Technical Difficulties: Modernism and the Machine.
Woodbury Tease, Amy.
Abstract: This dissertation explores the boundaries between technology and the
ideology of the human in the twentieth- and twenty-first-centuries. As a movement that
motivates theoretical interventions such as Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age
of Mechanical Reproduction," Theodor W. Adorno's The Culture
Industry, and Mark Seltzer's Bodies and
Machines, modernism exhibits a pervasive ... read moreanxiety about the status of the
human in relation to technology. Examining this relationship through multiple theoretical
frameworks, I argue that modernism is marked by technical difficulties: moments of rupture
and dissonance that disrupt and fragment narratives, produce interference over
communications lines, and reconfigure time and space. Casting my reading across generic,
temporal, and geographical boundaries, I read the Professor in Joseph Conrad's
The Secret Agent (1907) as a figure that troubles the
man/machine binary by operating on the brink of what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari call
"becoming machine"; put Samuel Beckett's play Krapp's Last
Tape (1958) into conversation with Kazuo Ishiguro's novel
Never Let Me Go (2005) as they challenge the modernist
ideology of the human through narratives that privilege the recorded voice or copy; examine
the telephone in Muriel Spark's Memento Mori (1959) and
The Girls of Slender Means (1963) as an insecure and
antagonistic medium of communication that articulates a global tension around the threat of
surveillance in the postwar era; bring Samuel Beckett's experimental short,
Film (1959), to bear on Michael Haneke's
Caché (2005) as they construct a theory of perception as
always already paranoid; and consider modernism's role in the shaping of postmodern network
culture through James Joyce, whose literary and critical oeuvre anticipates the generative
effects of technology in the digital age. Together, the texts in this dissertation reveal
modernism's preoccupation with media that are inherently unstable, that breed discomfort
through disembodiment, and that produce institutionalized methods of control. Through their
investment in the technical difficulties that expose the fantasy of security, closure, and
connection and that reveal the cracks in our humanist frameworks, these texts consider the
effects of the human engagement with the machine and call for a reexamination of
assumptions about how technology functions as a producer of knowledge and a recorder of
individual and collective histories.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2011.
Submitted to the Dept. of English.
Advisor: Lee Edelman.
Committee: Joseph Litvak, Sonia Hofkosh, and Rebecca Walkowitz.
Keyword: Literature.read less