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Title:The phantom of joy: Emotion, affect, and the problem of persistence in modernist literature
Author(s):Truran, Wendy J.
Director of Research:Mahaffey, Vicki
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Mahaffey, Vicki
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Frost, Samantha; Gaedtke, Andrew; Rodriguez, Richard T
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
modernist literature
W.B. Yeats
James Joyce
May Sinclair
Mina Loy
Abstract:My dissertation, “The Phantom of Joy: Emotion, Affect, and the Problem of Persistence in Modernist Literature,” investigates the potential of positive affects for physical and aesthetic persistence. I expose textual traces of joy within literary modernism and offer a perspective on affective modernism that challenges the accepted structure of feeling. I consider how modernist writers (W.B. Yeats, May Sinclair, James Joyce, Mina Loy) endeavor to produce a realignment of self and body that is expansive and joyful, though always in relation to intense negative affect. Bodies and feelings are highly contested and gendered domains, and in theorizing joy I foreground the importance of the corporeal, emotional, and affective in the act of thinking about writing, reading, and meaning making, thereby contributing to the rethinking of modernism as more complex and embodied than is currently assumed. My work considers the precarity of life, especially for women and writers who challenge social and sexual norms. Literary engagement with joy and joyful objects intrudes into the consciousness of both character and reader, demanding new attention to be paid - to people, to words, to things - and this refocusing can lead to a fresh perspective that offers the potentiality to persist. This dissertation challenges the dominant paradigm that characterizes modernism as unemotional, impersonal, and intellectual, and argues that analyzing and theorizing joy reveals modernism’s critical modes as inadequate to a complete understanding of modernist aesthetics. Modernist scholarship has typically defined the mood of the modernist movement as anxious, suspicious, and detached. In contrast my dissertation offers a different mode and mood of engagement in order to analyze modernist literature. I contribute an alternative ecology of modernist knowing, namely, to know feelingly. I offer an analysis that uses close reading and close attention to “have eyes to see” positive affect and emotion. I posit that experiencing moments of joy, no matter how brief and contingent, can help us sustain intersubjective relationships, and that in experiencing moments of joy, subjects are able to reaffirm an energetic commitment to life. Each writer I discuss, namely W.B. Yeats, May Sinclair, James Joyce, and Mina Loy, cultivate episodes of joy that places them in a different relation to those feelings and objects that impinge upon them. Positive affects form a necessary part of life’s experience, a will-toward-life that offers an attachment to life. This is important because without attachment there is inaction and apathy, both personal and social. Moments of joy can be both a personal and political tool for continuance in the world. We must care, and have moments of intensity, in order to continue to engage with the unjust situations in which we find ourselves.
Issue Date:2019-07-02
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 Wendy J. Truran
Date Available in IDEALS:2019-11-26
Date Deposited:2019-08

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