The crisis of modernity : culture, nature, and the modernist yearning for authenticity

Nabholz, Ann-Catherine. The crisis of modernity : culture, nature, and the modernist yearning for authenticity. 2004, Doctoral Thesis, University of Basel, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.


Official URL: http://edoc.unibas.ch/diss/DissB_7969

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The Crisis of Modernity: Culture, Nature, and the Modernist Yearning for Authenticity This dissertation is situated at the intersection of two critical traditions: the discussion about Modernist literature in English and ecocriticism. By viewing a certain strand of literary Modernism through an ecocritical lens, it tries to offer an investigation of salient aspects that arise out of the experience of modernity. In order to stress the relevance of ecocriticism when dealing with Modernist motifs and themes, I chose authors associated with the so-called vitalistic or primitivist side of Modernism. The condemnation of technological progress, the alienation of the individual living in urbanized societies, and the fear of the widening gap of what is natural and what is cultural in ourselves inspire the work of Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, Djuna Barnes and Claude McKay, and raise important questions for ecocritical consideration. Their severe critique of western civilization suggests that for these authors modernity constitutes a crisis of culture. One of the major aims of my work is to define the crisis of modernity as an environmental crisis. To gain recognition of the environmental aspects underlying this critique of modernity, I begin my analysis by focusing on the depiction of urban contexts as a source of profound conflict. The ensuing argument will center on the notion of the pastoral, which both Miller and Durrell recognize as the traditional mode to express an urban yearning for a utopian counterpoise to civilized life. But rather than promoting an idyllic return to nature, these authors primarily seek to unmask the artificiality of the pastoral enthrallment for the natural world. Instead, they try to revitalize their contact with nature by drawing attention to the individual’s physically embodied experience of his or her immediate environment. By focusing on the body as a medium to recuperate humankind’s original affinity with nature, Miller and Durrell represent a powerful alternative to the pastoral tradition. In my final chapter I extend my ecocritical reading of Modernist literature to Djuna Barnes and Claude McKay. Barnes’s struggle with the gendered landscapes of modernity and McKay’s thematization of ethnic difference offer alternative approaches to the crisis of modernity.
Advisors:Isernhagen, Hartwig
Committee Members:Pughe, Thomas and Grandjeat, Yves-Charles
Faculties and Departments:04 Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > Departement Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaften > Fachbereich Englische Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft > Amerikanistik (Schweighauser)
Item Type:Thesis
Thesis Subtype:Doctoral Thesis
Thesis no:7969
Thesis status:Complete
Number of Pages:313
Identification Number:
edoc DOI:
Last Modified:23 Feb 2018 11:43
Deposited On:13 Feb 2009 16:10

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