In Relations, AnnKatrin Jonsson develops a new understanding of ethics and subjectivity within high modernism. The author analyzes Joyce’s Ulysses, Woolf’s The Waves, and Barnes’s Nightwood as narratives that depict a subject turning towards the other and the world, a movement that seriously questions the sovereignty of the subject as cogito, instead opening up for otherness, excess, and indeterminacy.
The author points to convergences between a phenomenological manner of thinking found in modernist literature and the notion of an ethics and an ethical subjectivity, a subject who exists in an inescapable relation with the world. As the novels acknowledge otherness, there is a rebound effect on the narrative, its structure and style; otherness transforms the narrative itself. In this way, Ulysses, The Waves, and Nightwood indicate a desire to escape from a notion of the subject that contains and controls the world and the other.
By indicating ways in which new conceptions of ethics are made possible within modernism, the author also shows that there are, within modernism, both literary and philosophical texts whose understanding and representation of subjectivity already express and establish crucial aspects of the discourse on ‘ethics’ and ‘ethical subjectivity’ that characterize recent continental philosophy and cultural theory.