Modernist writers were great experimenters in the temporal forms of prose and verse. Their writing registered an unprecedented sense of self-conscious modernity. But it also captured a hodgepodge of rhythms and temporalities contained within that modernity itself: the various temporal structures that the modern world makes available to—or imposes upon—its subjects.
Central to this modernity's socio-temporal arrangements are changing social organizations of labor. Although much has been written about the experience of time and history in modernist writing, critics have seldom looked to this corpus to study representations of work. This is because we are still getting past the notion that modernism, as the historical apotheosis of aesthetic autonomy, severed art and literature from the base matters of the social and the economic. It is also because the centrality of work to modern(ist) time has been overlooked, and we have so far lacked the conceptual tools to analyze the temporality of work in literary texts.
Not only does work relate fundamentally to the temporal structures governing individual and collective lives—as captured in the term "occupation" meaning job and way of spending time. Modernist writers were also grappling with authorship itself as a newly-minted form of professional activity, in a period when occupation became increasingly defining of social identity across the social spectrum. At the same time, the work of writers and artists was subject to what Maurizio Lazzarato has called "chronophagic" (i.e., time-devouring) economic forces. Within this context, many modernist texts deploy the figure of the writer or artist to explore liberated ways of inhabiting time, inflected by questions of class, gender, and race. The temporality of the writer's work in modernism therefore offers a critical lens on the socio-temporality of work more broadly, at a moment of historic transformations in the social division of labor.
The formally inventive works of modernist writers continue to invite critical reflection on forms of temporality. Few scholars, by contrast, have considered it worthwhile to study representations of work in modernist writing, assumed to be absorbed in internal matters of form and language. Yet work relates fundamentally to the social organization of time: the question of temporality therefore presents a key to the problem of work in modernist literature. A modernist preoccupation with the writer’s occupation, in quest of liberated ways of inhabiting time, offers a critical lens onto the socio-temporality of work at a moment of historic transformations in the social division of labor.
This project explores the temporality of the writer’s work in British and American modernist literature. Four research papers address different ways in which modernist texts represent the writer and artist’s relation to time, with due attention to dimensions of class, gender, and race. Together these papers form the basis for the first book-length study on the temporality of work in modernist literature. The project demonstrates the far-reaching potential of an innovative approach to work and social time in literature and culture as a productive field of inquiry to be pursued in future projects.
The three-year project forms a collaboration between Bard College, the University of Pennsylvania, and the “Temporal Experiments” research group at the University of Oslo. Spending a year at each of these institutions, the project manager will work closely with Alys Moody, Paul K. Saint-Amour, and Bruce E. Barnhart, leading scholars of modernism whose research has broken new ground on modernist conceptions of the artist, the economies of modernist literary production, and the intersections of economics and temporality in modernist writing.