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Monday, January 12, 2009

I'm a big fan of the blog ads without products—they're doing good work. Take for instance their two most recent posts, "simple modernism" and "Ulysses and the past disaster", which together make a tight little argument about modernist literary production:

When I claim that preoccupation with the everyday is one of the defining characteristics of modernist narrative, I mean the everyday that takes place in lieu of or in resistance to the event. Or even better, the everyday is what takes the place where we would normally expect to find the event - the historical event, yes, but more specifically - technically - the action that turns and in turning provokes reflection that is the most fundamentally characteristic gesture of narrative itself. It would be utterly easy, in certain sense, and utterly literary, in a specific sense, to organize narratives that deal directly with the events of the period: colonial brutality, the advent of total war, bureaucratization verging on dehumanizing totalitarianism. War and sex, violence and news all give themselves to retelling in fiction - but for some reason, the most memorable texts of the most memorable period of fictional production during the past century and a half refuse to take the bait.
This is a place where "sophisticated literary device" and "plain old authorial failure" can sometimes be hard to differentiate, which is why Aw/oP turns to the final page of Ulysses and what Franco Moretti has to say about the book in Signs Taken for Wonders. It's by no means a perfect or final reading of the book—it dramatically undervalues, I think, the overawing transformative potential of everyday sensory experience, which in Ulysses is the only thing of any value in the world, as the aside on epiphanic handjobs implicitly admits—but it's an interesting and worthwhile one.