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

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

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

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

Synopsis

This book examines the writing of catastrophe, mass death, and collective loss in twentieth-century literature and criticism. With particular focus on texts by Woolf, Benjamin, and Sebald, it engages the century's preoccupation with "world-ending," a mixed rhetoric of totality and rupture, finitude and survival, the end and its posthumous remainders. The spectacle of world-ending proliferates as a form of desire, an ambivalent compulsion to consume and outlive the end of all. In conversation with discussions of the century's passion for the real, the author reads the century's obsession with negative forms of ending and outcome. Drawing connections between current interest in trauma and the sublime, she reframes the terms of the modernist experiment and its aesthetics from the lens of a late sublime.

Excerpt

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 the conditions necessary for survival,” supposing such a newly attained capability for autodestruction to be already under way, how are we to locate, think, and call on the humanity presumed responsible and said to have put itself at risk? How to represent, anticipate, mourn the fictive collectivity of (posthumous, remainderless, futureless) humanity? Literary criticism, and so-called nuclear criticism in particular, has taken up the fantasy of such an unprecedented, all-encompassing, and remainderless end, and the problems it raises for thinking the last and unsurvivable event, the event that would break with all thought and any writing of the event. Maurice Blanchot and Jacques Derrida, among others, have questioned the launching rhetoric of the “new” apocalypse, along with its privative constitution of collective belonging, of a humanity joined in the spectacular threat of a . . .

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