Modernism and Its Discontents
Aldous Huxley decried "the horrors of modern 'pleasure,'" or the proliferation of mass produced, widely accessible entertainment that could degrade or dull the mind. He and his contemporaries, including James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, D. H. Lawrence, and Jean Rhys, sought to radically redefine pleasure, constructing arduous and indirect paths to delight through their notoriously daunting work. Laura Frost follows these experiments in the art of unpleasure, connecting modernism's signature characteristics, such as irony, allusiveness, and obscurity, to an ambitious attempt to reconfigure bliss.
In The Problem with Pleasure, Frost draws upon a wide variety of materials, linking interwar amusements, such as the talkies, romance novels, the Parisian fragrance Chanel no. 5, and the exotic confection Turkish Delight, to the artistic play of Joyce, Lawrence, Stein, Rhys, and others. She considers pop cultural phenomena and the rise of celebrities such as Rudolph Valentino and Gypsy Rose Lee against contemporary sociological, scientific, and philosophical writings on leisure and desire.
Throughout her study, Frost incorporates recent scholarship on material and visual culture and vernacular modernism, recasting the period's high/low, elite/popular divides and formal strategies as efforts to regulate sensual and cerebral experience. Capturing the challenging tensions between these artists' commitment to innovation and the stimulating amusements they denounced yet deployed in their writing, Frost calls attention to the central role of pleasure in shaping interwar culture.
A tour de force that will be widely and passionately read. Laura Frost has panache, acuity, incisiveness, and pleasure to burn. This is an important and shimmering book, a firework in its own right.
Jennifer Wicke, University of Virginia
Strikingly original both conceptually and in its readings of a diverse array of interwar authors from Joyce and Stein to Huxley and Loos, Laura Frost's revisionary study of literary modernism's relation to the pleasures of vernacular culture changes the terms of the debate concerning modernism and the great divide between high and low culture. Yet her study's implications resonate significantly beyond modernism and are urgently relevant to understanding and assessing our contemporary response to the easy pleasures of the digital.
John Paul Riquelme, Boston University
An original and useful revision to our understanding of modernism.
Fresh, invigorating, witty and profound, her book impresses on every page.... This is criticism at its very best and it deserves to top any reading list on Modernism.
[Frost] is an irreverent, imaginative guide to modernism, and her own writing throughout this impressive study is a pleasure and a delight.
List of Illustrations
Introduction: The Repudiation of Pleasure
1. James Joyce and the Scent of Modernity
2. Stein's Tickle
3. Orgasmic Discipline: D. H. Lawrence
4. Huxley's Feelies: Engineered Pleasure in Brave New World
5. The Impasse of Pleasure: Patrick Hamilton and Jean Rhys
6. Blondes Have More Fun: Anita Loos and the Language of Silent Cinema
Coda: Modernism's Afterlife in the Age of Prosthetic Pleasure
Read an excerpt from the introduction "The Repudiation of Pleasure":