Modernism's Choreographies of Stillness: How American, British, and Japanese Authors Politicized the Inert Body, 1897-1937
Porterfield, Aubrey Kimball
This dissertation examines textual constructions of stillness—representations of waiting, resting, hesitating, sensing, and perceiving—and argues that the still body becomes a trope infused with political significance in the context of twentieth-century American, British, and Japanese imperialism. Writing against the idea that non-white, non-European cultures embody social and evolutionary stasis, the authors studied treat stillness as an embodied performance that both exposes the violence inherent in imperialist narratives of progress and subverts racist regimes of perception and (mis)recognition. Analyzing the fiction of Joseph Conrad, Jean Toomer, James Weldon Johnson, Itō Sei, and Yokomitsu Riichi, my project takes a comparative, transnational approach to the study of modernist literature and culture. It draws on postcolonial theories elucidating the intersection of race and colonization (Wilson Harris, Frantz Fanon, Edouard Glissant, Paul Gilroy, and Ian Baucom, among others) but also pushes the geographical and conceptual limits of these theories by studying literary reflections on race in American and British contexts alongside those produced in Japan.