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Modernism’s Gifts: Anthropology, Psychoanalysis, and the Novel

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Rebecca Colesworthy, Draper Program in Humanities and Social Thought, NYU

December 7, Monday
12:30 to 1:45 PM

Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality
41-51 East 11th Street, Room 709
between University Place and Broadway
wheelchair access at 85-87 University Place between 11th & 12th Streets

This talk proposes a connection between the “modernist turn” in Anglo-American literature and the “return” of themes of the gift hailed by anthropologist Marcel Mauss in his 1924 essay, The Gift. Building on readings of novels by Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, and Stevie Smith, Colesworthy explores the ways in which theories of the gift, exchange, and subjective and symbolic “economies” help us to reevaluate the ethical and political stakes of modernism, while also suggesting that their texts make distinctively literary – and sometimes feminist – contributions to the largely androcentric interdisciplinary corpus inspired, at least in part, by Mauss’s essay. Not only do their novels demystify and enable us to think beyond the long-term limit of structuralist and psychoanalytic theories alike – that is, the “riddle of femininity” – but they also plot the conditions and conventions propitious for gifts with the potential to disrupt the social and sexual status quo, thus conjugating the challenges of literary innovation and social transformation.

Rebecca Colesworthy is an Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow in Literary Cultures at NYU’s John W. Draper Interdisciplinary Master’s Program in Humanities and Social Thought. She received her B.A. in English and Women’s Studies from Brown University and her Ph.D. in English from Cornell University. Her research interests include Anglo-American and comparative modernism, gender and sexuality studies, and literary and critical theory. Her current project, “Modernism’s Gifts,” explores the relationship between modernist ethics and poetics by juxtaposing the work of Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, and Stevie Smith with theories of the gift and exchange drawn from the fields of anthropology, psychoanalysis, and philosophy. In addition to completing articles on Jean Rhys and Jacques Lacan, she looks forward to undertaking her next project, which considers the ways in which various 20th-century writers reimagine the traditionally exceptional position of the feminine subject with respect to moral laws.

Part of the Brown Bag Lunch Series. Bring your own lunch – we’ll provide beverages!

This event is free and open to the public.  If you need sign language interpretation services or other accommodations, please let us know as soon as possible.

For more information, please call 212-992-9540 or email csgs@nyu.edu.

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