Memory, the Object, and Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight (1939)
Reading Jean Rhys’s novels alongside the theorizations of the German cultural critic, historian and philosopher Walter Benjamin facilitates enhanced understanding of Rhys’s position as dispossessed Caribbean Creole writer. Rhys’s aesthetic of displacement is modernist in its fractured, fragmentary and elliptical form as she charts the movements and memories of her protagonist Sasha Jensen through the streets of pre-war Paris in Good Morning, Midnight (1939). Sasha’s recollections of the past, its events, ephemera and repetitions, reveal how the notion of renewal through the consumption of the fashionable object of desire is the illusion that belies the myth of progress. In his analysis of the discarded objects of capitalist production and consumption, Benjamin highlights how, in the repetitions of obsolescence, the newly fashionable object, like history itself, is prey to deadly repetition despite the narrative it conveys, that of human progress towards perfection. Reading Rhys and Benjamin together, then, invests Rhys’s work with a significance that goes beyond its surface appearance of the individualistic, tragic descent of a particular woman. Sasha Jensen is adrift in a city of objects which offer only fleeting consolation for the dissolution of identity and repetitions of history.
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