"High modernism" is accepted shorthand for the core phase of
literary modernism in the 1920s, when Eliot, Joyce, Pound, Woolf,
Mann, Kafka, Proust, Gide, and others published pivotal works.
While there is consensus about the term's meaning, the value and
significance of the works it designates are highly contested. For
advocates who helped establish its place in the canon, the works of
high modernism mark the culmination of literature as high art,
while other critics see them as elitist, inaccessible, patriarchal,
imperialist, reactionary. Despite this wide range of judgments, all
take for granted that high modernism's main features are
aestheticist: formal innovation and detachment from history,
society, and politics. This book reconsiders that supposition,
arguing that high modernist texts epitomize performativity, that
is, that they transcend the quiescence of literary aesthetics and
affect the extratextual world. Writers such as Kafka, Woolf, Mann,
and Faulkner privilege form not as an end in itself but as a means
to empower the sociopolitical function of literature. By exploring
the performative role of literary works from the 1920s, this book
provides a more nuanced understanding of high modernism and
resituates it within literary history. Joshua Kavaloski is
Associate Professor and Director of the German Studies Program at
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