Braiding together multiple strands of literary, phenomenological and art historical reflections, Modernism and Phenomenology: Literature, Philosophy, Art explores the ways in which modernist writers and artists return us to ‘wonder before the world,’ which as Eugen Fink, Edmund Husserl’s research assistant called it, is the motive for phenomenology itself.
Re-evaluating the mind/world split that informs Cartesian dualism, and extant views of modernism as upholding a mind/world opposition, the modernists explored in this study never present us with perfect, representative and finished models for life and the modernist self but embrace raw and semi-chaotic experience. Traditional religious faith gives way to a questioning of pre-reflective experience, opening onto what Maurice Merleau-Ponty calls ‘primordial faith.’ Close readings of moments in the work of Paul Cézanne, Gertrude Stein, Franz Kafka, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wallace Stevens, Paul Klee and Virginia Woolf show that modernist texts and artworks display a deep-rooted openness to the world and turn us into ‘perpetual beginners.’ Mildenberg argues that this openness is less a sign of futility, powerlessness and a deferral of reference and meaning than an embrace of the openness and open-endedness intrinsic to experience itself.
Ariane Mildenberg is Lecturer in Modernism at the University of Kent, UK. She is co-editor of Phenomenology, Modernism and Beyond (2010) and has published various journal articles and essays on the interaction of phenomenology with modernist literature.