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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/32352

Title: Modernist Curiosities: Desire, Knowledge and Literature in Gustave Flaubert's "Bouvard et Pécuchet", Elias Canetti's "Die Blendung" and Jorge Luis Borges's "El Aleph"
Authors: Pemeja, Paul
Advisor: Kushner, Eva
Zilcosky, John
Department: Comparative Literature
Keywords: modernism
knowledge and literature
epistemology of literature
Issue Date: 7-May-2012
Abstract: In modernity, probably more than ever, “knowledge” has become the object of an intense desire. The tensions underwriting this modern desire for knowledge are inscribed in the very term, curiosity, which is at the centre of this dissertation. A venerable motif, curiosity anchors the specifically modern desire to know within a longstanding philosophical, theological and literary tradition. By the 19th century, “curiosity” is certainly an anachronistic paradigm. Yet, inscribed in curiosity, there are two conflicting dialectics which can be found at the heart of modernity’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge: one the one hand, the dialectic between curiosity as a disenchanting desire to see through into the innermost secrets of things, and curiosity as a “thing”, the product of a fetishist desire arrested on the glittering surface of things. On the other hand, curiosity is beset by the dialectic between the desire for a “totalizing”, meaningful vision and the compulsive drive of an increasingly specialized, meaningless pursuit of knowledge. This dissertation examines a series of Modernist narratives which expose this double dialectic. The protagonists of Gustave Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet, Elias Canetti’s Die Blendung and Jorge Luis Borges’ El Aleph are all caricatural, anachronistic, curieux ultimately seeking an “absolute knowledge” that cannot be embodied. The moment it seems to have been attained, it is reified, “objectified” into a fetish, a “curiosity”. Yet, these narratives are not only about curiosity; they are in fact true vortexes of curiosity: that of the protagonists of the narratives as well as that of the authors and the readers themselves. As a result, these narratives also speak to the paradoxical location of literature within culture: literature appears simultaneously as the privileged site of all – ultimately phantasmic – totalizing, meaningful visions of the world, as well as a marginal locus, a monstrous cultural residue.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/32352
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