Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Literary modernism is often defined by a stylistic distinctiveness generated by experiments in subject and form. Given that these experiments necessarily break with convention, how are we to make sense of this style without those conventions to guide us? In “The Nets of Style: Shaping Modernist Literary Narrative,” I reveal how critical definitions of modernist style often rely on the individualist poses struck and critical pronouncements made by modernists themselves. My research is situated in a body of work in modernist studies that argue, as Paul Sheehan does in Modernism and the Aesthetics of Violence, that “modernism seeks to transform the world through sheer style, to awaken consciousness to itself through a violent renovation of language and literary form” (6). For these readings, style is the creation of the singular antagonistic artist disrupting the status quo—the artist purportedly maintains autonomy while affecting the world around her. These readings are one valid way of reading the style of modernism as a trace of authorial intent but, I argue, ultimately serve to reinforce modernist self-narratives of cultural authority. In place of this, I offer a social theory of style to imagine new ways of defining this notoriously troublesome textual feature, starting from the theories of Jacques Rancière and Pierre Bourdieu and the observation that what we identify as style and how we understand and use it is determined by a cultural and social value system of which we ourselves, as critics and scholars, are part. I call attention to the primary role style plays in giving shape to that cultural hierarchy, while questioning the role literary criticism plays in describing, and thus granting meaning and value to, that style. Joyce’s style in Ulysses, for example, is often read as a distinctive and unsettling voice, but the voice’s capacity to unsettle is generated from our reliance on style as an indication of the writer in the text, our recognition of Joyce the unsettler; my reading of the social nature of style allows us to bring the reader back into the experience of the modernist text as more than just a passive shock victim. In other words, I consider how the meaning of style is generated when readers respond to texts that are hostile to normative response.
Chair and Committee
Melanie Micir, Anca Parvulescu, Mark Rollins, Julia Walker,
Oman, Kelly Lynn, "The Nets of Style: Shaping Modernist Literary Narrative" (2017). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1202.