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The Labour of Laziness in Twentieth-Century American Literature$
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Zuzanna Ladyga

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781474442923

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474442923.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM EDINBURGH SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.edinburgh.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Edinburgh University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ESO for personal use.date: 28 October 2021

Cessation and inaction externe: Gertrude Stein and Marcel Duchamp

Cessation and inaction externe: Gertrude Stein and Marcel Duchamp

(p.147) Chapter 3 Cessation and inaction externe: Gertrude Stein and Marcel Duchamp
The Labour of Laziness in Twentieth-Century American Literature

Zuzanna Ladyga

Edinburgh University Press

The chapter focuses on modernist fascination with vitality and movement to show how this “vitalocentric” tendency is matched by a cultural countercurrent of the aesthetics of cessation. The chapter uses Raymond Williams’s concept of emergent cultural value, the chapter examines modernist art and literary manifestos and essays, their deep-seated distrust towards all signs of what Filippo Marinetti called lethargy, a distrust coupled with a special privileging of vitality-as-animation. As far as the classical interpretations of modernism go, it was this valorization of vibrant vitality over lethargic inactivity that provided necessary fuel for the modernist rebellious claims to uniqueness. The chapter challenges the vitalocentric interpretation of modernism and focuses on previously unacknowledged counter-vitalist impulses within the modernist project. Such impulses can be traced in Gertrude Stein’s philosophy of art, generally considered as one of the pillars of early 20th century vitalocentrism. While apparently consistent with vitalist sensibility, Stein’s ideas -- when read through the lens of Marcel Duchamp’s concept of inaction externe and Giorgio Agamben’s notions of impotency and inoperativity-- go beyond the modernist sensibility and capture in an embryonic form the structures of feeling traditionally associated with modernism’s successor, postmodernism.

Keywords:   Vitalocentrism, Inaction externe, Impotency, Steresis, Raymond Williams, Felippo Marinetti, Willa Cather, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Marcel Duchamp

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