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Writing from Finitude: Love, Desire, and the Nostalgias of Modernism

Bagley, Sarah C. (2015) Writing from Finitude: Love, Desire, and the Nostalgias of Modernism. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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In this dissertation I show that nostalgia, conceived as an emotional, ethical, and ontological structure, is the operative link between finitude, desire, and love as they develop in the aesthetic trajectory of High Modernist literature. Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time shows how the pain of loving in the face of finitude can lead to desire, which rejects love in favor of a delusional investment in solipsistic comfort. Samuel Beckett’s oeuvre, by contrast, shows that love manifests in a temporal and interpersonal immediacy that cannot be achieved or represented in literature. R.M. Rilke’s Duino Elegies provide images that help to frame my analysis of Beckett and Proust.

Nostalgia is a painful sense of not being “at home” that results from the consciousness of finitude. Desire is the attempt to deny nostalgic pain; it searches for complete certainty and safety, and pursues fulfillment by appropriating its object. Love manifests as the joyous ability to trust and touch that depends on human finitude. Desire dominates the aesthetic conclusions of Proust’s text, which proposes that displacing time and consciousness to representative art can achieve the fulfillment of desire. Although Marcel loves his grandmother early in the text, her death is so devastating that in his relationship with Albertine he rejects love’s risks in favor of desire’s promised fulfillment. In my analysis, Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory and Minima Moralia help to distinguish between desiring and loving forms of representation, and Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project shows the ethical pitfalls of proposing that representation can redeem the historical fact of death.

Beckett’s novels and plays portray the bleakness of representation itself, and demonstrate that narrative fails to achieve love or fulfillment. His attention to “the old style” in Happy Days shows that words themselves have a desiring and nostalgic structure, and the lost possibilities for love in Krapp’s Last Tape and Molloy show how representation fails to capture the past. Finally, Ben Lerner’s Didactic Elegy shows the continued relevance of concerns about nostalgia, love, desire, and representation, by applying these terms to 9/11 and its aftermath.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Bagley, Sarah C.scb18@pitt.eduSCB180000-0001-8616-7263
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairBové, Paul A.bove@pitt.eduBOVE
Committee MemberMacCabe, Colinmaccabe@pitt.eduMACCABE
Committee MemberJudy, Ronald A. T.buchnfar@pitt.eduBUCHNFAR
Committee MemberRogers, Gaylegrogers@pitt.eduGROGERS
Committee MemberArac,
Committee MemberMecchia, Giuseppinamecchia@pitt.eduMECCHIA
Date: 10 September 2015
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 29 July 2015
Approval Date: 10 September 2015
Submission Date: 20 July 2015
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 203
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Modernism, Nostalgia, Finitude, Love, Desire, Proust, Beckett, Rilke, Lerner
Date Deposited: 10 Sep 2015 13:21
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2020 05:15


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