Habitable Cities: Modernism, Urban Space, and Everyday Life
Byrne, Connor Reed
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The “Unreal City” of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land looms large over the landscape of critical inquiry into the metropolitan character of Anglo-American modernism. Characterized by the disorienting speed and chaos of modern life, the shock of harsh new environments and bewildering technologies, and the isolating and alienating effects of the inhuman urban mob, the city emerges here, so the story goes, as a site of extreme social disintegration and devastating psychic trauma; as a site that generates a textuality of overwhelming dynamism, phantasmagoric distortion, and subjective retreat. This dissertation complicates such conventional understandings of the city in modernism, proposing in place of the “Unreal City” a habitable one—an urban space and literature marked by the salutary everyday practices of city dwellers, the familiar environs of the metropolitan neighborhood, and the variety of literary modes that register such productive and adaptive dwelling processes. Taking seriously Rita Felski’s consideration of the “multiple worlds” of modernity, and thus diverging from the canonical formulations of modern urban experience put forth by the likes of Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin, my work explores the richly ambivalent and ambiguous modernist response to the spatial complexities of the metropolis, drawing on the work of Michel de Certeau, Luce Giard, and Pierre Mayol in the two volumes of The Practice of Everyday Life to attend to the quotidian valences that signal a healthful engagement with the city. I uncover this metropoetics of habitability in the vexed response to the city’s network of interconnected spaces in T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock and Other Observations and The Waste Land; in the attention to the viable dwelling practices of individual urbanites—in contrast to city itself as dominant and dominating character—in John Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer; in the routine daily operations on display in James Joyce’s Ulysses—breakfast, for instance, or running an errand; in the ordinary series of moments that constitute the work of everyday life in the familiar cityscape of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway; and finally in the broad-ranging depictions of urban life in Jean Rhys’s The Left Bank and Other Stories and Quartet.