Three Articles of Posthuman Modernism: The Meta-Cinema of Marcel L’Herbier (and Friends)
This paper reads Marcel L’Herbier’s The Inhuman Woman as an exemplary expression of a posthuman moment in modernism. Drawing on comparisons with the art of Fernand Léger and James Joyce, it highlights several elements of the film’s aesthetic – its heavily stylized compositions, its striking use of set design and costumes to subvert the visual syntax of foreground and background, its eroticization of technology, its disassembly of the human figure – in order to demonstrate the continuity between a high-modernist discourse on machine-life and current issues in posthuman theory. Both modernism and the posthuman respond to an epochal event within modernity, a technological acceleration of reality that reshapes ontological grammars. Both contemplate reality as a middle ground of mechanical and vital processes. And both are committed to a Copernican decentering of the human eye from its place of privilege in received models of phenomenal experience.
This article offers a rhetorical analysis of Deleuze's concept of the past, understood not as a modification of the present but as a pre-predicative, non-subjective articulation of time. Focusing on the discussion of the three passive syntheses of time in Chapter 2 of Difference and Repetition, it traces the continuity between past, passivity and passion across Deleuze's body of work in an effort not only to remark on the conceptual resonances between them, but, more importantly, to examine the figural and formal choices that codify those resonances, and to some extent over-determine them – in particular, Deleuze's recourse to allegory and tragic form. Though the past is constituted as a primordial component of time, it already exceeds itself in the passivity of that constitutive moment, of that originary gesture by which it is first committed to historical experience. The process is rendered in dramatic terms: Habitus and Mnemosyne (Habit and Memory; Present and Past) are first pitted against each other – respectively, as the origin of time and its ground. They are then overthrown by an unnamed third element ‘which subordinates the other two to itself’ and opens the whole to infinity. The article thematises the significance of the past within this allegorical drama, develops the character, and draws out the temporal structures encoded in Deleuze's figurations.
In Fantasies of Self-Mourning Ruben Borg describes the formal features of a posthuman, cyborgian imaginary at work in modernism. The book’s central claim is that modernism invents the posthuman as a way to think through the contradictions of its historical moment. Borg develops a posthumanist critique of the concept of organic life based on comparative readings of Pirandello, Woolf, Beckett, and Flann O’Brien, alongside discussions of Alfred Hitchcock, Chris Marker, Béla Tarr, Ridley Scott and Mamoru Oshii. The argument draws together a cluster of modernist narratives that contemplate the separation of a cybernetic eye from a human body, or call for a tearing up of the body understood as a discrete organic unit capable of synthesizing desire and sense perception.
With its penchant for dissecting rehearsed attitudes and subverting expectations, Flann O’Brien’s writing displays an uncanny knack for comic doubling and self-contradiction. Focusing on the satirical energies and anti-authoritarian temperament invested in his style, Flann O'Brien: Problems with Authority interrogates the author's clowning with linguistic, literary, legal, bureaucratic, political, economic, academic, religious and scientific powers in the sites of the popular, the modern and the traditional.
Each chapter reflects on some aspect of his iconoclastic impulses; on the impertinent send-ups of pretension and orthodoxy to be found in his fiction, columns, and writing for stage and screen; on the very nature of his comedic inspiration.... Among the topics addressed are O’Brien’s satirical use of the pseudonym, the cliché and the Irish language; his irreverent repackaging of inherited myths, sacred texts and formative canons; and his refusal of literary and ideological closure.
The emerging picture is of a complex literary project that is always, in some way, a writing against the weight of received wisdoms and inherited sureties.
Challenging the narrative that Flann O'Brien wrote two good novels and then retired to the inferior medium of journalism (as Myles na gCopaleen), Flann O'Brien: Contesting Legacies engages with overlooked shorter, theatrical, and non-fiction works and columns ('John Duffy's Brother', 'The Martyr's Crown', 'Two in One') alongside At Swim-Two-Birds, The Third Policeman, and An Béal Bocht. The depth and consistency of O'Nolan's comic inspiration that emerges from this scholarly engagement with his broader body of work underlines both the imperative and opportunity of reassessing O'Brien's literary legacy.
In the Physics Aristotle describes time as something that either does not exist or exists barely and in an obscure manner. Ruben Borg argues that an attempt to grapple with this problem informs the narrative structure, imagery and complex rhetorical strategies of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. By examining the relation between time and processes of figuration in Joyce’s fiction, this study engages with the challenges of grasping time as a multiplicity that resists representation and objective measurement. Joyce’s lexical and rhetorical inventions are viewed as an attempt to describe time’s characteristic movement in terms of waste, measureless excess or fading.
If, as Ruben Borg masterfully shows, Joyce’s ambition was to write a history of time with Finnegans Wake, it could not be a “short history of time,” something like a universal history, nor even a very long and dark and tangled story about an Irish family. It would have to be an almost infinite and unimaginable experience, a radical attempt to make us relive the origins of language. With a rare blend of literary and philosophical expertise, Borg unfolds hitherto unexplored dimensions of the Wake and inscribes it definitively in a discursive tradition marked by the clash of warring brothers (like Shem and Shaun): Bruno and Vico, Bergson and Heidegger, Derrida and Deleuze.
Jean-Michel Rabaté, University of Pennsylvania
That time is an obscure if not impossible object for thought is, in Borg’s analysis, the central problematic that structures Finnegans Wake. He argues that it is Joyce's attempt to present the “unthinkable form of time” that motivated many of the Wake's formal innovations. In making this claim, Borg deftly balances lucid formal analysis with a mastery of relevant and quite extensive philosophical history, showing how literary innovation yields conceptual insights that have eluded more conventional discourses. Linking Finnegans Wake to post-structuralist theories of temporality and subjectivity enables Borg to rethink recent theoretical articulations of what it means to be “posthuman” — a category whose importance continues to be felt across many fields.
Borg’s book prompts us to think through the theological tradition that historically precedes and grounds the somewhat recent conception of the “posthuman,” and this may be the most provocative of the many contributions made by The Measureless Time of Joyce, Deleuze and Derrida. [...] In addition, the study is unique for deftly adapting Katherine Hayles’s more recent category of the “posthuman” to questions of time and narratology. Borg's elegant prose integrates a masterful understanding of the Wake with an equally impressive command of the relevant history of philosophy. He makes a compelling case for reading Finnegans Wake as a unique site in which the unthinkable structure of time itself can be thought.
Andrew Gaedtke, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The rational scheme on which the book is organised will facilitate a deeper understanding of the basic epistemological questions at stake within deconstructionism itself (in spite of the complexity usually associated with the works of Derrida and Deleuze), accentuating how powerful their thought is when applied to literary critique.
Overall, this book is an outstanding post-structuralist work that shows how self-knowledge, which is in many points of view the very first task of philosophy, necessarily entails a compromise with rhetorics, as well as with a supplement of materiality.