Brandon White

Dissertation Fellow
2015-2016
Brandon White

British modernism’s signature “difficulty” is often attributed to intellectual elitism. With literacy only becoming widespread in 1870, modernism’s obscurity is interpreted as an attempt to alienate inexperienced readers. In “Artless: Ignorance in the Novel and the Making of Modern Character,” Brandon White argues that modernist novelists were instead inspired to resist education altogether, retaining a model of characterization that remained readable to a wide audience, but repurposing that model to help readers unlearn socially imposed standards. Novels normally idealize  education—as the plot progresses, characters learn more about their world. Yet novelists, from  James to Lawrence, suspected that this ideal too easily echoed social norms and attempted to  reverse the process, staging ways for individuals to extract themselves from education’s influence.  White’s dissertation thus provides an alternative explanation for modernism’s origins: many of the techniques ordinarily attributed to “difficulty” emerged first as strategies for making this new characterization coherent.  

The recipient of the Norman Jacobson Memorial Teaching Award, Brandon White has been named the Norman Jacobson Memorial Fellow.