Abstracts for 8 October
‘Years of l’entre deux guerres’—New Perspectives on ‘Prufrock’ and As I Lay Dying
‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ by T.S. Eliot and As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner have become synonymous with the style retrospectively described as High Modernist. These works are, in their own way, reactions to the fragmentation effect of World War I on Europe social and cultural life.
References in the works to the events of war are oblique, but the overall structure of their narrative is deeply affected by the psychologically traumatic events of 1914–1918. This is characteristic of High Modernist authorial technique, noticed by the shift in form rather than a direct apprehension of war in the content of the piece.
This paper will look at the convergent aspects of ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and As I Lay Dying in their treatment of the First World War. The character of Darl in Faulkner’s work is central to this analysis, his fractured psyche reflected in deepening ontological questioning as the book reaches its climax. Comparatively, the narrator of ‘Prufrock’ moves between epistemological queries and more existential issues.
The issue of World War One has been scarcely covered in relation to Faulkner’s work, this paper will redress this, utilising the poetry of Eliot (a massive influence on Faulkner’s conception of time and psychology) to show how Faulkner addressed the question of the First World War, refracted through the lens of T.S. Eliot.
Reading America: Don DeLillo’s Underworld
Underworld is an important book. I say this not because it is by one of the greatest American writers, nor because its length and sheer heft literalize, embody its cultural weight and value. Perhaps one of its claims to importance comes through the eerie prescience of its cover picture, in hindsight a prophetic portrait of the events of 9/11. And I would argue that the importance of DeLillo’s work is captured in that image: that terrible event, the possibility of that event, the conditions which made it possible are articulated, described, mapped in this extraordinarily wide and deeply serious work.
Underworld tells the story of the second half of the twentieth century in America, the period when the country, its values and its products dominated the world. But given that this is the case, my question is—why does the novel so rigorously exclude major historical events and characters? Where the novel does engage with political events—the shot heard around the world, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy assassination, the Civil Rights Movement—it does so at one remove, either refracted through representations of that event or through events which mimic, recall, foreshadow, echo, the historical moment.
Quite consciously the novel insists on drawing the reader into its world of particulars; but if we take DeLillo’s view of his creation we can see that what he presents is a realist world more like Bleak House than the postmodern novel it is frequently read as being. Underworld is by far from being an easy book to read, its slippages of time and place, its completely unstable narrative which moves dizzyingly from one decade, one side of the continent to another, mean that it does make serious demands on its readers. But then, if one is to understand a culture as complex, as disjointed and multifaceted, as physically wide as twentieth century America it is necessary that we pay serious attention to any readings of it.
In this paper I want to focus on one of DeLillo’s preoccupations with twentieth-century American life and look at Underworld’s men lost to history.
Dr Margaret Robson