Four essays on excess and fragmentation in modernism

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
David Mercer Bufter (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Mary Ellis Gibson

Abstract: In these essays, the object of inquiry is the multifaceted interplay of part and whole, especially with reference to the individual's relationship to society. The first section, on Algernon Charles Swinburne, is centered on Julia Kristeva's concept of the abject, which is concerned with boundaries, the intolerable which cannot be ignored, the criminal who flaunts his crimes, the repetitive obsessions that can turn into fascination and masochism. In Swinburne's world, love is not generative, although passion exists in excess. Along with the sexual deviations (sado-masochism, lesbianism, incest, necrophilia) that are a hallmark of Swinburne's poetry, sterility and infertility mark the erotic relationships that he presents in his earliest and most famous collection, Poems and Ballads (1866). This focus on sterility challenges Victorian ideology in its refusal to endorse values of family and reproduction. This interest is further involved in Swinburne's oeuvre through its presence in his two "Greek" dramas, Atalanta in Calydon (1865) and Erechtheus (1876). In these works, rather than the central drama of sterility being played out in erotic relationships, it is embodied in the relationship between parent and child. Here, cannibalism and child-murder find a place in the tensions between individual and society, subjectivity and law. The second section, on Virginia Woolf's late novels The Years (1937) and Between the Acts (1941), engages with recent Woolf criticism which argues that through representations of art and audience such as the village pageant written by Miss La Trobe in Between the Acts Woolf envisions art as a primary mediator between the citizen and authority. The times in which these last novels were written, as well as Woolf's explicit political program in Three Guineas (1938) and the various draft versions of The Years make this position reasonable and lend it a great deal of importance. However, in these novels I argue that resistance to authority takes place in the individual mind and mostly in the everyday, quotidian interactions of life rather than in the experience of art as such. Claims to a unified community in Between the Acts are, I argue, overstated, as we see connections between individuals that are fleeting, but no less valuable for this fleetingness. The Years and Between the Acts have more in common than is often thought, and both identify communion in the everyday.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2011
Kristeva, Modernism, Swinburne, Woolf
Modernism (Literature)
Swinburne, Algernon Charles, $d 1837-1909
Woolf, Virginia, $d 1882-1941

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