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Embodied modernism: The flesh of the world in E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, and W.H. Auden

By Kelly Elizabeth Sultzbach


ix, 242 p. A print copy of this thesis is available through the UO Libraries. Search the library catalog for the location and call number.Modernism's fragmented literary style has been called "an art of cities." My project challenges such conventional understandings by exposing a strain within modernism that expresses an awareness of a broader phenomenological world. In the work of E.M Forster, Virginia Woolf, and W.H. Auden, non-human presences are often registered through a character or speaker's innate sensory perception of their surroundings--what I call embodied modernism. Maurice Merleau-Ponty's ecophenomenology theorizes the intercorporeality of humans and the environment in ways that help elucidate this aspect of their work. Merleau-Ponty uses the phrase "flesh of the world" to explain the body as an open circuit embedded within the stimuli of larger environmental impulses. The uncertainty stirring within modernism's formal disruptions, the sensory impressions revealed by stream of consciousness techniques, as well as the robust fusion of latent emotions and unspoken associations that result in a memorable image or symbol invite ecophenomenological readings. Chapter I, "Passage From Pastoral: E.M. Forster," traces a developing phenomenological awareness that is only fully manifested through the formal innovation of Forster's modernist novel, A Passage to India , where landscape intervenes to direct the action of the plot. My second chapter, "The Phenomenological Whole: Virginia Woolf," analyzes how her use of personification provocatively disrupts anthropocentrism in "Kew Gardens" and Flush. Her conception of a more-than-human world also complicates elegiac readings of To the Lighthouse by positioning nature not as a sympathetic minor for humans, nor an antagonistic foil, but rather as a presence that intertwines with human life and renews embodied creativity. "Brute Being: W.H. Auden" shows how Auden's later poems create a lexicon of common cultural assumptions about human identity in a firmly ordered relation with the world but combat their own hermeneutics by slipping towards the opposite binary in any dialectic the poem presents, whether it be scientific order and organic chaos, nature and culture, or human observer and non-human subject. Analyzing the work of Forster, Woolf, and Auden from the embodied perspective of Merleau-Ponty's ecophenomenology both challenges conventional definitions of modernism and expands ecocritical theory.Adviser: Louise Westlin

Topics: English literature, Philosophy, Modern literature, Environment, Ecophenomenology, Auden, W. H. (Wystan Hugh), 1907-1973, Woolf, Virginia, 1882-1941, Forster, E. M. (Edward Morgan), 1879-1970, Modernism
Publisher: University of Oregon
Year: 2008
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