Strange Likeness: Description and the Modernist Novel

Strange Likeness: Description and the Modernist Novel

by Dora Zhang

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The modern novel, so the story goes, thinks poorly of mere description—what Virginia Woolf called “that ugly, that clumsy, that incongruous tool.” As a result, critics have largely neglected description as a feature of novelistic innovation during the twentieth century. Dora Zhang argues that descriptive practices were in fact a crucial site of attention and experimentation for a number of early modernist writers, centrally Woolf, Henry James, and Marcel Proust.

Description is the novelistic technique charged with establishing a common world, but in the early twentieth century, there was little agreement about how a common world could be known and represented. Zhang argues that the protagonists in her study responded by shifting description away from visualizing objects to revealing relations—social, formal, and experiential—between disparate phenomena. In addition to shedding new light on some of the best-known works of modernism, Zhang opens up new ways of thinking about description more broadly. She moves us beyond the classic binary of narrate-or-describe and reinvigorates our thinking about the novel. Strange Likeness will enliven conversations around narrative theory, affect theory, philosophy and literature, and reading practices in the academy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226722665
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 11/10/2020
Series: Thinking Literature
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Dora Zhang is assistant professor of English and comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
Introduction. “That Ugly, That Clumsy, That Incongruous Tool”

1. Toward a Theory of Description

2. James’s Airs

3. Proust and the Effects of Analogy

4. Feeling with Woolf

5. The Ends of Description

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