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Extensions : spacing postmodern time and distancing postmodern proximity : Elizabeth Bowen, Gianni Vattimo,… Cummings, Kasey Allain 1999

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EXTENSIONS --SPACING POSTMODERN TIME A N D DISTANCING POSTMODERN PROXIMITY: E L I Z A B E T H BOWEN, GIANNI VATTIMO A N D THE END(S) OF MODERNITY by K A S E Y A L L A I N CUMMINGS B.A. , The University of British Columbia, 1994 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL F U L F I L M E N T OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF M A S T E R OF ARTS in THE F A C U L T Y OF G R A D U A T E STUDIES (Department of English) We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH C O L U M B I A April 1999 © Kasey Allain Cummings, 1999 UBC Special Collections - Thesis Authorisation Form http://www.library.ubc.ca/spcoll/thesauth.html In p r e s e n t i n g t h i s t h e s i s i n p a r t i a l f u l f i l m e n t of the requirements f o r an advanced degree at the U n i v e r s i t y of B r i t i s h Columbia, I agree that the L i b r a r y s h a l l make i t f r e e l y a v a i l a b l e f o r reference and study. I f u r t h e r agree that permission f o r extensive copying of t h i s t h e s i s f o r s c h o l a r l y purposes may be granted by the head of my •> department or by h i s or her r e p r e s e n t a t i v e s . I t i s understood that copying or p u b l i c a t i o n of t h i s t h e s i s f o r f i n a n c i a l g a i n s h a l l not be allowed without my w r i t t e n permission. Department of The U n i v e r s i t y of B r i t i s h Columbia Vancouver, Canada Date April Pf% Ml 1 of 1 04/28/99 04:02:28 Abst rac t EXTENSIONS --SPACING POSTMODERN TIME AND DISTANCING POSTMODERN PROXIMITY: ELIZABETH BO WEN, GIANNI VATTIMO AND THE END(S) OF MODERNITY Kasey Allain Cummings For almost fifty years, readers of Elizabeth Bowen's wartime novel The Heat of the Day have been mystified by this odd culmination of her attempt to write a 'present-day historical novel' recreating the experience of the Second World War in London. The novel was to comprise 'the ideal vehicle for her memory' of the war, in response to the ubiquitous fear of artists and critics alike that the novel creating "a picture [of the war] which [could] not be effaced by tomorrow's newspaper" (Calder-Marshall, et al "Manifesto") would not get written. However, the question remains ~ why is war inscribed in the text as a marginal background event? The peculiarity of the text with its figure-ground shift has frustrated at least as many readers as it has pleased. And yet, over the fifty years of its reception, one discovers an increasing emphasis on the philosophical and allegorical aspects of Bowen's text. And thus, the effect of this history of the text's reception (its Wirkungsgeschichte) can in turn be read as a repetition of the shift or movement detected within Bowen's wartime text itself — namely, the shift from epistemological or modernist questions and concerns to ontological or postmodernist ones. This paper is motivated in part to offer yet another reading of Bowen's mysterious wartime text. Following the conjecture that the Second World War represented an emotional, spiritual, and intellectual crisis for Bowen, this paper reads it as being both a crisis of representation and a 'clarifying moment,' or a moment of disclosure which foregrounds the interpretive aspect of human existence. This reading of the text is then linked with the postmodern philosophical framework prompted by Gianni Vattimo's theory of hermeneutic ontology, following the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. In texts such as The End of Modernity and Beyond Interpretation. Vattimo studies, in his words, "the relationship that links the conclusions reached by Nietzsche and Heidegger in their respective works... to more recent discourses on the end of the modern era and on post-modernity" ("Introduction" to The End of Modernity 1). In an extension of Vattimo's understanding of this relationship then, this paper both spaces postmodern time and distances postmodern proximity through its reading of an existential context shared by the acute triangle of the writers under consideration: Heidegger (1889-1976), Bowen (1899-1973), and Vattimo (1936-). As such, this paper offers a unique contribution to Bowen studies, as well as expanding the critical and methodological approach to war writing as a category. And finally, it contributes to an opening horizon of postmodern critical practices as formulated by Vattimo. TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract ii Extension : Risk 4 DIVISION I DEFENSIVE POSTURES 19 Part I The Paper as an Anironic Enclave of Ironic Values 22 Chapter 1 Foregrounding Ontology 25 Chapter 2 Postmodern or Hermeneutic Ontology 27 Chapter 3 Intersections 29 Chapter 4 Acceptance 33 4.1 'Out there' 34 4.2 'Why not?' 36 4.3 Acceptance as amnesty, not amnesia 3 8 Chapter 5 Interface: The End(s) of Modernity in The Heat of the Day 42 Part