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The Smell of Modernism: Metaphor and the Olfactory, 1900-1945

Neill, Crispian Robert Thomas (2016) The Smell of Modernism: Metaphor and the Olfactory, 1900-1945. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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This thesis examines the representation of odour throughout European literary modernism and other, interrelated fields of cultural production. While the introduction acknowledges Western culture’s traditional subordination of olfaction and smell’s ostensible alienation from language, this study argues that odour and language simultaneously display compelling similarities. Chapter One examines Freud’s influence in determining the modern conception of olfaction, as a figure of comparison with D. H. Lawrence and Bronislaw Malinowski. Freud’s placement of odour as culturally and evolutionarily retrograde is questioned in Chapter Two, which notes the projected technological mastery of olfaction as a trope of utopian fiction, demonstrated in the writing of Aldous Huxley and John Gloag. Chapter Three shifts away from the identification of malodour as a source of modern anxiety to consider the dual commercial and aesthetic significance of perfume. However, these divergent encodings of odour are unified by literary modernism’s persistent recruitment of olfaction as a metaphorical resource; the language of odour denotes a perceived inarticulable quiddity at the heart of the aesthetic object, a feature offered theoretical context by the writing of Walter Benjamin. Chapters Four and Five develop the congruence between the formal properties of odour and language by addressing ‘canonical’ modernist literary encodings of olfaction. Proust’s elision of the role of the sensorily-informed writer with that of the translator supports the consonance of language and odour, a contention further extended in Chapter Five, which considers the olfactory representations of Joyce, and his recognition of the ambiguous semiology of odour as a marker of personal identity. Finally, a conclusion emphasises this study’s extension of the field of modernist olfactory representation beyond Joyce and Proust. The shared semiological instability exhibited by odours and language supports the broader recuperation of olfaction as a particularly apposite modernist sense modality.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: modernism, literature, smell, olfaction, aesthetics, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, D. H. Lawrence
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of English (Leeds)
Depositing User: Dr Crispian Neill
Date Deposited: 23 Jan 2017 12:12
Last Modified: 15 Oct 2018 13:21
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/15992

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