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Ashes Taken for Fire

Aesthetic Modernism and the Critique of Identity

2006
Author:

Kevin M. Bell

Ashes Taken for Fire

Questions constructions of identity and blackness in modern literature

Kevin Bell surveys fiction by Conrad, Woolf, Faulkner, West, Ellison, and Himes to argue that modernism exposes cultural identities such as blackness as mere strategies of conforming the self into belonging. For while blackness operates as a standard figural expression for disorientation, its presumably “voided” character is reprojected in this work as an immanent force of possibility and experimentation.

This book entails one of the first truly heterogeneous readings of modernist fiction, offering an intriguing philosophical exploration and a long overdue corrective.

Aldon L. Nielsen, Pennsylvania State University

For years critics have held that literary modernism was both apolitical and solipsistic. While the former charge began to give way with the recession of New Criticism, the latter has grown in strength as a lead-in to the claim that postmodernism is apolitical and solipsistic.

Against this backdrop, Kevin Bell surveys fiction by Conrad, Woolf, Faulkner, West, Ellison, and Himes to show that modernism is a sharply philosophical archive. In Ashes Taken for Fire, he argues that modernism exposes cultural identities such as blackness as mere strategies of conforming the self into belonging. Bell’s examination pursues the question of nonidentity through sound, silence, and gesture, treating these as technologies of reading the contradictions, breakdowns, and erasures that constitute subjectivity. His analysis of these texts reveals that the aesthetic investigations they perform undo the logic of cultural identity, devastating such reductive rubrics as “race” or “gender.”

Ashes Taken for Fire explores the experience of blackness in both its chromatic/ocular and “racial” registers. For while blackness operates as a standard figural expression for disorientation, its presumably “voided” character is re-projected in this work as an immanent force of possibility and experimentation.

Ashes Taken for Fire

Kevin Bell is assistant professor of English and comparative literary studies at Northwestern University.

Ashes Taken for Fire

This book entails one of the first truly heterogeneous readings of modernist fiction, offering an intriguing philosophical exploration and a long overdue corrective.

Aldon L. Nielsen, Pennsylvania State University

Ashes Taken for Fire is a brilliant account of literary modernism that will richly repay readers across a range of literary fields.

Fred Moten, University of Southern California

In this unique pairing of British and American novelists within the literary modernism movement, Bell argues for a common element in the search for identity within the detritus of mainstream culture. Bell’s introductory chapter is valuable for its summary and elucidation of literary modernism and its reflexivity.

Choice

Ashes Taken for Fire

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction:Modernism under the Sign of Suicide

Part I Mimetic Elusives

1 Holographic Ensemble: The Death of Doubt Itself in The Nigger of the “Narcissus”
2 Something Savage,Something Pedantic:Imaginary Portraits of Certitude in Jacob’s Room

Part II Narcissism and Nothingness

3 Maladjusted Phantasms: The Ontological Question of Blackness in Light in August
4 The Business of Dreams: Retailing Presence in Miss Lonely hearts

Part III Blackness (In)Visible

5 Chaos and Surface in Invisible Man
6 Assuming the Position: Fugitivity and Futurity in the Work of Chester Himes

Notes
Bibliography

Index