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Unknowing: The Work of Modernist Fiction

Read an excerpt below:

What is at stake when a group of major modernist writers centers their fiction on unknowing? Decades of reflection about Western modernism reduce to the implications of this question. Modernist and unknowing in relation to what premodernist commitment to knowing? Modernist and unknowing in relation to what postmodern and postcolonial stances toward knowing? What began as microcosmic attention to certain compelling fictional effects among a handful of twentieth-century writers escalated, to my surprise, to a speculative, macrocosmic mapping of one genre of Western imagination: a sort of metahistory of the novel.


The cover of Unknowing: The Work of Modernist Fiction by Philip Weinstein

This book and others by Philip Weinstein are available for purchase on Amazon.


Editorial Reviews

"Four qualities make Philip Weinstein's book the best critical book I have read in many years. He combines an enviable precision in his operating concepts with an elegant and intimate style. This precision is accompanied by remarkable scope and exemplary sensitivity to the resonance in his major figures―Freud, Kafka, Proust, and Faulkner. Weinstein tells an intricate and powerful and utterly convincing tale that spreads from realism's ways of binding knowledge within firm concepts of space, time, and subject, to modernism's experiments in unknowing or shattering each of these framing conditions, to postmodernism's adapting all questions of framework to aspects of vocabularies, where even this shattering becomes primarily a rhetorical effect. And, most important, he writes so well that he makes us care deeply about his being right."

Charles Altieri, Stageberg Chair of English, University of California, Berkeley


"Informed by a lifetime's reading and reflection on the modernist novel, and making use of an existential, urgent vocabulary, Philip Weinstein proposes a geography of the novel from realism to postmodernism with Faulkner―or the zone where Proust and Faulkner overlap―as the central and defining interest. Philosophy, theory, the richest array of critical views, and historical schemata guide this vital and inventive study of Proust, Kafka, and Faulkner along with their ancestors and heirs. Weinstein finds in the term 'unknowing' a common ground of shared attention among thinkers from Freud to Levinas and Bakhtin and writers from Faulkner and Beckett to Morrison and Rushdie."

Philip Fisher, Harvard University


"Unknowing is a kind of love poem to modernist fiction by one of its most gifted and sympathetic interpreters. Philip Weinstein moves easily among the works in several languages he compares. His wide-ranging narrative gives us a valuable new vision of the modern novel's evolution as a critical apparatus of self-knowledge."

John T. Matthews, Boston University

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