Thoroughly modern matter: modernism at home in the new material world

Lockwood, Kim (2017) Thoroughly modern matter: modernism at home in the new material world. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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In the opening decades of the twentieth century, modernity was at war with nonhuman matter. The ontological boundaries between us and it were unravelling. With each new material development, a greater sense of our similarity to and increasing reliance on the nonhuman material world emerged. Faced with mounting evidence that we might not be as different from the material world as we once assumed, I argue, the efforts of modernisation sought to reaffirm our distance from, while simultaneously increasing our control over, the nonhuman, material world.

Throughout Thoroughly Modern Matter, I read the material developments of twentieth-century modernity as responses to the growing awareness that a centuries-old ontology of human superiority was under threat. To do this, I situate the modern home as a foundational site for this ongoing renegotiation of material relations. Although often overlooked in accounts of modernity and modernism, as I detail throughout this thesis, the domestic too endured the shocks of modernity. As subject-object relations were repeatedly turned on their head; as the spread of germ theory uncovered a lively nonhuman world, vibrant and thriving, in the midst of our human home; as modernism sought to limit the affective power of things; as the quest to transform the domestic into a cleaner, brighter, more efficient space pushed ever more towards a denial of our own, human materiality; as we harnessed electricity – the spark of life itself – and strived to domesticate its lively unpredictability by emphasising its seeming immateriality, the modern home became a site where the new material relations of the modern world were tried and tested, day in, day out.

Through this lens of the modern domestic, I read modernity’s often fraught entanglements with the material world. Drawing on theories of new materialism, I detail how modernism in its various forms – from the poetry of Gertrude Stein, the photography of Margaret Watkins, Charles Sheeler, and Man Ray, to the Surrealist assemblages of Meret Oppenheim and the Combines of Robert Rauschenberg – participates in this broader dialogue of modern materiality, by both celebrating modernity’s desire for thorough material control and critiquing the wilful material ignorance that these visions of our human dominance rely on. In Thoroughly Modern Matter, then, I examine how modernism conceptualises and represents both modernity’s immaterial ideal and its messy, thoroughly material, reality.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Users 9280 not found.
Date Deposited: 01 Apr 2019 15:53
Last Modified: 26 Feb 2022 01:39


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