Modernist Form: On the Problem of Fragmentation

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This dissertation explores formal fragmentation in the modernist novel. It shows that such fragmentation not only represents the historical conditions of modernism, but also posits the potential for new forms of human relation. Each chapter explores test cases of this potential through a close analysis of a novel and argues that in order to understand such literary structure one must look beyond literature to the wider episteme of modernism. Each chapter therefore positions literature alongside a related field, where the affinities are shown to be found not in a shared content but in a shared form. The chapters include explorations of: the problem of language in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying read alongside advertising; the problem of continuity and fragmentation in Ford’s Parade’s End read alongside security and administrative governance; and the problem of perception in Woolf’s The Waves read alongside physics. As the discussion of these pairings proceeds from chapter to chapter, it is shown that the fragmentation of each respective novel reveals an increasingly successful utopian experiment in alternative forms of human relationality. At an additional register, this dissertation also shows that such experimentation requires a redefined role for the critic, for the novels each draw the reader into their texts by not only representing but enacting fragmentation in a way that requires the reader to participate in the utopian experiment. Through the practice of criticism, the critic is therefore implicated in the modernist project, and complicit in all of the political and ethical concerns the project carries.






Swacha, Michael Gabryel (2018). Modernist Form: On the Problem of Fragmentation. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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