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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

English

Year Degree Awarded

Spring 2014

First Advisor

Laura Doyle

Second Advisor

Randall Knoper

Third Advisor

James Hicks

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature | Modern Literature

Abstract

The Great War introduced explosive weaponry and military tactics that would create an entirely new economy of visuality and blindness in war. Over 23,000 soldiers were discharged from the British army during the First World War as a result of seriously damaged eyesight, the French army suffered approximately 2,400 blinded casualties, and the United States incurred approximately 850 soldiers with visual defects, 400 of whom were totally blinded. These historical contexts anchor my analysis of modernists’ attention to the wartime pressure to be blind (a pressure materially abetted by the war’s wounding technologies), and their texts’ corresponding interest in the interpersonal dynamics of seeing and not-seeing. While many soldiers were physically blinded in battle, civilian blindness about the war and their refusal to see the reality of wounded veterans catapulted this phenomenon toward epidemic proportions, motivating modernist writers to critique forms of national blindness that promoted a false sense of reality and immunity among civilians. In a discussion of a range of modernist texts, including Mary Borden’s The Forbidden Zone, Frederic Manning’s The Middle Parts of Fortune, Faulkner’s Soldiers’ Pay, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and Hemingway’s In Our Time, this dissertation rewrites current scholarship that highlights modernism’s ambivalence about the visual. Departing from those whose highlight modernism’s skepticism about seeing, and building upon those who view visuality as a central aspect of modernist aesthetics, I suggest that a closer look at modernists’ First World War literature invites the possibility of redefining the visual outside the lens of violently war-torn bodies and the disembodied optics of war, as modernism’s insistence upon the intersubjectivity of sight reminds us that perceiving the other, and apprehending that the other also perceives is made possible by the inherently reflexive nature of seeing. Ultimately, I suggest that the ethical demands of seeing in a war-ravaged world generate new emphases in literary modernism on the positive and reparative power of the visual to serve as an antidote to the visual's other more violent and disturbing forms.

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