A Prose Kinema: Modernism in the Age of Film

Derk, George, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Levenson, Michael, Department of English, University of Virginia
Luftig, Victor, Department of English, University of Virginia
Blatt, Ari, Department of French Language and Literatures, University of Virginia

“A Prose Kinema: Modernism in the Age of Film” takes as its starting point the question of how literary modernism responds to the advent of film and to the resulting effects of this technology-made-art on the culture at-large. Rather than reiterating the claim that modernism constituted itself either within or against technological reproduction, this dissertation aims to rethink literature’s embeddedness within media ecology. As the exemplary case of vernacular modernism, film provided a conceptual antithesis for modernist authors, a way to define the literary arts by contrast. But it also supplied a new aesthetic horizon from which to rethink literature’s own mediating effects and how these effects depend in part on its categories of genre. It is not just that writers responded to cinema when it began to exert significant force on other media, but it is that any new medium induces new perspectives on old media as well. From Virginia Woolf’s novels that represent an engaged spectatorship in contradistinction to the passive one of moviegoing, to Samuel Beckett’s experimental film that calls into question the medium specificity of his plays, to Ezra Pound’s imagistic verse and mythopoetics that serve as a basis for the avant-garde films of Hollis Frampton—medium and genre operate in productive dialectic to realize artistic innovation within modernism. Together these chapters reveal that modernist forms of film and literature break down aesthetic autonomy and participate in the constitutive formation of each other.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
modernism, twentieth-century literature, film studies, media studies
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