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Diasporic modernism: Memory, the object and Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight (1939)

Diasporic modernism: Memory, the object and Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight (1939)

Baillie, Justine ORCID: 0000-0002-0056-9155 (2019) Diasporic modernism: Memory, the object and Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight (1939). Modernist Objects. Clemson Press / Societe d'etudes moderniste, France. (In Press)

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Reading Jean Rhys’s novels alongside the theorizations of the German cultural critic, historian and philosopher Walter Benjamin facilitates enhanced understanding of Rhys’s position as dispossessed Caribbean Creole writer. Rhys’s aesthetic of displacement is modernist in its fractured, fragmentary and elliptical form as she charts the movements and memories of her protagonist Sasha Jensen through the streets of pre-war Paris in Good Morning, Midnight (1939). Sasha’s recollections of the past, its events, ephemera and repetitions, reveal how the notion of renewal through the consumption of the fashionable object of desire is the illusion that belies the myth of progress. Benjamin’s account, in The Arcades Project (1927-1940), of the processes of mass-production and commodity consumption under high capitalism reveals ideologies of modernity and progress. Benjamin exposes history as endless repetition in which truth is lost amongst the ephemera and display of the modern city. In his analysis of the discarded objects of capitalist production and consumption, Benjamin highlights how, in the repetitions of obsolescence, the newly fashionable object, like history itself, is prey to deadly repetition despite the narrative it conveys, that of human progress towards perfection. Reading Rhys and Benjamin together, then, invests Rhys’s work with a significance that goes beyond its surface appearance of the individualistic, tragic descent of a particular woman. Sasha Jensen is adrift in a city of objects – the dress, the hat, the coat and the everyday paraphernalia of the hotel room – objects which offer only fleeting consolation for the dissolution of identity and repetitions of history.

Item Type: Book Section
Uncontrolled Keywords: Walter Benjamin; consumption, identity, fashion, history
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Faculty / Department / Research Group: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > Department of Literature, Language & Theatre
Last Modified: 20 Nov 2019 16:45
Selected for GREAT 2016: None
Selected for GREAT 2017: None
Selected for GREAT 2018: None
Selected for GREAT 2019: GREAT 3

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