The Death of the Book: Modernist Novels and the Time of Reading

The Death of the Book: Modernist Novels and the Time of Reading

The Death of the Book: Modernist Novels and the Time of Reading

The Death of the Book: Modernist Novels and the Time of Reading

Synopsis

An examination of the ways major novels by Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf draw attention to their embodiment in the object of the book, The Death of the Book considers how bookish format plays a role in some of the twentieth century's most famous literary experiments. Tracking the passing of time in which reading unfolds, these novels position the book's so-called death in terms that refer as much to a simple description of its future vis-a-vis other media forms as to the sense of finitude these books share with and transmit to their readers.

As he interrogates the affective, physical, and temporal valences of literature's own traditional format and mode of access, John Lurz shows how these novels stage intersections with the phenomenal world of their readers and develop a conception of literary experience not accounted for by either rigorously historicist or traditionally formalist accounts of the modernist period. Bringing together issues of media and mediation, book history, and modernist aesthetics, The Death of the Book offers a new and deeper understanding of the way we read now.

Excerpt

In the end this is a book about reading books. Indeed it is about the end of book reading—or, as my title proclaims, about what is so often and so lightly called its “death.” It examines the ways that the experimental novels of Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf imagine a particular relationship between literature and extraliterary “life” by exploring the dynamic between an embodied readerly subject and the physical object of the book. Analyzing the varied metaphorics mobilized by these novels to highlight the book’s materiality, these reflections on the book’s mediation of a literary text insistently involve a more serious meditation on transience and temporal progress than is implied in the glib forecasts of its demise. In doing so they trace a temporality of reading based less in the subjective experience of time than in an impersonal ephemerality with which both reader and book are bound up. As I reveal the determining role played by reading—and specifically reading books—in these novels’ famed interrogation of the subject’s status in the world, I cut across current debates surrounding aesthetic autonomy, modernist temporality, and the relation between literary and media studies. Ultimately developing a particularly modernist conception of literary experience not accounted for by either rigorously historicist or traditionally formalist accounts of the period, my project investigates a set of twentiethcentury considerations of what it means that the texts we read are embodied in and mediated by the object of the book.

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