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Remembering Modernity: Technics of Temporal Memory in Twentieth-Century Literature and Film


My dissertation explores the notion that human memory is technical, prosthetic, and has been connected throughout history to writing. This thesis, when applied to modernist criticism, suggests several important questions: since modernist art, both literary and visual, often seeks a greater fidelity to its own contemporary condition, can an entire age be contemporary to itself? If traditional memory is eradicated by modernism, what takes its place? How can we remember modernity? To answer these questions, I develop a culturally-specific reading of the technics of modern memory. While the dissertation, on the one hand, continues the long-standing tradition of interpreting the cultures of modernity and contemporaneity through technology, it offers a new critical and theoretical matrix that departs from this tradition in significant ways. Ultimately, I argue that the changing philosophical conception of technics must be central to the project of analyzing twentieth-century literature and film, focusing on a series of modernist and postmodernist texts that engage in this process of refiguring memory and subjectivity through writing. Because my framework depends on the conception of technical development as a production-related global phenomenon, I analyze concurrent Eastern European modernisms as well. Also, since the very idea of radical mnemonic reevaluation suggests a disruption of conventionalized epochality, each chapter presents a nonlinear argument, often connecting works from different periods. Additionally, to account for the importance of technics for this project, chapters include intermedia analyses, or discussions of alternative textual forms.

The dissertation consists of five chapters. The first, a general introduction, explores the theoretical and philosophical groundwork outlined above to position the cultural production of modernity within a larger technological history of the human. The second focuses on modernist texts that engage in the process of refiguring memory and subjectivity through writing. The third examines performative memory and its relationship to the prosthetic body, while the fourth concentrates on textual memory following the rise of cybernetics. Finally, the fifth chapter examines film, continuing the comparative study of works from the West and the former Eastern Bloc to trace the differences in their treatment of memory attributable to each culture's relationship to technical production.

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