English Research Seminar: Ben Lerner’s 10:04 and Literary Antecedents of the City
Dr Alex Lawrie, lecturer in English literature at the University of Edinburgh specialising in modern and contemporary fiction, presents this paper on Ben Lerner’s 2014 novel 10:04.
The paper considers the narrator’s experience of twenty-first-century New York as a modernist ‘Unreal City’, and his turn instead to an earlier, redemptive image of urban collectivity offered by Walt Whitman. 10:04, Lerner’s second novel, offers us a strikingly contemporary depiction of New York, and yet the issues it exposes are much more associated with modernist writers: the narrator, also called Ben, repeatedly seeks to evade clock time and retreat instead to the alternative temporal zone offered by narrative – whether films, literature, or personal histories.
The paper examines the points at which Ben privileges narrative time, and draws on Lukács and Fredric Jameson to identify these as examples of modernist resistance to the dehumanising rationalisation of daily life. It also demonstrates how Lerner’s novel replicates urban chaos and confusion at the level of form, through a series of fragmentary impressions that create a collage-type effect, and which contribute to Ben’s sense of alienation.
And finally it considers Ben’s turn away from modernist figures like Eliot, Woolf and Pound, and towards Walt Whitman instead as a remedy for his feelings of urban and temporal dislocation. It considers how Whitman’s Specimen Days (1882) and his 1856 poem ‘Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’ provide a redemptive vision of New York for Ben which encourages him to recast his place in the contemporary city.
The seminar will be held in the Lawson Lecture Room, Kennedy Hall.