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THE RHETORIC OF THE ORDINARY: MODERNISM AND THE LIMITS OF LITERATURE

Madden, Benjamin D. (2013) THE RHETORIC OF THE ORDINARY: MODERNISM AND THE LIMITS OF LITERATURE. PhD thesis, University of York.

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Abstract

This thesis contributes to the recent turn towards ordinary events, objects, and practices in scholarship on modernist literature. While modernism is typically characterized by formal experimentation and the aesthetics of shock, scholars are beginning to consider that many of the most potent energies animating modernism arise from its fascination with the ordinary. While this new approach has been productive, its tendency to minimise the rhetorical dimension of literature in favour of questions about content (what do modernist texts say about the ordinary?) and context (what ideas about the ordinary circulated in the period?) remains problematic. That is because these approaches neglect a potent contradiction: if literature uses figurative language to depict the ordinary, does it not thereby transfigure what it represents by bringing it within the “charmed circle” of art? Whatever else modernism is, it is clearly concerned with putting pressure on the means by which likenesses and illusions are produced. Modernist texts, I argue, are drawn to elaborate means to declaim their status as representations: a “rhetoric of not having rhetoric” is integral to modernist representations of the quotidian. Out of this generative paradox arises the succession of rhetorical strategies that this dissertation identifies in the works of T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Gertrude Stein, and James Joyce. Recent scholarship has set the terms for a comprehensive reassessment of literary modernism, which this thesis pursues through explorations of modernism’s relationship with realism, the avant-garde, mass culture, space and place, and the nature of modernity. My argument has specific ramifications for these ongoing debates in modernist studies, the relationship between rhetorical and historicist paradigms of literary criticism, and, above all, the fate of modernism: its legacies in twentieth century literature and its ongoing place in our public culture.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of York > English and Related Literature (York)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.595101
Depositing User: Dr. Benjamin D. Madden
Date Deposited: 07 Mar 2014 16:02
Last Modified: 08 Sep 2016 13:30
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/5213

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