Hello, all you MIAs…..

The post below is in response to Ivette’s post (which occurs among the “comments” section under my post about your final project).  You might first take a quick glance at Ivette’s notes there, so that this will make sense to you.  If you have questions/comments, please do NOT post them under “comments.”  Post them as actual posts on the blog, please, otherwise they get lost! 


Ivette –

Some of the notes here are really unrelated, and I only WISH I had the kind of memory that would allow me to remember what I have to do from one minute to the next, let alone the kind that would remember a lecture from March 6.  That being said, let’s see how much of this I can “translate” for you.

Affect theory is a theory that comes out of psychology, and which literary criticism has picked up and applied to literary studies (obviously) in the last decade or so.  It is based on the idea that all human beings have “affect”—not quite feelings, not quite emotions, but something even more primal than that… And that literature can tap into affect, can use it, can call upon it, portray it, etc., and that affect theory is one reasonable “lens” through which literary critics can read/interpret literature… (It’s an old notion, actually, that goes back to a philosopher named Spinoza, but let’s not get side-tracked.)  Some affect theorists make a distinction between feeling, emotion, and affect.  They say that feelings require a personal history—they’re individual; emotions are culturally determined or bound up; affect, however, is “pre-personal”—almost primal… belonging to some other “realm.”  (Take that as you will….)  Why we were talking about affect theory, God only knows….

The tenets or principles of Modernism you can gather from various lectures as well as one list I handed out with 7-8 tenets which I then elaborated on; Ezra Pound’s “Imagist Manifesto”; the list we made of Yeats’ contributions to Modernism; a list that you guys made together in class, which you wrote up on the board.  Other lecture notes should help, as well.  From all these, you should be able to cull a list of the tenets of Modernism.  Yes, “make it new” was one of the resounding calls of Modernism, made famous by Ezra Pound.  Here is a great little article from The New Yorker (I’ll post it on the blog again) by one of my old professors, Louis Menand, who is at Harvard now, that might be interesting to read–he is one of the foremost living scholars of Modernism in the world: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2008/06/09/080609crbo_books_menand.  Breaking away from the “order” (that is, the poetic order) of the past is what Pound (and other Modernists) aimed for.  As for the bit in your notes about “older order that isn’t really order,” I’m not sure what that means….

You have there the word “aftertext” among your notes.  An after-text is a rewriting of an old story, taking the story in a new direction.  So, for example, there’s the famous story by Charlotte Bronte called Jane Eyre—a Victorian novel published in 1847.  In that book, there’s a character named Bertha Mason.  When we meet her, she has already lost her mind and is locked up in the attic of a mansion; she is not a focal point of the story.  We don’t know what happened to Bertha, how she lost her mind, what she was like when she was well, etc.  Jean Rhys, a Modern(ist) writer from the Caribbean takes the story of Jane Eyre and says about Bertha, “Here’s an unexplored, side character that Bronte didn’t pay much attention to…. What would happen if I wrote the behind-the-scenes story of Bertha, which Bronte doesn’t write?”  And so, she writes a novel called Wide Sargasso Sea, based on the text of Jane Eyre, which serves as the story of Bertha Mason before she lost her mind.  That’s an example of an after-text.  It’s a Modernist move… a way of “making it new.”  I don’t know why, exactly, I was telling you about this in class. 

Impressions and intuitions are very important for the reader of Modernist texts because Modernists are not going to come along and tell you what they “mean” or what you should think or feel about a text.  Remember that they don’t believe in the possibility of that kind of “sense”—in the possibility that the chaotic world can have coherent meaning.  So they refuse to tell you exactly what things are… So you have to allow just an outline, a silhouette, a possible meaning, an adumbration, a hint, a shadow of something rather than the exact thing itself…. We arrive at approximations of meaning in Modernism (think of “The Waste Land” and how you only get a “sense” of what he’s talking about; think of Crane’s “Brooklyn Bridge”). 

Now, subjectivity is important (for a reader) to the extent that we all make our own, subjective meanings of things—of what we read.  Subjectivity of the writer was also important for the earlier poets like Edward Thomas, Thomas Hardy, A. E. Housman, etc., who were trying to break away from the Victorian notion that poetry should be written for society’s sake… But as the century turned, the later Modernists (like Pound and Eliot) rejected the importance of the writer’s subjectivity.  They were after universality, against autobiography, against the Romantic idea that lyric poetry is the space of the poet’s personal expression, etc.  There was something greater at stake for Pound and Eliot than expressions of (personal) interiority. So, they rejected subjectivity.  (This later opens up the way for postmodernism, which argues that there is no “subject” to begin with–no unified, coherent, individuated consciousness.  Postmodernism says that the very idea of subjectivity is a fiction–a lie!)

Regarding the omniscient third-person narrator…. I think here I was providing an example of how Modernist texts (novels or short stories in this case) reject the “old order.”  Before Modernism, stories were written with linear plot points (beginning, middle, end), and a conventional narrator—either a third-person omniscient narrator, a first-person narrator, a third-person limited narrator, etc…. With the advent of Modernism, people like James Joyce and William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf and others subverted not only the linearity of a narrative, but also all previous conceptions of narration—of the narrative voice.  Woolf experimented with what it would be like to write a story in the way we think when we talk to ourselves in our heads; that’s called stream of consciousness writing.  So her stories are often disjointed, just as your natural thoughts would be, throughout the day.  Faulkner writes the same story over and over again from the various perspectives of his various characters, and you go along reading, not realizing you’re reading the same narration over and over, except from different points of view.  “Midnight Train” was an example of this kind of multiple narration (it’s a movie.)  “The Waste Land” is a prime example of a multiply-narrated text, right?  So many voices….

Fragmentation, alienation, loss of wholeness are conditions of modernity, not tenets of Modernism, right?  As far as your quote goes, let’s correct that: “the fact that everyone is alone is together.”  What I said here is that the fact that each of us is alone is the only shared fact in life!  That is, we are all united in the fact of our solitude.  Make sense?  Is there something more you wanted me to say about fragmentation, alienation, loss of wholeness….? 

So…. I hope this clarifies some of what you had.  Ask me more directly, please, if there are other questions that need clarification. 

Thanks very much for this, Ivette, and let’s keep the conversation going!