The Problem with Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents

Laura Frost. Columbia Univ., $35 (304p) ISBN 978-0-231-15272-3
As most English majors would admit, reading modernist poetry or novels is often a difficult experience. But as New School literature professor Frost (Sex Drives: Fantasies of Fascism in Literary Modernism) details in this accessible volume, the difficulty is part of the point. Frost argues that suspicion of the seductions of mass entertainment led many modernists to subvert easy enjoyment in favor of “unpleasure.” Somewhere between pleasure and pain, unpleasure is the product of bewilderment, frustration, and strenuous cognitive work cultivated through textual experimentation, riddlelike constructions, or a repudiation of popular forms. Among the highlights in Frost’s analysis of modernist bliss are a discussion of scent in Ulysses, the use of “tickling” as a model for understanding Gertrude Stein’s textual effects, as well as the “orgasmic discipline” of D.H. Lawrence that veers between novel and familiar pleasures. Frost also investigates the class origins and gendering of pleasure in Patrick Hamilton and Jean Rhys, and the synthesis of popular pleasure and highbrow language games in the work of Anita Loos. Loos, finally, offers Frost a bridge between the modern and the postmodern, which she addresses in a coda on David Foster Wallace’s ambivalence toward the ubiquity of pleasurable content in contemporary media. While aimed at academic audiences and undeniably trendy in its exploration of affect, this is an original and useful revision to our understanding of modernism. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/13/2013
Release date: 07/01/2013
Show other formats
Book - 213 pages - 978-0-231-52646-3
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-306-31386-5
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
Email Address


Log In Lost Password

PW has integrated its print and digital subscriptions, offering exciting new benefits to subscribers, who are now entitled to both the print edition and the digital editions of PW (online or via our app). For instructions on how to set up your accout for digital access, click here. For more information, click here.

The part of the site you are trying to access is now available to subscribers only. Subscribers: to set up your digital subscription with the new system (if you have not done so already), click here. To subscribe, click here.

Email with questions.

Not Registered? Click here.