In the crosscurrents of empire : a moving geography of global British modernism, 1900-1940

Cohen, Scott Allen, Department of English and Literature, University of Virginia
Wicke, Jennifer, Department of English, University of Virginia
Levenson, Michael, Department of English, University of Virginia
Felski, Rita, Department of English, University of Virginia

“Crosscurrents of Empire” is a study of the complicated relationship between modernism and the British Empire. Reading a range of fiction written in English from London, the Caribbean, and South Asia, this study combines close textual readings, material history, and cultural analysis to chart the global dimensions of modernism. While expansion was the dominant form of spatial experience during the "Age of Empire," the first half of the twentieth century saw this spatial logic yield to other modes of experiencing global and local spaces. During the modernist period, literature and other cultural discourses as well as specific historical and political events endowed physical and psychic movement with new meaning. The resulting spatial crises and disconcerting mobilities informed the structure of modem fiction and the administration of empire alike.

Taking up the challenge posed by Raymond Williams to explore the emergence of modernism from the "hinterlands" as well as the city, this dissertation charts real and imagined movement, both outward to points on the imperial periphery and inward toward the metropolis. Drawing on postcolonial and critical theory, I pursue a comparative approach to explore novels by colonial authors, including Raja Rao and Mulk Raj Anand; the metropolitan modernist Virginia Woolf; as well as writers, such as Jean Rhys and Joseph Conrad, who found themselves in between the currents of empire. By exploring these literary figures together with cultural materials, from maps and mass-cultural texts to imperialist exhibitions and colonial advertising, the project shows how movement and mobility shaped both anti-colonial writing and the practical politics of empire. Within this framework I examine how what has come to be called modernism's spatialization of form intimately relates to imperialist notions of space and mobility. By remaining committed to understanding both modernism and empire as contemporaneous cultural formations that overlapped and dialectically informed each other, this survey of modernist terrain offers a much-needed account of how physical and psychic movement cut through and across the spaces of metropolitan modernism and global imperialism, radically shaping both enterprises.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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