Modernist Dissent: The Auto-Ethnography of Anais Nin and Henry Miller

By:
Prof. Richard O. Clemmer
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Modernity as a cultural phenomenon and as social reality is almost totally unexplored. By “cultural phenomenon” I mean the mores, norms, values, attitudes, tastes, treatment of and relationship to material things and history that are shared by a group of people and which define their identity to a greater or lesser extent. By “social reality” I specifically mean the ideological and material conditions of a world careening toward the carnage of World War II, eschewing any attention to social and cultural reflexivity. This social reality was, in Herbert Marcuse’s words, “…the repression of society in the formation of concepts” and “the normal restriction of experience” that produced "a pervasive tension, even conflict, between ‘the mind’ and the mental processes, between ‘consciousness’ and conscious acts”. Even less explored is the tension between what Mattei Calinescu calls the First Modernity -- standardization, industrial technological progress, bureaucracy; and the second modernity – spontaneous expression, unique creations, diverse modes of living. This "First Modernity" shapes Globalisation. Many years ago, Ruth Benedict remarked that “a future psychiatry may well ransack our novels and letters and public records for illumination upon a type of abnormality to which it would not otherwise give credence.”

I suggest that scholars in many disciplines more generally interested in what Ernest Becker called the “Grand Vision of a Science of Humanity”, by which he meant a unified approach to understanding the human condition might also also profitably “ransack novels and letters”. I propose to follow the methodology of John Gray in his treatment of the content of contemporary Scots poetry in analyzing Miller’s and Nin’s works as artistic and social practice, that is, the creation of art at the same time they are efforts at shaping a new social reality.


Keywords: Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Modernity, Cutlural Phenomenon, Dissent, Auto-Ethnography, Novels and Letters, Artistic and Social Practice, Shaping a New Social Reality
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies, History, Historiography, Globalisation, Ethnicity, Difference, Identity
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Modernist Dissent


Prof. Richard O. Clemmer

Professor of Anthroplogy, Department of Anthropology, University of Denver
Denver, Colorado, USA

Earlier work focused on Native North American groups, particularly Hopi and Shoshone. Recent publications include “’The Legal effect of the Judgment…….’: Indian Land Claims, Ecological Anthropology, Social Impact Assessment, and the Public Domain.” Human Organization 63(3):334-45 (2004); “Motifs with Messages:Ceramic Objects as forms of Communication. Semiotica 147:219-140 (2003); and “Resistance and the Revitalization of Anthropologists: A New Perspective on Cultural Change and Resistance.” PP. 213-247 in Dell H. Hymes, ed. Reinventing Anthropology. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press (1999).
Theoretical foci are on environmental anthropology; tradition and modernity; objects, signs and communication; collective and cultural human rights; dissent, rebellion and revitalization. Recent work engages indigenous self-determination; regionalization; and the relationship of praxis to representation in the creation of new structures of material conditions. New directions include experimenting with treating published biographical material as self-ethnography, particularly texts generated by Euro-centric modernists and anti-modernists.

Ref: H06P0514