Year of Publication

2019

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Jonathan Allison

Abstract

The Revolt against Mourning calls into question the widespread critical alignment of literary modernism with Freudian melancholia. Focusing instead on “mourning,” through close readings of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, James Joyce’s Ulysses, and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, I demonstrate how their depictions of this notion overturn both its traditional and contemporary understandings. Whereas Freud conceives mourning as a psychic labor that the subject slowly and painfully carries out, Woolf, Joyce, and Faulkner convey it as a destabilizing, subversive, and transformative force to which the subject is radically passive. For Freud, mourning is a matter of severing one’s libidinal bond to the lost other and reinvesting the free libido in a new object. But these modernists show that this bond is not in fact something we have the power to sever. Rather, precisely because we must stay internally bound to the lost other, we are always exposed to being usurped and altered by its alterity. Indeed, what my readings disclose is that these novels end up being (dis)possessed by the spectral force unleashed in them. I argue, however, that each writer can be read as attempting a textual exorcism to free his or her novel from this force by invoking a vital, dynamic movement I call “life.” But although Woolf, Joyce, and Faulkner seek such liberation, their narrative experiments ultimately fail to achieve it. And yet, for that very reason, Mrs. Dalloway, Ulysses, and The Sound and the Fury further illuminate how mourning both precedes and exceeds our desire to master it and binds us to the others we lose, perhaps for the entirety of our lives.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/etd.2019.360

Funding Information

English Department Summer Research Stipend

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