Appointed As

Postdoctoral Fellow in Communications


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


University of Utah

PhD Field of Study

PhD, English Literature, Stanford University

Dissertation Abstract

“Unformed Art: Bad Writing in the Modernist Novel”

Unformed Art: Bad Writing in the Modernist Novel examines modes of writerly failure in the work of D. H. Lawrence, William Faulkner, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett in order to rethink the status of failure in modernist literary aesthetics. Modernism, I argue, has made us too comfortable with the idea of failure. Between its unprecedented embrace of formal deviance and its philosophical valorization of
failure itself, the modernist novel has long taught readers to equate apparent breakdowns of narrative form with artistic sophistication. Meanwhile, formalist literary criticism—true to its modernist origins even when its theoretical affiliations lie elsewhere—has often perpetuated this positive view of failure by focusing on moments of rupture, discontinuity, obscurity, and incoherence and reading them as sites of heightened meaning and value. Opposing both of these traditions, “Unformed Art” uses the techniques of literary formalism to study instances of writerly failure that resist transformation into secret aesthetic successes. The first chapter analyzes D. H. Lawrence’s radical experiment with narrative time in Women
in Love and argues that this novel’s polemical opposition to the notion of “form” itself accounts for its traditional exclusion from the modernist canon. Chapter 2 historicizes the occlusion of genuine writerly failure in formalist criticism amid the discipline’s larger fetishization of formal deviance, linking these twinned developments to modernist practices of reading that are vividly dramatized in Faulkner’s fiction.
Finally, chapter 3 examines the strange persistence of a descriptive trope—photomimesis, or the description of light—in works by Joyce and Beckett that ostentatiously embrace stylistic failure. I argue that photomimesis troubles the theoretical consistency and aesthetic hierarchies of these works while also
revealing a fundamental commitment to beauty and good-faith representation at the far extreme of modernist negativity. Together these chapters reestablish the centrality of genuine failure to our experience of art (even in modernism), while exploring a dimension of literary form that has traditionally marked a practical limit for the discipline of close reading.