Early twentieth century modernism and the absence of God
At the beginning of the twentieth century we find novelists using their medium to express doubt in both the Judeo-Christian narrative as archetype and the possibility of purposive narrative in their own work. Often these writers took well-recognized paradigms of purposive narratives, such as 'the quest', or 'historical narrative' and adapted them to show them failing to reach their purposed denouement. The work of these novelists was paralleled by that of contemporary poets. Although the poets' concerns were less immediately affected by the specific challenges to Judeo-Christian narratives, their concern for the efficacy of language was motivated by a similar sense that language no longer possessed the edenic quality of reaching the thing it aimed at. Furthermore the frameworks of art themselves (perspective, rhyme, formal representation, and so on) were found to be unstable. Literary responses to the failure of language and narrative were varied. In a radically simplified form they may be located on a continuum between two points: at one end a desire to fill the void left by an absent God; at the other a fascination with the possibilities of the void. My thesis situates the work of Conrad in particular, as well as Forster, Eliot, Woolf, Imagism and Dada, on this continuum, during the period of, roughly, 1899-1925. The works of these individuals and groups are considered individually and comparatively through detailed readings of texts and images. Through such consideration it becomes apparent that the fascination of the void, which attracted all these writers to varying extents, also brought them to realize new aesthetic possibilities that seemed to fill the void. In particular, the modernist texts under consideration developed an aesthetic of aperture, that is to say an aesthetic of the momentary, more specifically, the moment prior to comprehension, the moment of experience. In fiction this aesthetic grew out of a deconstruction of purposive narrative in favour of imagistic presentation; in poetry and the visual arts the poem or picture abstracted its object from reality and yet equivalenced reality by presenting an inherent internal logic. That logic apparent in the poem or picture was often placed beyond the grasp of the reader or viewers' understanding, representing the sense that the logical operations of the world or the divine machinations of God, were either beyond comprehension,if not non-existent altogether. This aesthetic of aperture is once again illustrated through detailed examination of particular texts and images. In the works considered this reinstatement of the possibility of purposive narrative and language through an aesthetic of aperture is figured mystically, presented in negative-theological terms of absence, silence and the unknowable. The mysticism identified appears at odds with the predominantly practical theological debates in Europe at the time and yet finds philosophical parallels in Wittgenstein's Tractatus. The thesis concludes that the return, in modernist works, of attempts to fill the void is the result not only of aesthetic, but also of social and personal (in particular the repercussions of world war), desires for at least the possibility of purposive narrative and language.