Monthly Archives: December 2017

Upcoming talk at 2018 MLA CLCS on European Regions session: “Into and Out of Europe.”

Abstract: “Assemblages of Place: Vanguards, Europeans, and a Fractured Globe”

In his Page-Barbour lecture at the U of Virginia in 1933, T.S. Eliot denied (and thereby psychoanalytically affirmed) his desire while reading Indian philosophy to forget “how to think and feel as an American or a European.” Brecht begins to write about the alienation effect (Verfremdungseffekt) after seeing Mei Lanfang, the male performer of female roles, demonstrate traditional Chinese acting technique in Moscow in the spring of 1935. These kinds of encounters enrich the commercial status of modernism’s minority avant-garde writer, and make a claim to validity for modernism’s already canonical polylinguality. However, this paper thinks about how one grouping of conceptual affinities in particular, under the rubric of modernism, leads not only to an expansion of, but also to a change in, the ideation of place; scalar and definitional implications of the field’s new geographies are refreshed as European and non-European modernists inscribe the quandaries of location. I read a set of 20th c. writers interested in modernist technique (Rhys, Borges, Selvon, et al.) whose texts generate a fractured globe, not a smoothly continuous one, a world whose places do not sit well together. As against the “seamless whole” of an organismic metaphor, in Manuel DeLanda’s phrase, the modernist globe is a fluid assemblage of precarious places, emergent, vibrant, fragmentary, contingent, having relations of exteriority, destabilized by processes of decoding and deterritorialization. Their origins are less important than the mechanisms and activities which maintain them. Deleuze and Guattari posit that “Writing has a double function: to translate everything into assemblages and to dismantle the assemblages.”[1] The global provides a rich archive of experiential assemblages of desire, but it is the modernist that specializes in operations of dismantling. Perhaps a vanguard technic appeals to artists and thinkers in Latin America, Turkey, the Caribbean, in diasporic communities and other places in the early to mid- 20th century, not because of temporal coincidence, as in accounts of polycentric modernities, but because it provides technical tools to develop the idiolect they desire, with its complicated work of de- and recoding. I suggest we may consider then whether there is a particular congruence between the aggregated practices of European and other modernisms and the chosen affinities of the global literary text.

[1] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature.” Trans. Dana Polan. Theory and History of Literature 30. Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 1986, p. 47.


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