Modernism and Melancholia: Writing as Countermourning (Modernist Literature and Culture)

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9780199977956: Modernism and Melancholia: Writing as Countermourning (Modernist Literature and Culture)
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Modernism and melancholia share an intellectual fate: being at once categories, conditions, discourses, modes of expression, and social projects, they feed on their own ambiguity. But modernism and melancholia also share a history: it was in the cultural-historical period we tentatively term "modernism" that a fundamental shift in our understanding of melancholia occurred. What is, then, the relationship between modernism and melancholia? How does it relate to the history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century? What is the social value of the associated cluster of symbolic rituals that we call mourning? Modernism and Melancholia addresses these questions, as it focuses on the manifestations of melancholia in modernist fiction internationally.

Paying close attention to writings by Andrei Bely, Franz Kafka, and Virginia Woolf, Sanja Bahun identifies in modernist fiction a deliberate use of the symptomatology of melancholia to reinvigorate the genre of the novel and address the complexities of contemporary history. Such an exercise establishes writing as a mourning ritual that self-consciously refuses to "heal" or "cure." To describe this paradoxical writing practice, Bahun proposes the term "countermourning." Reversing-or renewing-the ways in which the conceptual scope of melancholia is utilized in modernist studies, this study positions itself at the crossroads of literary studies and intellectual history, and suggests a continuity between the shifting view of melancholia in global modernism.

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About the Author:


Sanja Bahun is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex. She is a co-editor of a number of books, most recently, of Language, Ideology, and the Human: New Interventions and Myth, Literature, and the Unconscious. She serves on the Executive Committee of the British Comparative Literature Association.

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"[Sanja Bahun]...convincingly charts a conceptual reframing of melancholia after 1850 and sees modernism as marking "the first time in the history of representational arts" that the melancholy dynamics "are not - or not only - depicted" but performed (10). It is countermourning, she explains, that functions like a countermonument in obstructively aggravating rather than alleviating mourning: the goal is not to overcome but to perpetuate the loss it memorializes. Countermourning thus serves "as a superior framework" to unpack the deeper logic of many modernist texts (18) as an aesthetic strategy that activates the socially critical potential of melancholia "through a performance which, rather than curing, sustains the melancholic symptom while articulating it" (39)." --Helmut Illbruck, German Studies Review


"Bahun's remarkable book provides the first productive and original application of Freud's concepts of mourning and melancholia to the modernist period. Defining a specifically modernist melancholia, she highlights hitherto unperceived aspects of Bely's, Woolf's and Kafka's works. Bahun shows that their vision of history was haunted by catastrophe, their writing struggling with mourning for what had not yet come to pass, in a fruitful, moving and tense hesitation between two deaths." --Jean-Michel Rabaté, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania


"Bahun's study revisits the link between modernism and melancholia, rearticulating their coexistence in a fresh and convincing manner and offering in the process an insightful interpretation of three key authors of European modernism. This is a stimulating book that will make a distinct contribution to an important field of enquiry." --Galin Tihanov, George Steiner Professor of Comparative Literature, Queen Mary, University of London


"Sanja Bahun's intellectual tour de force illuminates and puts into dialogue two fiercely contested terms. In this timely interdisciplinary exploration of multiple inflections of melancholia and modernism, she lucidly thinks through the performative modes and historical specificities of both, and distils to a compelling argument on modernist fiction's permuting and virtuoso capacity to engage in the vital political and emotional work of countermourning." --Jane Goldman, Reader in English Literature, University of Glasgow


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