"The silent soliloquy of others": language and acknowledgment in modernist fiction
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This study claims that formally experimental novels written in the early twentieth century place urgent, if often implicit, demands for acknowledgment upon their readers. Scholars have long held that the economic and cultural upheavals of the early twentieth century led novelists to doubt language’s referential capacities. But, even as signal modernist works by E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, and others move away from a view of language as a means of gaining knowledge, they also underscore its capacity to grant acknowledgment; they treat words as tools for recognizing and responding to the inner lives of others. Stanley Cavell finds such a vision of language in Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations (1953), a work Cavell describes as “modernist.” This dissertation demonstrates that Wittgenstein’s interest in acknowledgment emerges via his negotiation of the same historical forces with which literary modernism grapples: industrialization, World War, cross-cultural encounter. I argue that modernist representations of consciousness offer readers a way of hearing what Wittgenstein calls “the silent soliloquy of others,” giving us words by which we might adopt an attitude of acknowledgment toward the otherwise unvoiced inner lives of socially marginalized figures. Chapter One considers the crisis of reason that convulses early twentieth-century Britain and demonstrates how Forster’s Howards End (1910) and Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (1925) critique excessive commitments to rationality as counterproductive to the acknowledgment of politically disenfranchised citizens. Chapter Two discusses Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier (1915), Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1927), and Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929): three texts that, I show, cast traditional Victorian marriage as an unsatisfying form of intimacy and depict speakers hesitant to acknowledge their desires for alternative, same-sex modes of intimate relation. Chapter Three examines Faulkner’s portrayal of capitalist modernization in The Sound and the Fury (1929) and As I Lay Dying (1930), arguing that characters in these novels insist on the immitigable privacy of their experiences and struggle accordingly to gain acknowledgment from family members. Chapter Four reads Richard Wright’s Black Boy (1945) and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) as two texts that represent the psychological experience of having one’s humanity go brutally unacknowledged under Jim Crow.