I am fascinated by writing practices on the borderlines of genres, hovering between philosophical critique and aesthetic production, and of disciplines such as literature and social studies. My current project, “Risking Thought. Modernist Practices of Transgressive Prose Writing”, is set in the field of transnational modernism studies. It develops my interest in how writers respond to moments of historical crisis. While my doctoral research aimed at uncovering an ethics of witnessing, and explored how literature engages with the conditions of perception, this new project focuses on the conditions of thought itself, and asks how literature can be seen as a practice of innovative of thought. Working against the notion of de-personalization in the modernist avant-garde, I foreground how embodiment, movement and gesture are key to understanding the disruptive impact of such hybrid texts.
These hybrid prose texts are usually discussed under a variety of generic titles – aphorism, prose poem, poets prose, thought image – and most of these terms carry implications of specific national traditions, which is a methodological frame I’d like to break. The writing practices I work with include French, English and German texts, and include expressionist writing responding to the rise of totalitarianism, the tradition of the thought image, feminist texts, and what has been termed the ‘black radical tradition.’ I ask why writers use what reads like ‘literary’, non-paraphrasable, language to approach conceptual problems in experimental prose pieces.
I argue that these hybrid, transgressive textualities offer a mode of thinking, reading, and writing that allows us to inquire into the interconnectedness of language, representation and politics. These are interventions in a historical moment that saw the concept of reason itself, and its ideological implications, become the subject of a transnational debate. It is my hypothesis that these texts develop innovative modes of thought, in order to resist the threat of complicity or appropriation by fascism, racism, or patriarchal structures, and their concurrent cultures of knowledge.
What is important for the context of modernism studies is that this is a poetics-as-practice and updates 18th century definitions of the aesthetics as “sensory recognition”, engaging the ‘others’ of reason with more conventional forms of rationality- the sensation of the object itself (T.W. Adorno the intuition of an “electric eros” (Mina Loy). This also means that these practices offer a perspective on modernism focuses on a democratic aesthetic, instead of on unmaking, negativity, or obscurity.
The clusters of enquiry I have defined so far take the prose poems of the French symbolists as precursor and contrastive foil; they include expressionist writers, who use concepts related to vitalism to develop a counter-discourse that is both anti-totalitarian and feminist; Mina Loy or Gertrude Stein with their embodied and feminist writing; the thought-image tradition, which can be extended e.g. to Richard Wright’s “Twelve Million Black Voices,” Alice Dunbar Nelson or W.E.B. DuBois, Alain Locke, and Jean Toomer, who juxtapose poetry and prose when writing against the color line and the rationality of Western science; and the cross-generic experiments by William Carlos William.
Another aspect of this that I’m interested in is to focus in particular on women’s writing, which I neglected in the field of prose, and this is going to entail archival research /translation work. These texts are heteroglossic, and I’m interested in discussing whether they actually constitute a more democratic form of prose writing.
I am currently submitting the essay manuscript “Energizing Thought: Eros, Movement and Dance in the Prose Fragments of Mina Loy, Else Lasker-Schüler, and Angela Rohr” for publication.