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Virtual Modernism

Virtual Modernism: Writing and Technology in the Progressive Era

Katherine Biers
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Virtual Modernism
    Book Description:

    InVirtual Modernism, Katherine Biers offers a fresh view of the emergence of American literary modernism from the eruption of popular culture in the early twentieth century. Employing dynamic readings of the works of Stephen Crane, Henry James, James Weldon Johnson, Djuna Barnes, and Gertrude Stein, she argues that American modernist writers developed a "poetics of the virtual" in response to the rise of mass communications technologies before World War I. These authors' modernist formal experimentation was provoked by the immediate, individualistic pleasures and thrills of mass culture. But they also retained a faith in the representational power of language-and the worth of common experience-more characteristic of realism and naturalism. In competition with new media experiences such as movies and recorded music, they simultaneously rejected and embraced modernity.

    Biers establishes the virtual poetics of these five writers as part of a larger "virtual turn" in the United States, when a fascination with the writings of Henri Bergson, William James, and vitalist philosophy-and the idea of virtual experience-swept the nation.Virtual Modernismcontends that a turn to the virtual experience oflanguagewas a way for each of these authors to carve out a value for the literary, both with and against the growth of mass entertainments. This technologically inspired reengagement with experience was formative for American modernism.

    Situated at the crossing points of literary criticism, philosophy, media studies, and history,Virtual Modernismprovides an examination of Progressive Era preoccupations with the cognitive and corporeal effects of new media technologies that traces an important genealogy of present-day concerns with virtuality.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8758-9
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. INTRODUCTION: The Promise of the Virtual
    (pp. 1-34)

    Henry James’s 1898 novella “In the Cage” follows the travails of an impoverished young female telegraph operator working at a busy post office in a fashionable district of London. She gets through her day by indulging alternately in romantic fantasies and world-weary cynicism about two well-heeled customers who are using her as a go-between to conduct an adulterous affair. But working at top speed to code their handwritten messages and those of the larger “herd” gives her little time to think. So sometimes she slows down her work in order to read and interpret what she is only supposed to...

  4. CHAPTER 1 Stephen Crane’s Abilities
    (pp. 35-70)

    Stephen crane has long been hard to place within a specific literary tradition or period. His commitment to portraying social types and typical events in his fiction, his interest in embodied cognition, his preoccupation with problems of faith and skepticism, and his drive to experience the “strenuous life” all place him firmly within the canon of the realists and naturalists. Yet his impressionistic style, so redolent of film and photography, along with his fascination with the mediated nature of perception and with the shocks administered by war, have made him, for many, a herald of the international modernist movement in...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Realizing Trilby: Henry James, George du Maurier, and the Intermedial Scene
    (pp. 71-108)

    In his novelAuthor, Author!, a fictionalized treatment of Henry James’s life during the difficult, transitional phase of his career in the mid-1890s, David Lodge tells the story of James’s struggle with declining sales and a faltering playwriting career by focusing on his friendship with illustrator and novelist George du Maurier. Du Maurier’s sudden, stunning success as the author of the wildly popular novelTrilby(1894), which was adapted many times for the stage, fills the James character with jealousy, social and sexual insecurity, and a longing for recognition. Redemption comes only when James learns to impart the principle of...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Syncope Fever: James Weldon Johnson and the Black Phonographic Voice
    (pp. 109-138)

    James weldon Johnson’s 1912The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Manis commonly read as a modernist novel of black alienation.¹ It chronicles the life of a black ragtime piano player and composer during the so-called nadir of race relations in America who tries and fails to achieve legitimacy for classical music based on black folk songs. “Excolored man” is light-skinned enough to “pass,” and occasionally does. But over the course of the novel—and particularly when playing ragtime—he is exploited by whites as a kind of human phonograph, in ways he doesn’t seem quite to acknowledge. After witnessing a...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Wonder and Decay: Djuna Barnes’s New York
    (pp. 139-172)

    Although there were many former journalists among the crowd of expatriate American women writers living in Paris during the storied 1920s and 1930s, by the time she arrived in 1921, Djuna Barnes, the author of the much-acclaimed modernist novelNightwood(1936), had had a particularly dramatic career. Like several of her contemporaries, Barnes had written for magazines such asVanity Fair, Theater Guild, and theNew Yorkerbefore leaving the United States and continued to do so from abroad. However, in contrast to her often more genteel contemporaries on the left bank, she had also written for nearly every newspaper...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Gertrude Stein Talking
    (pp. 173-198)

    During the fall of 1934, Gertrude Stein returned to America from Paris for the first time in thirty-one years in order to undertake a publicity tour promoting her work. Stein had long been notorious, particularly in the American press, for her obscure writing, but the popularity ofThe Autobiography of Alice B. Toklastook her celebrity to a new level. Her brooding profile had appeared on the cover ofTimethe previous year, with a quotation taken fromToklasas a caption: “My sentences do get under their skin.”¹ Twelve front-page columns and copious photographs in New York’s daily newspapers...

  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 199-200)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 201-256)
  11. Index
    (pp. 257-272)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-273)