High Modernism

High Modernism

Aestheticism and Performativity in Literature of the 1920s

Joshua Kavaloski


Camden House



Explores the performative role of canonical literary works from the 1920s, providing a more nuanced understanding of high modernism and resituating it within literary history.

"High modernism" is accepted shorthand for the core phase of literary modernism in the 1920s, when Eliot, Joyce, Pound, Woolf, Mann, Kafka, Proust, Gide, and others published pivotal works. While there is consensus about the term's meaning, the value and significance of the works it designates are highly contested. For advocates who helped establish its place in the canon, the works of high modernism mark the culmination of literature as high art, while other critics see them as elitist, inaccessible, patriarchal, imperialist, reactionary. Despite this wide range of judgments, all take for granted that high modernism's main features are aestheticist: formal innovation and detachment from history, society, and politics.
This book reconsiders that supposition, arguing that high modernist texts epitomize performativity, that is, that they transcend the quiescence of literary aesthetics and affect the extratextual world. Writers such as Kafka, Woolf, Mann, and Faulkner privilege form not as an end in itself but as a means to empower the sociopolitical function of literature. By exploring the performative role of literary works from the 1920s, this book provides a more nuanced understanding of high modernism and resituates it within literary history.

Joshua Kavaloski is Associate Professor and Director of the German Studies Program at Drew University.


November 2014
244 pages
9x6 in
Studies in German Literature Linguistics and Culture
ISBN: 9781571139108
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Camden House
BISAC LIT004170, LIT004020, LIT004120
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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Problematics of High Modernism
The New Critics and the Social Function of Modern Literature
Literary Theory's Reception of High Modernism
Aesthetic Performativity in Franz Kafka's Das Schloss
Discontinuity in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse
The Enactment of Time in Thomas Mann's Der Zauberberg
Chiasms in William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying
Conclusion: The Dialectic of High Modernism
Appendix: The Early, High, and Late Phases of Modernism

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