Modernism and the Banality of Empire
Everyday life in the far outposts of empire can be static, empty of the excitement of progress. A pervading sense of banality and boredom are, therefore, common elements of the daily experience for people living on the colonial periphery. Saikat Majumdar suggests that this impoverished affective experience of colonial modernity significantly shapes the innovative aesthetics of modernist fiction.
Prose of the World explores the global life of this narrative aesthetic, from late-colonial modernism to the present day, focusing on a writer each from Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, and India. Ranging from James Joyce's deflated epiphanies to Amit Chaudhuri's disavowal of the grand spectacle of postcolonial national allegories, Majumdar foregrounds the banal as a key instinct of modern and contemporary fiction--one that nevertheless remains submerged because of its antithetical relation to literature's intuitive function to engage or excite.
Majumdar asks us to rethink the assumption that banality merely indicates an aesthetic failure. If narrative is traditionally enabled by the tremor, velocity, and excitement of the event, the historical and affective lack implied by the banal produces a narrative force that is radically new precisely because it suspends the conventional impulses of narration.
Prose of the World is an enormously compelling and vivid study. It shows convincingly that the experience of colonial banality was a principal engine of literary modernism. Bringing a transnational perspective to the history of twentieth-century Anglophone fiction, Majumdar provincializes modernism by putting its aesthetic celebration of the ordinary into conversation with the geopolitics of crushing boredom. The result is an ambitious, timely, and eloquent account of the relationship between early-twentieth-century fiction and the contemporary global novel in English.
Rebecca L. Walkowitz, Rutgers University, author of Cosmopolitan Style: Modernism Beyond the Nation
This well-informed, searching study throws new light on the literary consequences of empire. Its insightful account of the experience of boredom and banality on the political and cultural periphery, and of writers' responses to this experience, will be valued by all those interested in the global transformations of modernism and the relation between artistic creativity and colonial hegemony.
Derek Attridge, University of York
There are many impressive things in this book: it provides us with a powerful rethinking of the vexed relationship between empire and modernism, an unprecedented probing of the internal logic of the modernist movement, and a smart meditation on the role of the ordinary and banal in the making of the language of modernism.
Simon Gikandi, Princeton University
Thorough and challenging, this study offers the reader... a new way of thinking about late-colonial modernist fiction's deployment of the banal... [and] offers a powerful if indirect commentary on the considerable failings of postcolonial modernity.
A timely contribution to global modernist and contemporary Anglophone literary studies... Provocative... [ Prose of the World] will serve as a reference point for future discussions of modernist and contemporary literature.
An ambitious and original study that is indispensable reading for any scholars of modernism and postcolonial studies.
Introduction: Poetics of the Prosaic
1. James Joyce and the Banality of Refusal
2. Katherine Mansfield and the Fragility of Pakeha Boredom
3. The Dailiness of Trauma and Liberation in Zoë Wicomb
4. Amit Chaudhuri and the Materiality of the Mundane
Epilogue: The Uneventful
Read an excerpt from the introduction "Poetics of the Prosaic"
SHORTLIST - 2014 Modernist Studies Association Book Prize