Modernist itineraries: Gender, geography, genre

Author: 
Chu, Patricia Ellen
Year: 
1997

     This project reassesses two critical assumptions that definitions of Anglo-American high modernism tend to make: (1) that avant-garde technique is the dominant and defining trait of modernism and (2) that avant-garde technique is the only adequate response to "the modern" represented by such phenomena as the cultural juxtapositions and consumer culture of the metropolitan context and political or social displacement. When paired, these assumptions imply that writers who have not mastered an innovative aesthetic have failed to understand their historical moment and come into literary and intellectual adulthood.
     Travel, or "displacement" has become a metaphor in modernist criticism for movement and new experiences within language. It points, also, of course, to the physical locations of exiles such as Joyce, Eliot and Pound. The modernist "exiles" and "alienation" examined, however, tend to be limited to men's travels to and from the major European and American cities and within elite cultural production. My project historicizes and expands the notion of displacement which structures our current understanding of modernism. I recognize that travel metaphor carries all its formations with it into literary criticism--imperial discourses of exploration and conquest, of domestic women and traveling men, of non-whites and other natives as immovable both in time and space, the undisturbed dichotomies of citizen/alien and tourist/traveler. Using theories of tourism and the literary history of travel writing, I reroute modernism through geographies we usually don't recognize as modernist--rural America, Denmark, Yugoslavia, India, Haiti. Using texts by Sara Jeanette Duncan, Katherine Mansfield, Nella Larsen, Rebecca West, Ellen Glasgow and Zora Neale Hurston, I focus closely on how questions of national identity and citizenship affect narrative subjectivity. I argue that these writers work with "realist" genres such as journalism, ethnography, travel narrative and mapmaking to produce "modernist" texts, expanding the definition of modernism beyond the presence or absence of linguistic technology.

Advisor(s): 
Warren, Kenneth W.