Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Ford Madox Ford and the Misfit Moderns by Rob Hawkes

My review of Rob Hawkes's Ford Madox Ford and the Misfit Moderns: Edwardian Fiction and the First World War is in the current issue of Modernism/modernity (20.3).

Rob Hawkes’s engaging study of “misfit moderns” positions Ford Madox Ford alongside writers like Arnold Bennett, H. G. Wells, Joseph Conrad, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, Richard Aldington, and Rebecca West, all of whom in some way have an uneasy relation to modernism, either as non-modernists against whom the modernists defined themselves or as not-quite-modernists who never achieved the centrality of Joyce or Woolf. While these writers all have a place in Hawkes’s study, Ford is the primary focus, “the misfit par excellence” (22), because while he was an Edwardian like Bennett and Wells, he also wrote two modernist masterpieces, making him both a central figure within modernism and not fully of the period. Ford’s writing “occupies aesthetic territory between the conventional realist novel and high modernism” (2), a position of “in-betweenness” that, far from making Ford a “peripheral figure on the margins” of both Edwardians and moderns, “constitutes an acute and exemplary responsiveness to the conditions of modernity” (3).

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Clandestine Encounters: Philosophy in the Narratives of Maurice Blanchot

My review of Clandestine Encounters: Philosophy in the Narratives of Maurice Blanchot edited by Kevin Hart (University of Notre Dame Press, 2010) is in the upcoming issue of Modern Philology (111.2) and also currently online for subscribers. This is an exceptional collection of essays for anyone interesting in Blanchot's work in general, but especially for those interested in his difficult, haunting fiction and other unclassifiable narratives. Each essay focuses on a different work and is arranged chronologically, from his earliest récits to his final autobiographical narrative L’instant de ma mort. Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Review in the TLS

My book was reviewed by Lauren Arrington in the In Brief section of 26 July 2013 Times Literary Supplement

As Shell Shock and the Modernist Imagination progresses, Bonikowski's arguments gain momentum, coalescing in his powerful point that in the aesthetic sublimation of the death drive, modernist fiction can 'sustain the pleasures of life.'

Monday, May 06, 2013

Narrative 2013

I'm presenting a paper on Barbara Comyns at the Narrative Conference in Manchester, UK, this June. Here's my abstract:

Lightness of Voice and the Levitating Narratives of Barbara Comyns

The British writer Barbara Comyns wrote eleven well-received novels from the late 1940s to 1990, but she has been largely neglected in terms of scholarly attention. (The MLA bibliography lists one academic article, and she is briefly noted in a handful of monographs covering mid-century British fiction.) My paper seeks to bring renewed attention to this overlooked writer by focusing on what most commentators have mentioned admiringly, but only in passing: her distinctive voice. Drawing on James Phelan’s description of voice in Narrative as Rhetoric, I will examine how voice connects to both character and plot in two of Comyns’s novels: Our Spoons Came from Woolworths (1950) and The Vet’s Daughter (1959). I will argue that Comyns’s use of voice creates narrators particularly attuned to the undercurrent of violence that subsists within social relations. These narrative voices, spoken in homodiegetic narration by young women, are often described as simple, matter-of-fact, honest, and naïve. But another quality is also present, an “authority of address” and “method of seduction” (Davis viii, x), a “marvelousness,” “childlike wonder,” and “lightness (in Calvino’s usage of the term)” (Evenson vi). These voices, both naïve and seductive, straightforward and full of wonder, create uncanny effects in Comyns’s often darkly comic narratives, presenting the narrators as both ignorant and knowing: ignorant of normative social conventions while possessing an outsider’s knowledge of the violence that lies within them. If these narrators are often the passive victims of violence, their traumatic knowledge (Hartman) uncannily lifts them above these experiences, offering them the means to find a language for the traumatic effects of violence that that would not otherwise find expression in the normative discourses surrounding them. This lifting-above—literalized in the surreal and Gothic touches found in Comyns’s work, such as visions and levitation—is what accounts for the clear-eyed wonder and lightness of the voice.

Works Cited
Davis, Kathryn. Introduction. The Vet’s Daughter. By Barbara Comyns. New York: New York Review Books, 2003. vii-xi.
Evenson, Brian. Introduction. Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead. By Barbara Comyns. Urbana, IL: Dorothy, a publishing project, 2010. i-vii.
Hartman, Geoffrey. “On Traumatic Knowledge and Literary Studies.” New Literary History 26.3 (1995): 537-63.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Shell Shock and the Modernist Imagination

My book Shell Shock and the Modernist Imagination: The Death Drive in Post-World War I British Fiction is now available from Ashgate Press.
Looking closely at both case histories of shell shock and Modernist novels by Ford Madox Ford, Rebecca West, and Virginia Woolf, Wyatt Bonikowski shows how the figure of the shell-shocked soldier and the symptoms of war trauma were transformed by the literary imagination. Situating his study with respect to Freud’s concept of the death drive, Bonikowski reads the repetitive symptoms of shell-shocked soldiers as a resistance to representation and narrative. In making this resistance part of their narratives, Ford, West, and Woolf broaden our understanding of the traumatic effects of war, exploring the possibility of a connection between the trauma of war and the trauma of sexuality. Parade’s End, The Return of the Soldier, and Mrs. Dalloway are all structured around the relationship between the soldier who returns from war and the women who receive him, but these novels offer no prospect for the healing effects of the union between men and women. Instead, the novels underscore the divisions within the home and the self, drawing on the traumatic effects of shell shock to explore the link between the public events of history and the intimate traumas of the relations between self and other.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

From an interview with Mary Caponegro:

"I work from ideas and images and abstractions—from an impulse to conflate the sensual and the abstract, and from an impulse to generate a species of music. For a writer such as myself, who wishes to blur the line between fantasy and reality, a crisp delineation of character and setting, etc. would not serve my purpose—whereas the creation of a mood or texture might be utterly crucial. Plot might be quite intricate, but in ways likely comprised more of nuance than event. I suppose that in my work, character tends to become merely a prop for voice, and often there are very few characters, perhaps only one speaker who refers to other characters and whom the reader experiences only through that 'central intelligence.' But when characters do figure, they might have quite defined attributes. My interest is, I think, to explore them more from the inside out than from the outside in, if you will—laying bare their psyches through involution of syntax, as if syntax itself were the objective correlative—rather than giving a host of external details from which the reader can deduce internal 'truths.' One could view my work as a fiction of the psychological epiphenomena of event. My tendency toward abstraction may be felt by some conventional readers to hold them at a distance, but I hope the psychological intensity compensates for this."