Lyric narrative in late modernism: Virginia Woolf, H.D., Germaine Dulac, and Walter Benjamin

by Hindrichs, Cheryl Lynn

Abstract (Summary)
This dissertation redefines lyric narrative—forms of narration that fuse the associative resonance of lyric with the linear progression of narrative—as both an aesthetic mode and a strategy for responding ethically to the political challenges of the period of late modernism. Underscoring the vital role of lyric narrative as a late-modernist technique, I focus on its use during the period 1925-1945 by British writer Virginia Woolf, American expatriate poet H.D., French filmmaker Germaine Dulac, and German critic Walter Benjamin. Locating themselves as outsiders free to move across generic and national boundaries, each insisted on the importance of a dialectical vision: that is, holding in a productive tension the timeless vision of the lyric mode and the dynamic energy of narrative progression. Further, I argue that a transdisciplinary, feminist impulse informed this experimentation, leading these authors to incorporate innovations in fiction, music, cinema, and psychoanalysis. Consequently, I combine a narratological and historicist approach to reveal parallel evolutions of lyric narrative across disciplines—fiction, criticism, and film. Through an interpretive lens that uses rhetorical theory to attend to the ethical dimensions of their aesthetics, I show how Woolf’s, H.D.’s, Dulac’s, and Benjamin’s lyric narratives create unique relationships with their audiences. Unlike previous lyric narratives, these works invite audiences to inhabit multiple standpoints, critically examine their world, and collaborate in producing the work of art. Hence, contrary to readings of high modernist experimentation as disengaged l’art pour l’art, I show that avant-garde lyric narrative in the late 1920s—particularly the technique of fugue writing—served these authors as a means of disrupting conventional, heterosexual, patriarchal, and militarist social and political narratives. During the crises of the 1930s and the Second World War, Woolf, H.D., Dulac, and Benjamin turn to the lyric narrative technique of montage to advance a vision of the collaborative work of art as a means to critically engage with history, illuminate the stakes of the present moment, and inspire creative work for a different future.
Bibliographical Information:


School:The Ohio State University

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:lyric narrative modernism late virginia woolf h d hilda dolittle walter benjamin fugue palimpsest montage


Date of Publication:01/01/2006

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