The essays in Modernism and Mourning examine modernist literature's propensity for resisting the "work of mourning." Drawing from recent critical and theoretical work on mourning, they explore how much modernist writing repudiates Freud's famous injunction to mourners to "work through" their grief, endorsing instead a "resistant mourning" related to, though not always identical with, Freudian "melancholia."
Bringing together studies of a range of genres and different national literatures, and framed by analytical essays by Patricia Rae and Jahan Ramazani, the collection sets out the ways in which a number of modernist writers, including Woolf, H.D., Sassoon, Ford, Lawrence, Orwell, Bowen, Sayers, Lorca, von Freytag-Loringhoven, Loy, Faulkner, Johnson, and Fitzgerald challenged the consolatory discourse arising out of the First World War, disrupting the transference of personal love to nationalist and militarist ideals. The emerging picture sheds new light on a number of critical debates about literary modernism: about its apparently oppositional relationship to popular culture; about the gendered nature of its expressive strategies; about its deployment of African-American cultural forms such as jazz; and, most of all, about the political messages generated by its radical formal experiments.
Several of the essays argue that the messages of modernist literature on mourning, reinforced by its experimental forms, are politically progressive, instructing readers to reject restorative nostalgia and normative mourning rituals that aim to restore the social status quo. Others show how modernist depictions of unresolved mourning are implicitly conservative, suggesting that unresolved grief is a function of structural absence rather than of historical loss, or that confronting and coming to terms with loss would require an expressive masculinity unacceptable within the strictures of capitalist modernity.
Although their chief purpose is to contribute to modernist literary scholarship, the readings here also hint at the pertinence of modernist mourning to the present day, in which the catastrophic losses of 9/11, of retaliatory war, of racially motivated genocide, and of the AIDS epidemic have made the question of how to mourn responsibly a subject of widespread interest. In this vein, several contributors view modernist treatments of mourning as models for ethical mourning, in offering alternatives to the familiar tragic plot of loss and vengeance, or forms of commemoration that do not efface the dead. Others examine the intersection between the language of resistant mourning in poetry and fiction and the discourse on public policy between the two World Wars, demonstrating how the failure of consolation can sometimes provide an opportunity for social reform.