Djuna Barnes and affective modernism by Julie Taylor

By Julie Taylor

Explores the dynamic connections among the affective physique and Djuna Barnes's textual corpus. Julie Taylor makes use of the writings of the yankee novelist, poet, dramatist, artist and journalist Djuna Barnes to shape the root of a sequence of disruptive questions on modernist aesthetics and the politics of interpreting

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In a similar vein, Eliot’s criticism retains emotion as a value only on the basis that it is controlled in relation to quantity and kind. Indeed, Eliot’s ‘objective correlative’ and the emphasis on finding external evidence and verbal formulae when representing emotion can be seen as a means of getting past the ‘intense feeling, ecstatic or terrible, without an object or exceeding its object’ which is most appropriate as ‘a subject of study for pathologists’ (Eliot, 1975: 48). The artist, Eliot claims, does not relinquish these feelings but rather finds an external reality to justify them: he ‘keeps them alive by his ability to intensify the world to his emotions’ (1975: 48).

Barnes remained anxious about the politics of personal disclosure throughout her writing life. This anxiety was exacerbated when the disclosures related to sexual injury, as is evidenced by her claim that she terminated her early career as a journalist by refusing to report on the victims of rape (O’Neal, 1990: 52). Barnes’s concerns about such revelations, and the focus on the victim’s sexuality they might provoke, are suggested by Miranda’s refusal to confess her own (adult) sexual history or to confirm that she has led a life that is debased or in some way fitting for a sexual abuse survivor.

It is intensity owned and recognized’ (2002: 28). Massumi’s view echoes Lawrence Grossberg’s distinction that, ‘unlike emotions, affective states are neither structured narratively nor organised in response to our interpretations of situations’ (1992: 81). The term ‘affect’ is valuable because of its emphasis on the body, its less contested independence from subjectivity and cognition, and its association with relational states. Furthermore, as defined by Massumi and Grossberg, ‘affect’ allows me to capture the ways in which Djuna Barnes refuses to organise feeling along narrative or moral lines and the ways in which, in her fiction, feeling functions not as a route to interpretation, but as a radical alternative.

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