Gail Jones Seminar 2012

"Growing small wings": Walter Benjamin, Lola Ridge and the political affect of modernism

Gail Jones Presenting Her Paper 

Abstract: In Walter Benjamin's experiments with hashish, he gets the giggles, sees the comedic as a universal aspect of 'character' and describes his capacity to smile as 'growing small wings.' Habitually read wholly in terms of negative affect (melancholy), Benjamin's intoxicated surprise, confirmed obliquely in his aesthetic principle of  'profane illumination', suggests there is another Benjamin, more optimistic, contradictory and given to pleasurable sensation. Bringing him into loose coalition with the anarchist poet Lola Ridge, for whom ardency of political appeal and modernist method are indissociable, this paper considers the modernist poetics of revolutionary expression.  Ridge's anarchism determines the political content of her poetry, but her modernism is surprisingly heterodox, internationalist and mystical. Both writers are committed to critique and social change; both see in modernism forms of radical and transformative thinking.

Often characterized by its impersonality and objectivism (summarized in TS Eliot's famous statement : "Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion but an escape from emotion'), this paper considers poetic affect and also moves beyond poetry to discuss prose (through the example of weeping) and the exaggerated affects of the suffering body (through the  different modes of 'shock' described by both Benjamin and Ridge). In the process, and taking novelistic liberties, I construct a kind of revolutionary 'character', based on a kind of imagined solidarity and images of the face. 

Bio: Gail Jones is Professor of Writing at the Writing & Society Research Centre, UWS. Gail is the author of two short-story collections, a critical monograph, and the novels Five Bells, Black Mirror, Sixty Lights, Dreams of Speaking and Sorry. Shortlisted three times for the Miles Franklin Award, her prizes include the WA Premier's Award for Fiction, the Nita B. Kibble Award, the Steele Rudd Award, the Age Book of the Year Award, the Adelaide Festival Award for Fiction and the ASAL Gold Medal. She has also been shortlisted for international awards, including the IMPAC and the Prix Femina. Her fiction has been translated into nine languages. Her academic interests are in narrative, cinema, cultural studies, contemporary literature and Australian literature.

Audio: Listen to Gail's paper (right click and "save link as" to download).

^ Back To Top