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Pardis Dabashi Publishes 'Losing the Plot: Film and Feeling in the Modern Novel'

February 28, 2024

Assistant Professor of Literatures in English Pardis Dabashi recently published her first book, Losing the Plot: Film and Feeling in the Modern Novel.

Focusing on the novels of Nella Larsen, Djuna Barnes, and William Faulkner—writers known for their affinities and connections to classical Hollywood—Dabashi links the moviegoing practices of these writers to the tensions between the formal properties of their novels and the characters in them.

From the book's introduction:

"Variously constellational, correlational, or paratactical structures—as they were fashioned by modernists including but not limited to Larsen, Barnes, and Faulkner—were fashioned precisely in order to denaturalize so as to critique the philosophical, social, and political assumptions modernists saw as underpinning the structures of causality in bourgeois realism. The turn toward relations of constellation and away from teleological causality was tantamount to an attempt to expose the ideological dangers of realist aesthetics’ acute ability to prescribe and institutionalize conceptual and embodied staples of normative life, namely, possessive liberal individualism, heterosexual marriage, and a progressive and teleological view of history. It is this normative valence— the special ability of plot, as it was perfected in the nineteenth- century bourgeois novel, to prescribe what Lauren Berlant, Michael Warner, and others might describe as “the normal”— that modernism’s formal alternatives to bourgeois realism set out to avoid and that the novels I examine nevertheless mourn.

"By the time these modernist writers are producing their novels, those nineteenth-century plots are getting mediated through, if not transported to, one of the most popular, commercially successful, and ideologically conservative cultural forms of the twentieth century: the classical Hollywood cinema. Losing the Plot argues that it is in the face of that cultural relocation— watching Hollywood films do the cultural, formal, and psychic work of the bourgeois novel, even amplifying its normative promises (or threats)— that modernist novelists come to recognize the psychic and social cost of their critical skepticism of bourgeois plot, that is, what the novel loses in the process of refashioning its formal terms from those of the Aristotelian unity central to bourgeois realism to an aesthetics that takes the fragment as its fundamental modality. The writers I examine come to miss the normative securities promised by bourgeois plot—not what plot necessarily actually did in nineteenth-century realism but what it came to feel like it did once it was redirected through the channel of the silver screen and the shibboleth of Hollywood fantasy, what the realist novel seemed to be able to promise when perceived through the retrospective glow of the Hollywood ending."

Dabashi joined Bryn Mawr's faculty in the fall of 2022. In addition to the Literatures in English Department, she is affiliated with the Film Studies Program, and the Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and North African Studies Program. Her courses have included Iranian Cinema, Literary Approaches to the Qur’an, Global Cinema, and more. Her research examines the intersection of form, politics, and affect in narrative film and literary modernism. Dabashi is especially interested in how aesthetic and rhetorical form index or trouble stances of political, normative, and epistemic certainty, which she explores by examining structures of feeling such as ambivalence and doubt. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in PMLAModernism/modernityTextual PracticeMFS: Modern Fiction StudiesFilm QuarterlyEarly Popular Visual CultureArizona QuarterlyPublic BooksThe Chronicle of Higher Education and elsewhere. She is co-editor of The New William Faulkner Studies (Cambridge University Press, 2022) and she is co-editor of the "Visualities" forum on Modernism/modernity Print Plus. 

Literatures in English

Film Studies

Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and North African Studies