Interruptions//The Fragmentary Aesthetic in Modern Literature Gerald L. Bruns


A history of fragmentary—or interrupted—writing in avant-garde poetry and prose by a renowned literary critic.

In Interruptions: The Fragmentary Aesthetic in Modern Literature, Gerald L. Bruns explores the effects of parataxis, or fragmentary writing as a device in modern literature. Bruns focuses on texts that refuse to follow the traditional logic of sequential narrative. He explores numerous examples of self-interrupting composition, starting with Friedrich Schlegel’s inaugural theory and practice of the fragment as an assertion of the autonomy of words, and their freedom from rule-governed

Bruns opens the book with a short history of the fragment as a distinctive feature of literary modernism in works from Gertrude Stein to Paul Celan to present-day authors. The study progresses to the later work of Maurice Blanchot and Samuel Beckett, and argues, controversially, that Blanchot’s writings on the fragment during the 1950s and early 1960s helped to inspire Beckett’s turn toward paratactic prose.

The study also extends to works of poetry, examining the radically paratactic arrangements of two contemporary British poets, J. H. Prynne and John Wilkinson, focusing chiefly on their most recent, and arguably most abstruse, works. Bruns also offers a close study of the poetry and poetics of Charles Bernstein.

Interruptions concludes with two chapters about James Joyce. First, Bruns tackles the language of Finnegans Wake, namely the break-up of words themselves, its reassembly into puns, neologisms, nonsense, and even random strings of letters. Second, Bruns highlights the experience of mirrors in Joyce’s fiction, particularly in Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses, where mirrored reflections invariably serve as interruptions, discontinuities, or metaphorical displacements and proliferations of self-identity.


Gerald L. Bruns is the William P. and Hazel B. White Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Notre Dame. His previous books include The Material of Poetry: Sketches for a Philosophical Poetics, and What Are Poets For? An Anthropology of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008.


“Bruns is a delightful and witty guide to the most varied expressions of the avant-garde.”

—Jean-Michel Rabaté, author of Think, Pig! Beckett at the Limit of the Human and The Ghosts of Modernity

“Gerald Bruns writes on current cutting-edge poetry from his angle as one of our leading critical theorists. His vast knowledge—of Heidegger and Blanchot, Derrida and Cavell—gives him special insights into the writings of leading writers from Beckett to Bernstein. Interruptions is a brilliant performance, a set of ruminations both profound and original.”

—Marjorie Perloff, author of Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy and The Poetics of Indeterminacy: Rimbaud to Cage


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