The Work of Ennui: Studies on Attention in Early French Modernism (Baudelaire, Flaubert, Huysmans)
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D'Amico, John M.
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CitationD'Amico, John M. 2019. The Work of Ennui: Studies on Attention in Early French Modernism (Baudelaire, Flaubert, Huysmans). Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation examines the theorization and crystallization of literary creation as mental work in the writings of Baudelaire, Flaubert and Huysmans. Literary modernity was marked by the emergence of literature as an autonomous realm whose usefulness was vehemently debated. In order to prove its value in this context, artists emphasized the quality of labor poured into these artifacts. I contend that their documentation of these efforts took the shape of meditations on ennui, which simultaneously voiced their dissatisfaction with their perceived inefficiency and highlighted the exorbitant cost of their literary wares. Upholding and subverting ideals of capitalist production, these reflections put into relief activity falling outside of the equation of value with the time deemed socially necessary for creation.
My writers told the story of literary labor through their discourses on ennui which, I argue, presciently narrativized the discourses on attention theorized by the burgeoning field of psychology at the fin-de-siècle. Literary writers and scientists were both deeply interested in how the mind functioned, using examples of when it was not working—unoccupied, inattentive or in deviation from the functional norm—to materialize mental labor. Literary accounts of boredom and scientific accounts of attention therefore converge with regard to technique: both espoused the pathological method, heralding Freud’s use of the neuroses as the circuitous route leading to his theory of psyche.
The chapters of this dissertation retrace literary work in terms of the metamorphosis of attention as it changes upon contact with boredom. I narrate these studies on attention according to three Freudian topologies that organize each chapter. First, Baudelaire subverts his cult of effort through the dissolution of attention and its sublimation into spontaneous will. Second, Flaubert etherealizes his fetishization of style by transforming his metaphors for concentration in his correspondence into material supports for distraction in Madame Bovary. Finally, Huysmans valorizes the unconscious direction of his thought as the motor of his conversion and literary trajectory. In each case, ennui magnifies the requisite deviations of the creative instinct, retracing the steps of thought on its metamorphic road and drawing the arabesque of the artistic process.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41121312
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