Enchanted Modernisms: Global Literary Afterlives of the Spirit, 1922–1949

Sobers, Janine H. Enchanted Modernisms: Global Literary Afterlives of the Spirit, 1922–1949. 2023. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

This dissertation focuses on the persistence of spirituality as an active, constitutive force in the literary productions of modernism and modernity on a global scale. Its key objectives are twofold: first, to demonstrate that the secularization thesis historically prevalent in critical narratives on literary modernism is a partial account, belying the continuation of matters of the spirit as enduring and dynamic presences in the modern world. Even in the wake of proverbial pronouncements of the death of God, this modern world is not one that is wholly and irrevocably disenchanted. Rather, due to the extreme unevenness of processes of secularization and disenchantment across the globe, the question of the death of God is not a consensus, but an animated site of contestation and considerably varied viewpoints. While I maintain this contention is true even within the canonical archive of modernism, the need to reassess and nuance the secularization thesis is particularly imperative following the impact of New Modernism Studies and the increasing popularity of global modernism as a structuring framework. As the field continues its endeavors to expand its archive and modes of reading—especially into literary cultures in which secularization has been contentious, uneven, or inapplicable—the myth of a disenchanted modern world increasingly loses its claim to authority. As such, this dissertation casts a wide net in the endeavor to illustrate the untenability of disenchantment as a universal narrative, drawing from various—and not mutually exclusive—arenas of literary production, e.g. Anglo-American modernism, Japanese modernism, Black modernism, queer modernism, and modern Latin American literature. The various analyses comprising this project altogether form a broader tableau that shows the breadth and depth of spirituality’s role in literary responses to modernity.

That being said, the second key objective of this project, arising from its affirmation of a post-secular modernist literary studies, is to further diversify and reassess narratives on the possible functions of the spiritual—what its politics may be, which endeavors it served, how writers related to and thought of it. Across the chapters of this dissertation, then, spirituality emerges as not exclusively a conservative or reactionary instrument, but also an instrument for modern and progressive pursuits; not inherently normative or disciplinary, but also antinomian and insurgent—in certain cases, even, illustrating the porosity and instability of such divides. Authors moreover oriented themselves not just negatively toward spirituality, but positively and generatively as well—as, in all, a force not disengaged from the material world, but deeply implicated in its concerns—a means to variously explore, critique, affirm, imagine, and actualize paradigm shifts constitutive of modernity on matters such as, but not limited to, empiricism, empire, colonialism, race, culture, gender, and sexuality.

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