Jocelyn Rodal

Dissertation Fellow
Jocelyn photo

There exists a gap in accounts of formalist literature between attentiveness to the richness of pure language and readings that evacuate words of meaning.  Jocelyn Rodal’s (English) dissertation, “ ‘A Few Sheets of Paper Covered with Arbitrary Symbols’: Formalism, Modernism, Mathematics,” bridges this gap by considering a moment in a field strikingly similar to literary theory, although never viewed as such. The 1920s foundational crisis in mathematics witnessed a frenzy of philosophical work that shared the same moment and responded to the same pressures as the literary modernism that gave us our contemporary notions of form. Rodal uses conceptions of form originating in the philosophy of mathematics to explain the contradictory formalisms of modernist literature, arguing that the simultaneously essential and superficial role of formalism is not paradoxical but a direct logical consequence of language’s dependence on the combination of syntax and semantics.