“DeMaagd’s timely study examines the changing sensescape in modernist aesthetics and gives the long-denigrated ‘lower’ senses of smell, taste, and touch their interpretive due, not only uncovering the gendering of sensory experience but also demonstrating the extent to which sensory practices crucially involve questions of class, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, and species.”—Vicki Tromanhauser, SUNY New Paltz
“Redressing the focus on visual senses that has dominated discussions of modernist (usually male) writers, Dissensuous Modernism argues that these modernist women writers call upon the underacknowledged senses of touch, feel, and smell in questioning gendered hierarchies of embodied and institutional power.”—Linda A. Kinnahan, editor of A History of Twentieth-Century American Women’s Poetry
Placing women writers at the center of the sensory and technological experimentation that characterized the modernist movement, Dissensuous Modernism shows how women of the era challenged gendered narratives that limited their power and agency and waged dissent through their radical sensuous writing.
Allyson DeMaagd critiques an overemphasis among modernist writers and generations of researchers on the “masculine” senses of sight and sound, shifting the conversation toward the “feminine” senses of smell, taste, and touch. These senses, long considered “lower,” were explored by writers such as H.D., Mina Loy, Virginia Woolf, and Elizabeth Bowen, as DeMaagd demonstrates through detailed close readings of their lesser-studied novels. DeMaagd’s analysis shows how these women incorporated technology in their work to reunify the senses or to draw attention to the destructive disunity of the senses, highlighting the subversive potential of sensory integration.
Dissensuous Modernism illuminates how modernist women writers breached the sensory borders society erects between men and women, heteronormativity and queerness, ability and disability, technology and nature, and human and nonhuman. It elevates diverse embodied experiences and illuminates the pivotal role of women in modernist sensory thought.
Allyson C. DeMaagd is an independent scholar and college success manager at Mid-Shore Scholars.
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