The Blinding Torch: Modern British Fiction and the Discourse of Civilization

The Blinding Torch: Modern British Fiction and the Discourse of Civilization

The Blinding Torch: Modern British Fiction and the Discourse of Civilization

The Blinding Torch: Modern British Fiction and the Discourse of Civilization

Synopsis

"From the end of the nineteenth century until World War II, questions concerning the ideal nature and current state of "civilization" preoccupied the British public. In a provocative work of both cultural and literary criticism, Brian W. Shaffer explores this debate, showing how representative novels of five British modernists - Joseph Conrad, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Malcolm Lowry - address the same issues that engaged such social theorists as Herbert Spencer, Oswald Spengler, Clive Bell, and Sigmund Freud. In examining the intersection of literary discourse and cultural rhetoric, Shaffer draws on the interpretative strategies of Mikhail Bakhtin, Terry Eagleton, Clifford Geertz, and others. He demonstrates that such disparate fictions as Heart of Darkness, The Secret Agent, The Plumed Serpent, Dubliners, Ulysses, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Under the Volcano all portray civilization in the paradoxical image of blindness and insight, obfuscation and enlightenment - as a blinding torch that captivates the eye while it obscures vision." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

The question . . . which now arises is whether literature -- in relation to history or society -- reflects something special that neither philosophies of history nor sociological theories are able to capture. . . .

As the product of a particular culture, literature draws life from tensions with and impacts on the cultural context from which it has emerged. It intervenes in its real environment and establishes its uniqueness not least by highlighting its otherness in relation to the situations that have conditioned it. In this manner it adumbrates new regions that it inscribes into the already charted topography of culture. -- Iser, Toward a Literary Anthropology

Art will live on only as long as it has the power to resist society. . . . What it contributes to society is not some directly communicable content but something more mediate, i.e. resistance. Resistance reproduces social development in aesthetic terms without directly imitating it. Radical modernism preserves the immanence of art by letting society into . . .

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