with its straight streets and busy thoroughfares, opened up the closed world of the medieval city, with its crooked streets and organic tangle of lanes and alleys. This paper examines Joyce's use of 11th Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica in his depiction of the division of the city into poles of poverty and privilege in the modernizations of Belfast, London, and Budapest. Baron Haussmann's plan for the regularization of Paris is also contrasted with Camillo Sitte's championing of the medieval values in his opposition to the geometrization of Vienna. Finally, Marshall Berman is employed to demonstrate Joyce's ambivalent relation to modernism—both deploring its destructions of the past while celebrating its dynamic novelty in creating the future.
In 1995, Argentine journalist Tomás Eloy Martínez published his novel Santa Evita as an account of the events surrounding Eva Perón's death, her body's subsequent embalming and eventual exile from Argentina. Instead of rectifying the historical discrepancies propagated during the seventeen years in which her body went missing, however, Martinez's novel works to further complicate and memorialize the myth of Evita. This textual memorialization has been buttressed by the Argentine government's publicly attributing one of Martínez's apocryphal phrases to Eva Perón, the inclusion of fictional material as biographical information by Evita's biographers, and the author's own reflections on the blurred and ideologically defunct boundaries between fiction, history and biography. This article is an examination of how these biographical appropriations, epistemological boundaries, and Eva Perón's body have been manhandled and coerced by those who attempt to tame them, an effort which, paradoxically, has only served to confirm their artificial nature.
Samuel Beckett, in his famous letter to Axel Kaun, denounced grammar as "irrelevant," yet the third novel of the Trilogy, L'Innommable, is characterized by a style that frequently mimics the forms and formulations of the grammar drill. This article examines the function of such grammatical formalism in the context of the speaker's sense of imprisonment within an alien and alienating language and argues that Beckett here makes use of the discourse of language learning for subversive intent. The ostensible function of grammar is to prevent confusion, to ensure clarity; in L'Innommable, however, repetition and rote learning tend to empty words of meaning, and the grammar drill is as much a source of confusion as of clarity. Indeed, as this article demonstrates, Beckett in this novel might be seen to be subverting grammatical form not only to undermine language, but in order to work towards his aim "[t]o find a form that accommodates the mess."
Critical attention to the Beckettian poetics of silence and babble is divided between French modernists, who hear Beckettian silence and babble as a function of the metaphysics of absence (Bataille), and Irish modernists, who hear Beckettian silence and babble as a function of the politics of presence (W.J. McCormack). This article bridges such critical divisions by proposing a typology of Beckettian modes of listening: listening as a mode of poetic attention to the murmurs of voices which can no longer, or not yet, be fully apprehended (voices caught between the extremes of silence and noise, between absolute absence and full presence). Listening would not only be fundamental to the genealogy of Irish poetics that runs from the bilingual Beckett to his not entirely monolingual successors, Derek Mahon and Paul Muldoon, but fundamental to the critical genealogy that runs from the modernism of Bataille to the post-modern poetics of Jean-Luc Nancy.