On the Shelf

As Penn faculty publish books, an occasional column appears on these pages to inform the University community of new releases.

Modernism as Déja Vu All Over Again

The Ghosts of Modernity

"The Ghosts of Modernity"

A collection of essays by Jean-Michel RabatŽ, Marjorie G. Ernest Term Professor of English, questions whether modernism and postmodernism can be separated from the past, from the future and from each other.

"The Ghosts of Modernity" (University of Florida Press) looks at works by Joyce, Barthes, Mallarmé, Breton, Beckett and Broch and finds that, while the writers declare the unprecedented newness of their work, they cannot escape a mourning for the past and the influence the past has on the future.

What he finds is a modernity "that is by definition never contemporareous with itself, since it constantly projects, anticipates, and returns to mythical origins, but that also teaches us more about the 'present,'" which it sees from the persepective of the future. "Such a modernity resists any attempt to supersede it and any effort to declare it obsolete," he writes.

Originally published on March 4, 1997