The senses of modernism : Technology, perception, and modernist aesthetics

Abstract: This study argues that there is a constitutive relationship between technological change and literary modernism. Moving within a historical trajectory that extends from 1880 to 1930, The Senses of Modernism proposes that high-modernist aesthetics is inseparable from a newly emergent and technologically mediated crisis of the senses. Sparked by innovations such as chronophotography, phonography, radiography, cinematography, and technologies of speed, this perceptual crisis ultimately cuts across the question of art as such.The inquiry follows two separate yet interrelated paths: a theoretical path and a critical-interpretive one. Three literary works are subjected to close textual analysis, and all narrate the radical changes that affect culture, high and low, in the age of technological reproducibility: Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927), Thomas Mann's Der Zauberberg (1924), and James Joyce's Ulysses (1922). Exploring how perception, notably sight and hearing, is staged in these works, the textual analyses trace how categories of perceiving and knowing are reconfigured in a historical situation in which technological devices are capable of storing, transmitting, and reproducing sense data. The Senses of Modernism thus exposes a critical moment in the history of aesthetics, and offers the hypothesis that the progressive internalization of technological matrices of perception ultimately signifies a shift from idealist theories of aesthetic experience to materialist ones.The dissertation concludes that because the operations of a variety of technoscientific innovations can be shown to inscribe themselves in the specific idioms and procedures that, according to a common view of modernism, define the quintessence of high-modernist aesthetics, the terms in which traditional historiographies of modernism are couched will have to be reconsidered, in particular the notion of aesthetic autonomy and the influential presupposition that there is a divide between a merely technological culture and a more properly aesthetic culture. The Senses of Modernism thus opens up a new domain in the study of modernist aesthetics, at the same time contributing to recent efforts at theorizing the intersections of modernity and modernism.

  This dissertation MIGHT be available in PDF-format. Check this page to see if it is available for download.