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Abstract

This dissertation is about time, narrative, and war. It examines changes in the registration and the representation of time provoked by the protracted war of attrition of 1914-1918 and its prolonged consequences throughout the 1920s and 1930s. What I call stuckness in time is the paralyzed awareness of duration without a complementary sense of advancement in event, action, or plot. Against characterizations that cast modernism as obsessed with speed, novelty, mobility, and instantaneity, I pose the situation of a war that stretched from weeks to years in a scenario of dragging cataclysm, spatial sprawl, and little strategic gain. Through readings of authors including Ford Madox Ford, Elizabeth Bowen, Rebecca West, T. S. Eliot, and Samuel Beckett, I ask the question of how narrative form—considered since Aristotle to comprise the representation of an action—represents the predicament of temporal continuation in the absence of perceptible action or defined eventfulness. What happens when time continues but plot and progress stop? ,In Parade’s End, the veteran Ford uses his experiences of frontline sound in 1916 to depict not only the sudden wound of trauma but also its perpetuation in the psyche. For Rebecca West and Elizabeth Bowen, the embedded histories of bodies and objects non-discursively register stuckness in time. I connect the uncanny bodies of their postwar fictions to major public discourses of mourning and monumentalization. In my third chapter, I examine T. S. Eliot’s early poetics in relation to postwar problems with historiography. Eliot’s notion of tradition takes the literary canon out of the “immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history,” into an ideal, eternal order. In my final chapter, Samuel Beckett’s early writing and thinking asks what plot can look like when causality is abandoned, and how continuation can be represented when neither the past nor the future can be accessed.

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