Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: Fascinated Moderns: the Attentions of Modern Fiction
Authors: Aronowicz, Yaron Shlomo
Advisors: DiBattista, Maria
Cheng, Anne
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: American literature 0591
British and Irish literature 0593
Modern literature 0298
Subjects: Literature
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: In Fascinated Moderns: the Attentions of Modern Fiction, I identify attention as an organizing concern of modernist fiction. In essays on Woolf, Lawrence, Stein and Larsen, my dissertation examines a distinctly modernist trope of fascinatated attention. For these authors fascination shifts from being mostly descriptive of an evil force that robs the subject of her volition and becomes what Maurice Blanchot describes as an "indeterminate realm" where "what you see, even though from a distance seems to touch you with a grasping contact." In other words, if one of the problems of attention is that one gets tired of paying it, fascination is a way for these writers to imagine a world that attends to the subject. Modernist fiction organizes the desires of its characters, and of its readers, through the experience of fascinated absorption. The experience and depiction of fascination allows the modernist novel to make desires that do not necessarily end in satisfaction into the central motivating force of its fictions. Fascination names the experience of ambivalent desire. The fascinated are repulsed and attracted to what absorbs their attention. Fascination organizes ambivalent desires into meaningful experiences without relying on a desire's consequences to give it meaning. My chapters are organized as studies of characters and it is my argument that rather than think of characters as subjects that attend to the world, as if the subjects were in control of their own attention, Woolf, Lawrence, Stein and Larsen think of character as the affect of modes of attention. For example Stein's "Melanctha Herbert was always losing what she had in wanting all the things she saw." This way of relating to the world that defines Melanctha's character entirely is produced both by the kind of attention she gives to the world and the kind of attention she feels the world gives her. Character thus becomes a nexus of attentive forces. In this way, the modernists that came after Conrad extend the logic of Lord Jim to radically redefine what it means to be a fictional character. The chapters that make up this dissertation fall into two basic modes. In my first chapter and my coda, I explore how fascination came to be associated with particular character traits. For Woolf, fascination is most profoundly associated with ageing and feminity. And her most iconic figure of fascination is Mrs. Brown, from her well-known manifesto "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown," whom she describes as "a figure of endless fascination." But, in the same movement, Woolf's old lady is defined less by age and gender than "an attitude to life" and a position of neglect - the old lady is the figure in the corner, who has an "overwhelming fascination" for anyone that might "look at her" but who is nonetheless neglected, in need of a champion. Woolf takes center stage in my dissertation because she offers the most explicit and evocative articulation of fascination as a particularly novelistic form of attention. Her engagement with fascination is in a sense the most theoretically clear of all the modernists because she does this throughout her career, not only in her novels but also in her essays. "Old Lady Modernism" reads Woolf's essay in order to understand her novels. Woolf's old ladies are united by their capacity for a kind of absorptive attention Woolf names "fascination." Old ladies are at once fascinated and fascinating; they are central to Woolf's intertwined aesthetic, feminist, and social project. My second and third chapters on Mrs. Dalloway and Women in Love examine the consequences particular kinds of attention have on these novels' characters. I show how Mrs. Dalloway shows attention's problem and promises by depicting characters whose attentive practices engage the world and protect themselves in different ways. In that chapter, I offer a taxonomy of modernist attention ranging from the paranoid to the fascinated. One of the most powerful things about Mrs. Dalloway is that it depicts how so-called pathological forms of attention like Ms. Kilman's absorption are actually solutions to attention's difficulties. In Mrs. Dalloway, desire's ambivalence can never be successfully resolved, even in fantasy. Fascination in this novel offers a mode of structuring a character's relation to desire not by directing it towards resolution, but rather by realizing it in a moment, a time without consequences. In my chapter on Women in Love, I show how Lawrence finds in attention's oscillating structure, its waxing and waning, a new way to conceptualize relationships of ambivalence and of love. For Lawrence, fascination is a kind of attention that manages simultaneous feelings of attraction and repulsion. These novels present a dark image of fascination as engendering the longing to destroy the object of one's unrealized enthrallment. In their portrayal of love between characters of radically different ages, the same-sex, and with unspeakable desires, these novels multiply the reasons for loves' failure, making failure ambient to the plot of love. An atmosphere of misrecognition, cruelty and catastrophe surrounds love in these novels, which grapple with what becomes of love when its classical organizing plot, the marriage plot, had reached an impasse. Considering Nella Larsen's Quicksand and Stein's Melanctha as scenes of interracial encounter, my coda takes on fascination in its American context. I argue that Stein and Larsen's novels develop a language of fascination to describe the attentions and desires of racially ambivalent beings. Larsen and Stein come to think of fascination as a raced form of attention. Melanctha and Quicksand turn to fascination because they are deeply invested in imagining a kind of attention that the subject does not have to pay for. In these novels, fascination is presented as a dangerous and restorative experience. For Melanctha and Helga Crane the experience of fascination at least feels like the world is attending to them. Thus, while Helga especially is overwhelmed and horrified by what fascinates her, the black church for example, her moments of fascination provide her a sense of relief from an attention she cannot afford to pay. By maintaining intensity through ambivalence, fascination combines absorption's solitary dreaminess and eroticism's relational poignancy; it is thus a compelling way to describe characters alone in their desires.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

Files in This Item:
File Description SizeFormat 
Aronowicz_princeton_0181D_10721.pdf773.37 kBAdobe PDFView/Download

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.