II Gianni Vattimo's Reading of the Text Monument: The Immortal Possibilities of an Impossible Mortality 49 Chapter 1 Postmodern Criticism as Postmodern Critique 50 1.1 The modern essence of criticism and the'end of the meta-rec/to' 51 1.2 'Sola Scriptura,' modern hermeneutics and the pure listening of wild criticism 51 1.3 ' Solum scriptura'and the reconstruction of rationality 52 Chapter 2 'At Least' Two Senses of Textual Monumental ity: Dialectic, Parallax, Diaphora 56 Chapter 3 Vattimo's Risk of Intermediate Postmodernism and the Tradition of Extremity 58 Chapter 4 Diaphoristics as Interstitial, Interim Space-Time 73 4.1 Andrew Gibson: trading past times for future spaces 74 4.2 David Bennett: the oscillation, interference, and inter-subjectivity of space and time 77 Notes 82 : Passing : 86 i i i DIVISION II TESTIMONY AND BETRAYAL 101 Part I From Circumscription to Inscription: Bowen's Twilight World 104 Chapter 1 The'Forties: 'Closing Time in the Gardens of the West...' 105 Chapter 2 Crepuscular Writing 107 Chapter 3 DaVincian Ambiguities: a Craggy Dangerous Miniature World 110 Chapter 4 Sketches for the Novel: 1940-1945 112 Chapter 5 Spot-lighting the Twilight World 119 Chapter 6 Muffled Poetry: Bombs in the Echo-Track of Sensation 123 Chapter 7 Extension: from The Blaze of Noon to The Heat of the Day and Beyond 133 Chapter 8 Midcentury, Mid-life: the Link in Art's Continuity as an Art of Oscillation 140 Part II 1949-1999: Extenuating the Twilight 150 Chapter 1 The 1949 Reviews 151 Chapter 2 The'Forties: Curious Admixtures and More Mixed Reviews 165 Chapter 3 The Cultural Crisis of the 'Fifties 172 Chapter 4 The Last Forty Years: from Apologies to Ontologies 184 Intermission : Extension 205 Bibliography 226 i v We have relied on our childhoods, on the sensations of childhood, because we mistake vividness for purity; actually, the story was there first — one is forced to see that it was the story that apparelled everything in celestial light. It could lead to madness to look back and back for the true primary impression or sensation; those we did ever experience we have forgotten — we only remember that to which something was added. Elizabeth Bowen "Out of a Book" (1946) In exploring the history of philosophy, Heidegger showed that the inheritance we receive from a given thinker is the nucleus he leaves us of what is still to be thought, not acquired results but ways thinking feels called on to follow again and again. Is ontological difference, which Heidegger undoubtedly held to be quite central to his own thought, a nucleus of this kind? Gianni Vattimo "The Adventure of Difference" (1980) Let me give a little hint on how to listen. The point is not to listen to a series of propositions, but rather to follow the movement of showing. Martin Heidegger On Time and Being (19691 Extension : Risk This paper is about risk. And in this, it betrays its own risks. The concern involves placing the debate on postmodernism in a historical context as an argued proposition of the birth of postmodern/<y. This is an effort which can also be described in a doubled way, as both the locating of a postmodern practice in a theory of postmodernity, and the historicizing of a postmodern theory in a practice situated at the 'beginning' of postmodernity. As such, this paper extends a postmodern dialogue between texts which are traditionally conceived as being mutually exclusive of one another in the effort to demonstrate 'the excluded middle' which they each appropriate and share, and which, as such, is always already appropriate to each discourse. All the same, this dialogue is effected with respect for the distance or difference which is nevertheless extended between practice and theory. Thus this paper itself opens a dialogue and sustains the tension between two positions which are themselves constitutive of'the postmodern debate,' which has so far involved less the openness of an exchange, and more the rigidifying divide(s) of differing positions into closed discourses, specialized addresses. This paper situates itself in the 'excluded middle' of that debate, performing the 'spacing' of postmodern time in the location of Elizabeth Bowen's The Heat of the Day (1949), and theorizing the 'timing' of postmodern proximity in the distance extended between Bowen's text and the philosophy of Gianni Vattimo. * The former enterprise, which amounts to reading and positing an interpretation of a work of art through the informing 'lens' of a theory and methodology, risks either the 'prosifying' of what is essentially a poetic (that is, open) phrase in the work of art, or in a different way, the collapsing of boundaries between the aesthetic dimension of art and the critical dimension of theory. Following the philosopher Martin Heidegger, Gianni Vattimo defends the 'eventful' or 'inaugural' aspect of all art in his essay entitled "Art" from the 1994 volume of essays Beyond Interpretation: the Meaning of Hermeneutics for Philosophy (trans. 