Stephen Ross (University of Victoria)
Date: 17 October 2016 at *16:00 – 18:00 (*new time)
Institute: Institute of English Studies- School of Advanced Study- University of London
Venue: Room 243, Second Floor, Senate House,
Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
“[I]t occurs to me that entire libraries of enigmas in literature would yield up their key, were we but to reconsider the ‘supernatural element’ responsible for them: to be precise, the appearance of a Specter” (Nicholas Abraham “The Intermission of ‘Truth’” 188)
Though actual ghosts are in exceedingly short supply in modernist novels, ghostly figures manifest with shocking abundance. It may in fact be one of the most striking features of the modernist novel that almost without regard to who the author is or what the novel is mainly concerned with, a certain rhetoric of spectrality permeates. All of Joseph Conrad’s major novels feature numerous such figures, as do most of the novels of Wyndham Lewis, D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, Djuna Barnes, Aldous Huxley, and James Joyce – not to mention the less dense but still sizeable representation in the works of Mary Butts, Elizabeth Bowen, Sylvia Townsend-Warner, HD, and May Sinclair. Put simply, the modernist novel is amongst the most haunted sites in all literature. In this paper, I both outline some of the ways in which modernist prose fiction mobilizes this rhetoric of spectrality, and argue that it serves as means by which a wide range of novelists engage with a wide range of issues, from the nature of reality to sex and sexuality, and from history and heritage to being and the body. The spectral provides the common medium of engagement with these issues. Its inherent link to ethics gives that medium its significance: through the rhetoric of spectrality, modernist novelists establish the ethical as the overarching horizon for all these concerns.
Stephen Ross is Professor of English and Cultural, Social, and Political Thought at the University of Victoria, Canada. He is the General Editor of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism (2016), co-editor of The Modernist World (2015) as well as editions of Dorothy Richardson’s novels Pointed Roofs and The Tunnel (both 2014), editor of Modernism and Theory (2009), and author of Conrad and Empire (2004). He is Director of the Modernist Versions Project and of Linked Modernisms, both digital humanities approaches to the cultural heritage of aesthetic modernism. He is finally at work on a book on ghostmodernism, a work whose topic has haunted him for nearly twenty years now.
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