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Sink or Swim in Liquid Modernity: The Chronotope of the Modern Woman in Early 1930s Hollywood

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Sink or Swim in Liquid Modernity: The Chronotope of the Modern Woman in Early 1930s Hollywood

Lafontaine, Andrée (2014) Sink or Swim in Liquid Modernity: The Chronotope of the Modern Woman in Early 1930s Hollywood. PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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Abstract

The woman’s films of the early 1930s constitute a large body of work whose boundaries remain somewhat fluctuating and nebulous. Although not the product of specific studios or directors, nor belonging to a common genre or tackling specifically “feminine” issues, these films are nonetheless identifiable and culturally significant through their various portrayals of the Modern Woman. Through textual and historical analyses, this dissertation traces the figure of this Modern Woman, which, I argue, constitutes a chronotope in the Bakhtinian sense. Mikhail Bakhtin’s “chronotope” is a valuable concept for film studies, for it clarifies the relationship between cultural products and the society that creates them, while avoiding simplified causality and mirroring effects. It is a way of understanding a concrete socio-historical period and its artistic output without resorting to simplistic explanations that would reduce artistic productions to mere reproductions of reality under a different banner. Furthermore, the chronotope allows for creativity and imagination while not necessarily de-politicizing or segregating cultural products from their production environment and the ideological concerns of their time.

It is my contention that a reflection on American inter-war modernity is articulated through the Modern Woman chronotope. Following her from her emergence in the late 20s through her containment and evacuation in the mid-30s, we can delineate the boundaries of her engagement with her environment, the imaginary geography she is associated with, and point to both the contradictions at her core as well as the hope she embodies. Using Zygmunt Bauman’s concepts of “solid” and “liquid” modernity we come to understand the social dynamic at work during a period when social norms, values and conventions were in constant flux, and when twin calls for greater social relaxing and order cohabited. Miriam Hansen’s theory of vernacular modernity helps situate the importance of the woman’s film in American modern culture. Ultimately I will show that far from representing an apolitical realm of domesticity, love and emotion—a reproach usually aimed at woman’s films—the woman’s films of the early 30s are eminently engaged in the re-imagining of the United States in modernity through the chronotope of the Modern Woman, a chronotope animated by both centripetal and centrifugal forces.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Fine Arts > Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:Lafontaine, Andrée
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Ph. D.
Program:Film and Moving Image Studies
Date:1 November 2014
Thesis Supervisor(s):Lefebvre, Martin
ID Code:979167
Deposited By: ANDREE LAFONTAINE
Deposited On:16 Jul 2015 14:53
Last Modified:18 Jan 2018 17:48
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