"The View From No One: Woolf, Joyce, And The Problem Of Materialism In Modernist Fiction"

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Many forms of materialism, new and old, have lately offered highly visible avenues of critical and historical inquiry in modernist studies and in literary studies in general; there may now be as many materialisms as there are ideological ills in want of remedy. This dissertation takes as its point of departure a historical and intellectual discrepancy between the contemporary revival of materialism in the humanities and the prominent and typically explicit anti-materialism of modernist writers and artists, with particular attention to the fictions of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. Modernist aesthetic and intellectual culture, I argue, can be seen as staging materiality as a crucial site for complex negotiations of modernity, technology, selfhood, and the artwork. I explore how this negotiation unfolds in the space, and occasionally at the limits, of the novel. In these terms, I explain how the vocal antimaterialism of Woolf belies her fascination with the narrative figuration of materiality. My argument shows that this figuration is typically invested not in objects, things, or materials available to everyday experience, but in a non-phenomenological core of material being that can only be imagined as a force of erasure, destruction, loss, and finitude. I suggest that for Woolf, and for Joyce in a much different way, it is only a "view from no one" of disembodied spectatorship or eyeless sight that might be adequate to materiality in this sense. In readings of Woolf's To the Lighthouse and Between the Acts, I show how this insight provokes a literary crisis embodied in the problem of materialism, which will appear to be the novel's death sentence and its hopes for renewal at the same time. My reading of the "Ithaca" episode of Joyce's Ulysses departs from standard interpretations of Joycean materiality. I suggest that the problem of materialism in Joyce lies at the crux of a conception of the literary artwork existing between total idealization (the figure of the encyclopedia) and the extinction to which ideality is finally exposed. I propose that the genuine Joycean figure of materiality may be located in this aesthetic oscillation between knowledge and its erasure.
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materialism; Virginia Woolf; James Joyce
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Saccamano, Neil Charles
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Gilgen, Peter
Cohen, Walter Isaac
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Comparative Literature
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Ph. D., Comparative Literature
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Government Document
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dissertation or thesis
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