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Lateness and Modern European Literature$
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Ben Hutchinson

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198767695

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198767695.001.0001

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Lateness as ‘Embarrassment’: Paul Valéry

Lateness as ‘Embarrassment’: Paul Valéry

(p.239) 12 Lateness as ‘Embarrassment’: Paul Valéry
Lateness and Modern European Literature

Ben Hutchinson

Oxford University Press

Chapter 12 begins the third Part’s focus on modernist categories of lateness by considering the concept of ‘embarrassment’. Focusing on the thought of Paul Valéry, it explores the extent to which modernity can be said to be gêné by its inheritance, a term that translates as ‘troubled’ or ‘embarrassed’ but that also implies the qualities accompanying this embarrassment: self-consciousness, inhibition, and awkwardness. If this sentiment provides the psychological motivation behind the attempts to ‘make it new’ that characterize modernism, in Valéry’s thought it emerges in two main categories: the phenomenology of lateness (the individual emotions and thought processes that it elicits), and the broader cultural diagnoses of modern civilization as ‘at a late stage’. Concluding with a reading of Valéry’s rewriting of Faust, the chapter suggests that aesthetic modernism constitutes an attempt to break with the past that is at the same time contingent on an over-awareness of this past.

Keywords:   lateness, embarrassment, modernism, Paul Valéry, Faust

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