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Diasporic Modernism: Walter Benjamin, Jean Rhys and Consumption

Diasporic Modernism: Walter Benjamin, Jean Rhys and Consumption

Baillie, Justine ORCID: 0000-0002-0056-9155 (2017) Diasporic Modernism: Walter Benjamin, Jean Rhys and Consumption. In: Modernist Objects: Third International Conference of the French Society for Modernist Studies, 13th - 16th June, 2018, Paris Sorbonne University. (Submitted)

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The paper is concerned with Benjamin’s account, in The Arcades Project (1927-1940), of the processes of mass-production and commodity consumption under high capitalism and how they belie ideologies of modernity and progress and expose history as endless repetition in which truth is lost amongst the ephemera and display of the modern city. In ‘On Some Motifs in Baudelaire’ (1939), Benjamin conceptualizes the flâneur as an ambiguous figure, both urban observer and observed, consumer of and consumed by, the city. The gendered flâneur, as leisured, male and bourgeois is complicated by the presence of the female streetwalker/shopper and the emergence of the ‘New Woman’. The significance of the flâneur is examined in relation to both the dispossessed and those exiled in Paris. This leads into a reading of Jean Rhys’s Parisian novel, Good Morning Midnight (1939), and a critique of the flâneur as idle and privileged consumer. The urban observer is approached from the perspective of the dispossessed Caribbean writer whose fragmentary and elliptical modernism conveys her narrator, Sasha Jensen, as a woman adrift in a city of objects – the dress, the hat, the coat and the everyday paraphernalia of the hotel room – which contribute to the dissolution of her identity. In The Arcades Project Benjamin recognizes the truth of modernity as ‘ruin’, a truth revealed through the examination of the obsolete commodity or object, shorn of its context and poised at the point of oblivion. This finds parallel in Rhys, as Sasha in Good Morning, Midnight delineates her Parisian experience in terms of catastrophic repetition and personal ruination as she vainly attempts to reconcile the temporality of the hotel room’s clock with her fractured memories of the ‘beautiful life’ once before her, ‘opening out like a fan’. The evocation of the fan, an object of elegance from an earlier age, is juxtaposed with the monotony of Sasha’s Paris life.

Item Type: Conference or Conference Paper (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Modernity; Flaneur; Paris; Urban theory; Gender
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DC France
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > School of Humanities & Social Sciences (HSS)
Last Modified: 10 Jan 2018 17:09

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