In the course of the first years of my employment at the Hebrew University my research has focused on the way in which literary form complements some of the radical shifts attending twentieth-century thought on the human. My belief is that attempts to redraw and reconfigure the subject are evident in the development of literary expression – from categories in narratology (plot, character, action) to the aesthetic coordinates by which we read and judge these forms. The aim is to trace the often latent correspondences between philosophy and literature and to frame them within a discussion of human history in the making. The work proceeds in three complementary and at time overlapping areas of focus: the encounter between disability studies and literature, the scene of interrupted writing in fiction and the conceptualization of a slow Modernism.
My inquiry begins with the scene of interrupted or blocked writing in fiction. The premise is that the significances and representations of the stemming of the creative process may be read as correlates of evolving conceptualizations of subjectivity from Romanticism to the present. Coleridge’s “Man from Porlock” serves as an urtext to this study, a symbol of the loathsome intruder who stands between the writer and artistic inspiration. Drawing on examples from Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Samuel Beckett, Flann O’Brien, Vladimir Nabokov and J. M. Coetzee, as framed by the thought of Maurice Blanchot, Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida, I show how the transformations in the literary handling of the writing subject may be seen to complement and, at times, anticipate new philosophical deliberations on the human. The project has so far yielded a number of papers, one of which is attached to this portfolio and is titled “Metalepsis and the Author Figure in Modernist and Postmodernist Literature” (Twentieth Century Literature 2016). The paper traces the manner in which metalepsis, a traditional literary convention wherein an author transgresses the accepted separation of ontological levels in fiction (between the writer and his characters or between reality and fiction), participates in the twentieth-century debate on the death of the subject. The paper argues that, as the rules of fiction writing reflect changes in the way we view our place in the world, the fate of metalepsis is very much intertwined with that of the human subject. Feminist and posthuman theoretical frameworks allow for a rethinking of the subject outside the coordinates of cohesiveness, independence and volition associated with the Cartesian cogito; narrative reflects this transition in the way it is reconfigured without the hermetically separate ontological levels associated with traditional writing. The diegesis becomes a platform for a negotiation of difference between agent and pawn, author and character; it is no longer the realization of predetermined and separate categories that establish cognitive limitation and ontological hierarchies. Metalepsis derives its effect from its transgressive quality; it relies on the borders of narrative stratification in order to upset them. The newly envisioned narrative space wherein characters and author-figures alike derive a sense of self through an ongoing and evolving negotiation does not admit such categorical ordering. Without borders to breach metalepsis is rendered obsolete.
My second research focus, the encounter between disability and literary studies, is a natural offshoot of my interest in creative agency, literary form and theoretical reconsiderations of subjectivity after the death of the subject. In “Who Hobbles after the Subject: Paradigms of Writing in The Third Policeman and Molloy” (Journal of Modern Literature 2017), I attend to the striking proliferation of protagonists with physical disability in the experimental fiction of the mid-twentieth century. The paper argues that the forfeiting of the conceit of agency and autonomy that define the Cartesian cogito results in the radical reconfiguration of the creativy. In an attempt to rethink artistic production outside the paradigm of the Englightenment subject, the disabled protagonists featured in the two novels dramatize a writing is not the result of creative agency but is contingent, dependent and in flux. It is generated by a writer’s passive participation rather than a willed act of expression. My interest in the encounter between literary analysis and disability studies is explored further in a paper written for the Third Annual Samuel Beckett Society conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia (July, 2017). Titled, “Univocity, Exhaustion and Failing Better: Reading Beckett with Disability Studies,” the paper investigates the ethical and literary implications of this inter-disciplinary juxtaposition.
The narratological and philosophical underpinnings of the research foci described above inform a third, metonymically related line of inquiry into Joseph Conrad, a writer to whom I have been committed from the very start of my professional life. The project builds on current interventions in modernist scholarship in order to rethink Conrad’s contribution to literary history. Where much recent critical work devoted to the author sets out to negotiate anew the author’s various biographical, historical and cultural contexts, I utilize emerging critical idiom and late modernist writing to stage an encounter between Conrad and a radically different literary tradition. The purpose of this investigation is threefold: first, to correct the long-standing critical neglect of ontological preoccupations in Conrad’s writing and uncover the author’s exploration of a human subject beyond the Cartesian cogito. Second, to demonstrate the manner in which such an exploration is accompanied by the reconfiguration of the very building blocks of fiction: character, narration, focalization, language and plot are designed to accommodate a subject who is no longer conceived of as autonomous and whole but is rendered permeable and interdependent. Third, to show how this redrawing of the literary imaginary communicates with the projects of late modernist writers such as Samuel Beckett, writers whose literary endeavors have long been held separate from Conrad’s. Against the emphasis on a futurist-inspired modernism fueled by speed technology, my reading of the author’s works focuses on the innovations underlying a stylistic and thematic exploration of deceleration and paralysis. The Israeli Science Foundation has awarded me a generous grant to pursue this research over the course of the upcoming three years. The first installment of the work has already appeared in Conrad and Language (Edinburgh UP 2016) and is attached to this application. The manuscript for a book-length study of Conrad’s poetics within the framework of slow modernism is currently under review.