1997). He warns his readers, and future practicioners, of the banality of a traditional form of textual criticism and interpretation which, for instance, equates art with politics, forcing statements out of the open-ended, incomplete, unsystematic, and promising phrase of its medium. The provenance of art, according to Vattimo, is a socially constituted practice which sustains an intransigency, that is, an open possibility for inducing change in the world. Stating that, "in short, the truth [of art] cannot be thought by hermeneutics on the model of the statement" (67), Vattimo rejects art's reification in critical practice. Returning to Heidegger's emphasis on the 'poetry of poetry,' Vattimo argues that "it is relatively uninteresting, and often entirely vacuous, to believe that Heidegger and hermeneutics urge us to try to extract philosophical theses from poetry, literature, and the figurative arts" (71). And yet, this judgment informs us of an interesting paradox within the philosophy of Vattimo, himself. Or else, it is more of a betrayal of his own blindspot. For in two other essays in the same volume, "The Truth of Hermeneutics" and "The Reconstruction of Rationality", he also urges us to conceive of hermeneutics in a radically ontological way, as the practice of a collocation (what he calls Erorterung, following Heidegger), conceived as the risking of a provisional statement in the face of what has become the contemporary hegemonical orientation of hermeneutics. This hegemonical orientation comprises what we hinted at above as a second risk of this first enterprise in the paper, namely, a dissolution of the theory and practice of hermeneutics into its contemporary practice as deconstruction, which Vattimo criticizes as "an 'ecumenical' form so vague and generic" ("Preface" ix) because it does not risk positing a theory or rationale for itself. For Vattimo, this lack of risk involves the further risk of transforming critical practice into an inconsequential 'irrationalism' ~ which avoids all attempts to risk argument and statement, even in a provisional sense; and which, as such, neglects the extension of boundaries between art and critical practice. Thus this paper risks interpreting the 'truth' of Elizabeth Bowen's 1949 historical narrative of the Second World War as a provisional 'statement' of a hermeneutic ontology, as Vattimo conceives it, positing the text 'for now' as a possible adumbration of postmodernity and as a possible predication of Vattimo's philosophy in literature. In a very controversial text of 1984, II pensiero debole. Gianni Vattimo and Pier Aldo Rovatti present a series of essays on what they conceive as 'weak thought.' In "Postmodernism in Italy", Monica Jansen explains the sustained problematic of the text as speculations on "the problem of finding, after the fall of strong, classical reason, a new art of 'oscillation,' of hovering between past and present without subordinating the one to the other" (389). In many ways, this problem is projected in response to "the one who wants to put an end to the discussion,... the great theorist of the postmodern condition, [Jean-Frangois] Lyotard himself (388). Jansen cites Lyotard's declaration, in an interview with the Italian thinker Gabriele Invernizzi, that "for him the postmodern is not a period that comes after the modern, nor a simple 'come-back' of the past in order to cancel the modern experience" (388-89). Lyotard's now famous and still polemical text La Condition postmoderne was published in Italy in 1981 and 4 quickly assimilated. As Jansen states, "Lyotard's position has clear affinities with epistemological and ontological problems that have a respectable tradition in Italian philosophy" (388). However, Rovatti's response to Lyotard's declaration was in the form of a reproach, as he blames his French colleague for not noticing that "there are in Italy also philosophers like Vattimo who try to problematize the 'postmodern condition' by focusing on the transformations of the idea of 'surpassing' ('superamento') typical of modernism" (Jansen 389). Following this problematization, this paper risks a response to the call by Vattimo and Rovatti to theorize a kind of 'resistance' writing "against a cynical 'return to,' against the loss of a critical dimension" (389), thus corresponding to Vattimo's theorization of a critique of postmodernism. As Jansen states of Italian postmodern thought, the question whether the postmodern can constitute a new avant-garde that breaks with the past seems definitely answered with a clear no. Still, it is useful to discuss the question in the field of literature (389). And as Geert Lernout explains, in "Postmodernism in France", the French cultural commentators Guy Scarpetta and Antoine Compagnon ~ whose interpretation of postmodernism does not radically differ from that of Lyotard - have nevertheless pointed to a third way, between a nostalgia for an imaginary authenticity situated in the past on the one hand, and a modernist and progressive search for the ever new on the other hand. The solution is "the way of postmodernism, the way of impurity&quo