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Prosaic Desires

Modernist Knowledge, Boredom, Laughter, and Anticipation

Sara Crangle

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Studying the work of Joyce, Woolf, Stein and Beckett, Sara Crangle explores the everyday human longings found in Modernist writing. This discussion is set within a framework of continental philosophy, particularly the thinking of Emmanuel Levinas.


Introduction: Mortal Self, Infinite Longings
1. Dying To Know
2. Haunted By Boredom
3. Inclining Towards Laughter
4. In The Meantime
Conclusion: Endlessnessnessness

About the Author

Sara Crangle is a lecturer at the University of Sussex and a former research fellow at Queens' College, Cambridge. She has published a number of academic articles on twentieth-century poetry and fiction. She is currently editing a volume of Mina Loy's unpublished and uncollected writing for Dalkey Archive Press, and is also co-editing, with Peter Nicholls, a collection of essays on bathos, which is forthcoming with Continuum.


In this penetrating new study, Sara Crangle argues persuasively that the crisis-driven aesthetics of literary modernism persistently grounded its unfulfilled longings in the "small urgent feelings of the everyday". Boredom, laughter, anxious anticipation - these constitute the surprisingly "prosaic" emotional register that governed the modernists' radical experiments with literary form.
- Peter Nicholls, Professor of English, New York University
Sara Crangle's inventive book shifts our attention from great desires to the little desires of everyday life, such as the desire to laugh, to be relieved of boredom or to be freed of desire altogether. It is these low-key, "prosaic desires," Crangle argues, that galvanize the modernist imagination. Making ingenious use of Levinas's ethical thought, Crangle combines theoretical insight with sinuous close reading in this scintillating contribution to modernist studies.
- Maud Ellmann, Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Professor of the Development of the Novel in English, University of Chicago

Rather than allowing modernism to stand as a descriptive term (a certain time period, a certain geographical area), Crangle ties it to a specific affective experience, and thereby demands that the term retain its evaluative component. This is a move that calls into question not only the way we think of desire, or the way we read Joyce, Woolf, Stein, or Beckett, but also the ways that we make use of literary categories.

- Laura Finch, University of Pennsylvania, Journal of Modern Literature
A fascinating study
- Rachel Murray, James Joyce Broadsheet, No 97