Literary Criticism

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Reading Fragments and Fragmentation in Modernist Literature


Rebecca Varley-Winter completed her PhD on literary fragments and fragmentation at the University of Cambridge, supervised by Dr Anne Stillman. She has published research articles, essays and reviews in Literary Imagination, The Goose, Cambridge Humanities Review and Glasgow Review of Books. She currently teaches undergraduate students at Middlebury–CMRS and the University of Cambridge; prior to this she was a Stipendiary Lecturer in English at Keble College, University of Oxford. Her poetry has won the Brewer Hall Prize and the T. R. Henn Prize.

This book begins with the question: How are literary fragments defined as such? As a critical term, ‘fragment’ is more of a starting-point than a definition: Is part of the manuscript missing? Is it grammatically incomplete, using unfinished sentences? Is it made to look unfinished? ‘Fragment’ and ‘fragmentation’ have been used to describe damaged manuscripts; drafts; notes; subverted grammatical structures; the emergence of vers libre from formal verse; texts without linear plots; translations; quotations; and works titled ‘Fragment’ regardless of how formally complete they might appear. This book offers a phenomenological reading of modernist literary fragments, arguing that fragments create states of conflicted embodiment in which mind and body cannot cleanly separate. Drawing on the concept of aestheticism as an overstimulated body, each chapter connects fragments to experiences of physical and emotional ambiguity, exploring difficulties in speaking, writing and translating; spasms of laughter; and disrupted vision.

The author introduces fragmentation as an aspect of what Julia Kristeva and Hélène Cixous term ‘écriture féminine’, and offers new readings of the texts that Stéphane Mallarmé struggled to finish, associating his fragmentation with translation and the ‘Crise’ (Crisis) of vers libre. The author then considers the fragmentary affects of humour, ranging from Henri Bergson to Mina Loy and T. S. Eliot. Urban fragmentation is explored in Hope Mirrlees’ Paris: A Poem, John Maynard Keynes’ The Economic Consequences of the Peace, Félix Fénéon’s Nouvelles en trois lignes, Apollinaire’s Zone, and Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project. The author ultimately weighs the claim of literary fragmentation as an ethical commitment to detail, embedded in the living body, against a view of fragments as more numbed traces or disembodied remnants.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-895-4
Hardback Price: £55.00 / $69.95
Release Date: February 2018
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-960-9
Paperback Price: £25.00 / $34.95
Release Date: September 2019
Page Extent / Format: 256 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No



Introduction (I thought of Fragilion, that shy figure)

Chapter One: Reading Fragments and Fragmentation: Theories and Approaches 

Chapter Two: Translating Stéphane Mallarmé’s Cento   

Chapter Three: Funny Fragments, Lunatic Sport

Chapter Four: Kaleidoscopic Cities, Historical Kitsch

Conclusion: Fragments as Dream-Texts      


Varley-Winter approaches literary fragments phenomenologically, as they are felt and sensed, arguing that fragments create states of conflicted embodiment in which mind and body cannot cleanly separate. Fragments are always read in relation to other forms, even if these other forms are hypothetical, she says, and they usually have a complex, if not troubled relationship to whatever whole they may be fragments of. She covers fragmenting literary modernism; translating Stéphane Mallarmé's Cento; funny fragments, lunatic sport; kaleidoscopic cities, historical kitsch, and fragments as dream-texts. Annotation

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