Aesthetics out of place : modernist technique in the age of catastrophe / Neil Jonathan Levi.
“Aesthetics Out of Place: Modernist Technique in the Age of Catastrophe” examines how both a Nazi exhibition of modernist art—the 1937 “Degenerate Art” exhibition—and modernist texts by James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, Theodor W. Adorno, and Samuel Beckett intertwine notions of dirt with talk of “the Jews.” My investigation of notions of dirt in these texts demonstrates how what is often seen as a traditional satirical topos has, in this century, become vitally bound up with literary reflections on and of history and politics. Mary Douglas's definition of dirt as “matter out of place,” and her argument that dirt is an inevitable by-product of creative activity, in particular, the creation of social order are of especial importance to this project. This constellation of texts is examined as a series of reflections of—and upon—the historical moment that Eric Hobsbawm has defined as “the Age of Catastrophe,” and the fate of European Jewry in the Second World War forms a constant point of historical reference for my readings. The dissertation shows the range of the uses of the notion of “the Jew” and the fantasy world of anti-semitism for thinking about the formal innovations of modernism. It suggests that fascism and anti-semitism, can be regarded as important points of historical and cultural reference for works that do not, at first glance, engage the phenomenon of fascism or that seem to address anti-semitism in contexts prior to fascism's rise. Finally, it demonstrates the methodological utility of the concept of the constellation in expanding our sense of the sources we might employ to find out about the relationships that obtain between cultural and political phenomena in general and, specifically, between modernism, fascism, and anti-semitism.
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