Mourning Modernism: Literature, Catastrophe, and the Politics of Consolation

Mourning Modernism: Literature, Catastrophe, and the Politics of Consolation

Lecia Rosenthal
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Mourning Modernism: Literature, Catastrophe, and the Politics of Consolation
    Book Description:

    Mourning Modernism: Literature, Catastrophe, and the Politics of Consolation examines the writing of catastrophe, mass death, and collective loss in 20th-century literature and criticism. With particular focus on texts by Virginia Woolf, Walter Benjamin, and W.G. Sebald, Mourning Modernism engages the century's signal preoccupation with world-ending,a mixed rhetoric of totality and rupture, finitude and survival, the end and its posthumous remainders. Fascinated with the threat of apocalypse, the century proliferates the spectacle of world-ending as a form of desire, an ambivalent compulsion to consume and outlive the end of all.In conversation with recent discussions of the century's passion for the real, and taking on the century's late aesthetics of subtraction, Mourning Modernism reads the century's obsession with negative forms of ending and outcome. Drawing connections between the current interest in the category of trauma and the tradition of the sublime, Mourning Modernism reframes the terms of the modernist experiment and its aesthetics of the breaking-point from the lens of a late sublime.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4891-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    This book focuses on the writing of finitude and catastrophe in the twentieth century, taking as its point of departure the oft-repeated, epochalizing characterization of the century as a turning point in the history of violence and destruction, or the pivotal yet ambivalent claim that for the first time in the history of the world, humanity has the power to bring about the end of human life, to annihilate the human as species and ideal. If it “was during the last century that humanity became capable of destroying itself, whether directly through nuclear war or indirectly through the alteration of...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Catastrophe Culture, Atrocity Supplements
    (pp. 8-41)

    In its edition of April 28, 1945,The Illustrated London Newspublished a “four-page detachable supplement.” The additional pages came with small print: “N.B.—This four-page detachable supplement contains photographic evidence of the sadistic brutalities practiced by the Germans at various internment camps now in Allied hands. These revelations of coldly-calculated massacre and torture are given as a record for all time of German crimes, and are intended for our adult readers only. Our subscribers with young families whom they would not desire to see the photographs, can remove these pages, which are easily detachable, by a sharp pull, from...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Virginia Woolf: Reading Remains
    (pp. 42-70)

    One might want to forgive modernist criticism its recurring preoccupation with war. I say this to advance my sympathies, to lend common cause with the impossible task of historicizing a discourse that typically, if such generic description can hold, wants to reinvent itself by rejecting the unmanageable weight and unprofitable inheritance of history. There is indeed something irritating yet inevitably seductive about the contradictions and complexity of the modernist moment, a densely turbulent, contested periodizing category that coincides, whatever the instability of its dates, with the proliferation of all manner of unprecedented achievements, many of them the destructive, scandalous (though...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Walter Benjamin on Radio: Catastrophe for Children
    (pp. 71-88)

    Virginia Woolf and Walter Benjamin may have in common more than the fact that both ended their lives in the peculiar, and inevitably disturbing, death-event called suicide.¹ As essayists and readers, both resist the lure of mastery, producing works that take pleasure in the accumulation and deepening of recursive thought. Woolf refuses almost every form of allegiance, and while Benjamin vacillates between calls of affiliation (marxism, Jewish theology, messianism, Zionism, the bonds of kinship and friendship), his identification with and understanding of the demands of any one structure, cause, or system remain uneasy and ambivalent. Defined in negative alignment, both...

  9. CHAPTER 4 On the Late Sublime: W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn
    (pp. 89-111)

    In the late 1970s, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched the twinVoyagerspace vehicles, the interplanetary mission carried a truly far-out, indefinitely addressedenvoi. Aboard each probe was an object called a Golden Record, a name appropriately resonant with the project’s quasi-Frazerian cosmo-anthropological syncretism and presumably as unintentional as the implied relays between magic, kitsch, and science. What is this so-named object? After seeing its image, one might be tempted to say that the phrase is literal enough: Flat, circular, and gold, the object looks something like the LPs of the time.¹ Yet, even understood as audio-phonic...

  10. Toward a Conclusion: The In-Exhaustible Catastrophe
    (pp. 112-118)

    We live in an age of exhaustion. That the lament of being exhausted has itself become excruciatingly tired and tiring is all to the point. What remains to be said about the rhetoric and politics of exhaustion, particularly after so many have declaimed the exhaustion of language, the end of art, the beginning of the end of one history or another? Ours is an epoch of proliferating epochalizations, an era suspended in multiplicities of belatedness and the indeterminacy of the post-as prefix: posthistorical, postrepresentation, postmodern, poststructuralist, postmillennial, postapocalyptic, postsecular, postcolonial, postfeminist, postwar, postevolutionary, postmarxist, postpolitical, posthumanist, postironic, posttraumatic, postindustrial, postnational,...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 119-156)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 157-160)