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Moving across a Century

Women’s Short Fiction from Virginia Woolf to Ali Smith


Edited By Laura Lojo Rodriguez

The difference between modernism and postmodernism has been object to constant revision from a variety of critical perspectives. The present collection of essays on women’s short fiction tackles anew this thorny distinction from the theoretical perspective sketched by psychoanalytical philosopher Slavoj Žižek. According to Žižek, modernism hints at the incompleteness of the Symbolic Order, but does so from a separate, marginal and alternative sphere of enjoyment. Postmodernism, on the contrary, exposes the fundamental inconsistency of the Symbolic Order by giving it a central place at the very core of the text. The key distinguishing feature is the mutation of the status of paternal authority throughout a century to which modernist and postmodernist texts are responsive. Starting from this theoretical premise, this volume analyses the work of five major women practitioners of the short story – Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth Bowen, Angela Carter, and Ali Smith – to offer fresh critical readings of canonical pieces that exhibit either a modernist or a postmodernist sensibility. The volume has, therefore, both critical and theoretical value: it redefines Woolf ’s and Mansfield’s modernist status, the transitional character of Bowen’s short stories, and the different versions of postmodernism found in the work of Carter and Smith, while, at once, contributing to the reassessment of modernism and postmodernism from a new theoretical angle. The methodological consistency of the book – half-way between collection of essays and monograph – places it at a remove from the usual collection of critical pieces from disparate perspectives around a particular issue.


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Chapter 3. “Shifting the Ground”: Elizabeth Bowen’s Late Modernism Foreshadows a Postmodern Aesthetics 55 - IRENE IGLESIAS PENA


IRENE IGLESIAS PENA Chapter 3. “Shifting the Ground”: Elizabeth Bowen’s Late Modernism Foreshadows a Postmodern Aesthetics This chapter examines the transitional character of Elizabeth Bowen’s writing as poised between a modernist and a postmodernist mode of rep- resentation. Bowen’s ‘late modernism’ still shares with high modernism an ontological quest for order and coherence amidst a sense of loss of ground, yet it also foreshadows the postmodernist abandonment of such quest and its explanatory powers. Philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s defi nition of late modernism serves as an appropriate framework for situating Bowen’s work at the confl uence between both modernist and postmodernist proce- dures. In Žižek’s view, late modernist works comprise two different dis- courses: a framing narrative refl ecting the set of norms and social practices that are confi gurative of identity and a major narrative that undermines its cohesiveness. In terms of Lacanian psychoanalysis, the frame discourse reproduces the regulations of the symbolic order, which the subject has internalised under the form of a prohibitive paternal fi gure during the process of identity formation. On the other hand, the central narrative cor- responds to the enactment of jouissance, an experience of being at odds with the requirements of socialization, and it does so by registering fan- tasy formations that expose its very inconsistencies. Bowen’s short stories ‘The Happy Autumn Fields’ and ‘Look At All Those Roses’ undermine the authority of the paternal agency through the evocation of surrogate forms of being associated to their protagonists’ life as pre-subjects. Both...

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