Please Unplease Me: A Review of Laura Frost’s The Problem With Pleasure

First, I want to get a bad joke out of the way: it seems cruelly apt to review a scholarly text titled The Problem With Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents (Columbia UP 2013), especially one, while passionate and provocative, that may preclude pleasure for the casual reader. To be expected from a scholarly text, hence the bad joke, but Frost’s study of the vicissitudes of modernist unpleasure performs its argument quite well — The arrays of Unpleasure found in this book do delight and prod the reader in its investigations of everything from stalwart modernist topoi to perfume and farts. Frost’s mission, in her own words, is to “present the interwar debate about pleasure and the rise of unpleasure … as a new way of defining literary modernism more capaciously” (14). Frost wants to collapse the schism between the two divergent interwar poles of “high” and “low” culture and their shared mission to re-stabilize the shocked and distended interwar subject. Frost’s contribution to her field isn’t quite revolutionary, but the methods in which she ties the affect of text and media on the body is pressing and important, and carries weight outside the academy. For it is not simply that the “high” modernists wanted its world to repudiate fast & easy entertainment to engage with the post-World War One space. Rather, they wanted their readers to engage with pleasure in a different key — unpleasure. Seeing the beginnings of literary modernism with the more inclusive Unpleasure rather than Eliotian disdain or Poundian militancy allows us to see how literary modernists not only critiqued vernacular entertainment, but how  Jean Rhys, James Joyce and Aldous Huxley were themselves subject to mass cultural motifs in their own texts.  “High” and “low” culture were not as mutually exclusive as previously thought, Frost asserts, and the interwar period set the stage for our current moment of pleasure, cultural division, and technological innovation considerably more than we think.

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Word Index from James Joyce’s Ulysses: From “Catheter” to “‘cello”

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From Miles L. Hanley’s Word Index to James Joyce’s Ulysses.

 

Word Index from James Joyce’s Ulysses: From “Daybreak” to “Debts”

Ulysses_Daybreak-Debts

From Miles L. Hanley’s Word Index to James Joyce’s Ulysses.

 

Foreign Words and Phrases (from “Indiges” to “Mahamanvantara”) in James Joyce’s Ulysses

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From Miles L. Hanley’s Word Index to James Joyce’s Ulysses.

 

Money Expressions in James Joyce’s Ulysses

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From Miles L. Hanley’s Word Index to James Joyce’s Ulysses.

 

Numbers and Symbols in James Joyce’s Ulysses (“0″ through “26”)

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From Miles L. Hanley’s Word Index to James Joyce’s Ulysses.

James Joyce Dies

James Joyce Dies; Wrote ‘Ulysses’

ZURICH, Switzerland, Monday, Jan 13- James Joyce, Irish author whose “Ulysses” was the center of one of the most bitter literary controversies of modern times, died in a hospital here early today despite the efforts of doctors to save him by blood transfusions. He would have been 59 years old Feb. 2.

Joyce underwent an intestinal operation Saturday afternoon at the Schwesternhaus von Rotenkreuz Hospital. For a time he appeared to be recovering. Only yesterday his son reported him to have been cheerful and apparently out of danger.

During the afternoon, however, the writer suffered a sudden relapse and sank rapidly. He died at 2:15 A.M. (8:15 P.M., Eastern standard time).

His wife and son were at the hospital when he died.

Hailed and Belittled by Critics

The status of James Joyce as a writer never could be determined in his lifetime. In the opinion of some critics, notably Edmund Wilson, he deserved to rank with the great innovators of literature as one whose influence upon other writers of his time was incalculable. On the other hand, there were critics like Max Eastman who gave him a place with Gertrude Stein and T.S. Eliot among the “Unintelligibles” and there was Professor Irving Babbitt of Harvard who dismissed his most widely read novel, “Ulysses,” as one which only could have been written “in an advanced stage of psychic disintegration.”

Originally published in 1922, “Ulysses” was not legally available in the United States until eleven years later, when United States Judge John Monro Woolsey handed down his famous decision to the effect that the book was not obscene. Hitherto the book had been smuggled in and sold at high prices by “bookleggers” and a violent critical battle had raged around it.

From James Joyce’s obituary in The New York Times (January 13, 1941). Read the rest.