The Citizen and the Modernists: Conrad, Woolf, Lewis, and Joyce

Brown, Stephanie Jean, Department of English, University of Virginia
Levenson, Michael, Department of English, University of Virginia
Olwell, Vicki, Department of English, University of Virginia
Luftig, Victor, Department of English, University of Virginia

Building upon a recent renewed interest in modernist gestures towards theorizing citizenship, this dissertation uses Joseph Conrad, Wyndham Lewis, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce's works to argue that modernist inquiries into citizenship develop through discourses of possible political futures. These texts explore the possibilities inherent to dramatic reformulations of political participation. Citizenship's temporal framework is a crucial component for these texts; overwhelmingly, my authors project revolutionary forms of future political communities (rather than invoking a nostalgic or idealized common origin) in order to advocate for and defined the limitations of various modes of political participation. I begin with Conrad's novel The Secret Agent. I argue, in opposition to the critical claim that it depicts an ethically relativist world, and to Conrad's own claim that readers should not take the novel "too seriously," that the novel is intensely politically prescriptive. It maps a system of dangerous energies that seem to originate in radical political subcultures and the women's rights movement and appear to threaten the state, and exaggerates their dangers by representing them as precursors to a dystopian future. It then lionizes a model of citizenship that excludes the foreign and female from participation in England's political future; this model is shown successfully reincorporating critical energies into the state. Later chapters deal with modes of political critique; Joyce, Woolf, and Lewis delineate Utopian possibilities by interrogating modes of English citizenship through the lenses of colonial power, gender, and the arts' relationship to political institutions. I argue that Irish colonial citizenship in Ulysses relies heavily on a critique of the temporal structure of Irish nationalism and cultural ideals of masculinity and family. A chapter on Woolf's The   Voyage Out uses recent theories of queerness and affect to read gender inscription as a set of cultural exercises through which potentially utopian modes of citizenship briefly appear, only to be canceled by more normative social options. Despite the evanescence of these utopian formations, I argue that Woolf's writing insists on the political value of impulses that suspend cultural norms. In Lewis' fiction and Vorticist works, I trace a satirical impulse that insists on the utopian value of art that seeks to eradicate artistic and political cultures of conformity. I discuss how Lewis's politics, which are more vocally anti-democratic than the tempered critiques of other modernists, reveal drawbacks common to modernist forms of individualism, namely that they conceal the emancipatory potential of citizenship by depicting the citizen as an intellectually inert member of the mob.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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