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Before Modernism Was: Modern History and the Constituencies by Geoff Gilbert

By Geoff Gilbert

Prior to Modernism was once locations modernist writing in the texture of contemporary background. Texts by way of Woolf, James, Freud, Wyndham Lewis, Stein, Malinowski, and others are learn via a variety of figures that build and disrupt glossy that means: the ghost that has effects on the price of your private home; the sulky, graceless adolescent; the Pole who is probably not Polish; the apprehensive proprietor of the puppy; the addict and her smoke. Eccentric to its associations, those figures are vital to the constituency of modernism.

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The ghost in the empty house affects the market value of the property. Discourses which attempt to place property at the centre of our identities, which attempt to sustain the idea of a home which can be both shelter and an extension of ourselves, within a world traversed by inhuman movements of capital, are shown to be troubled by these revenants. The figurations – the exorbitant processes of literature – which mark modernist writing, shadow closely the figure of the ghost. In this chapter I read a range of writers who are considered modernist, as they attempt to create the properties of modernism in relation to questions of money and value: works by Virginia Woolf, Henry James, and Wyndham Lewis are analysed in relation to discourses of literary and domestic property, and in relation to the burgeoning market for popular fiction, including the literary commodity, the ‘ghost story’.

I read this drive through the figure of the dog, looking at a rich complex of legal and medical discourses that emerge around dog-breeding and rabies scares; I read works written by dogs and about them alongside early twentieth-century feminism and modernist writing on aesthetics. The dog is an overlooked proximate presence within the set of relations which make up human social identities;65 our attempts to give form to the dog channel all kinds of historical anxieties about modern life. The book ends up in smoke.

10 For Woolf, this does not work. 11 There is a failure of integrity which betrays a lack of ‘interest[ ] in character in itself; or in the book in itself. [. ] Their books, then, were incomplete as books, and required that the reader should finish them, actively and practically, for himself’. 12 Modernism – for Woolf, ‘Modern Fiction’ – has as its purpose to save in one swoop the autonomy of the artwork, its ‘completeness’, and the autonomy of the person from the world of societies and cheques.

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