Modernist Aesthetics and the Artificial Light of Paris: 1900 to 1939
thesisposted on 30.05.2017, 11:16 authored by Emma Elizabeth Reddy
In this project the fields of modernist studies and science converge on the topic of lighting. My research illuminates a previously neglected area of modernism: the impact of artificial lighting on American modernist literature written in Paris between 1900 and 1939. Throughout that period, Paris maintained its position as an artistic centre and emerged as a stage for innovative public lighting. For many, the streets of Paris provided the first demonstration of electricity’s potential. Indeed, my research has shown that Paris was both the location of international expositions promoting electric light, as well as a city whose world-class experiments in lighting and public lighting displays were widely admired. Therefore, I have selected texts with a deep connection to Paris. While significant scholarship exists in relation to Parisian artificial lighting in fine art, a thorough assessment of the impact of lighting on the modern movement is absent from recent critical analysis. As such, this thesis seeks to account for literary modernism in relation to developments in public and private lighting. My research analyses a comprehensive range of evocations of gas and electric light to better understand the relationship between artificial light and modernist literary aesthetics. This work is illuminating for what it reveals about the place of light in the modern imagination, its unique symbolic and metaphorical richness, as well as the modern subject’s adaptability to technological change more broadly. This account of modernism considers artificial lighting in fiction and poetry and culminates in a final chapter on electrically illuminated literary epiphanies. The implications of technologized lighting for form and content are fused in that particular device. This thesis confirms that the dissemination of artificial modes of lighting coincided with, shaped and contributed to literary experiments that span a number of modernist characteristics: fragmentation, stream of consciousness, spatial representation, literary epiphany, formal self-awareness and imagism. Tracing the history of lighting technology and its aesthetic dimensions unearths parallels between lighting and writing which justify my claim that modern lighting was a symbol for and constituent part of the direction and execution, content and form of American modernist literary innovation.