Dr. Evelyn Cobley

Dr. Evelyn Cobley

BA.: Utah, MA. and PhD.: UBC

Evelyn Cobley received her training in Comparative Literature and is now Professor of English, teaching critical theory and modernist literature.

She is the author of Representing War: Form and Ideology in First World War Narratives (Toronto 1993) for which she was awarded the Raymond Klibansky book prize. Since then, she published Temptations of Faust: Postmodern Archaeologies of Modernity and the Logic of Fascism (Toronto 2002) and Modernism and the Culture of Efficiency: Ideology and Fiction (Toronto 2009).

She has contributed numerous journal articles on theoretical topics (Russian Formalism, Modernism, Postmodernism, narratology), individual theorists (Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Ren Girard, Mikhail Bakhtin, Theodor W. Adorno, Max Weber), and twentieth-century English and comparative literature (Joseph Conrad, E.M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence, Ford Madox Ford, Aldous Huxley, Tom Stoppard, William Faulkner, Claude Simon, Umberto Eco, Thomas Mann, First World War literature, Vietnam War literature).

Her research has been supported by a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship (1983-84), two SSHRC Standard Research Grants (1995-98, 2004-07), and the Aid to Scholarly Publications Programme (1993, 2002, 2009). Her administrative duties have included two three-year terms as Chair of English and two one-year terms as Chair of two other departments (Sociology and French).

Selected faculty publications

Modernism and the Culture of Efficiency: Ideology and Fiction

University of Toronto Press (2009)
Modernism and the Culture of Efficiency engages with the idea of efficiency as it emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century. Evelyn Cobley's close readings of modernist British fiction by writers as diverse as Aldous Huxley, Joseph Conrad, and E.M. Forster identify characters whose attitudes and behaviour patterns indirectly manifest cultural anxieties that can be traced to the conflicted logic of efficiency.
Revisiting the principles of work developed by Henry Ford and F.W. Taylor, Cobley draws out the broader social, political, cultural, and psychological implications of the assembly line and the efficiency expert's stopwatch. The pursuit of efficiency, she argues, was the often unintentional impetus for the development of social control mechanisms that gradually infiltrated the consciousness of individuals and eventually suffused the fabric of society. Evelyn Cobley's sophisticated analysis is the first step in understanding an ideology that has received little attention from literary critics despite its broad sociocultural implications.
Temptations of Faust: The Logic of Fascism and Postmodern Archaeologies of Modernity

University of Toronto Press (2002)
Temptations of Faust is a theoretical analysis of the conceptual paradigms that allowed German fascism to emerge in a highly civilized nation. Analyzing these paradigms through the dual lens of Thomas Mann's novel Doctor Faustus, his self-confessed parable of fascism about the avant-garde composer Adrian Leverknhn, and Theodor W. Adorno's Philosophy of Modern Music, this cultural study draws on aesthetic, sociohistorical, political, and philosophical discourses to conclude that German fascism is at once continuous and discontinuous with the emancipatory ambitions of modernity. Drawing on Adorno's sociohistorical critique of avant-garde music, Cobley connects Leverknhn's radical aesthetic innovation with Hitler's radical reconfiguration of Germany's administrative apparatus and discovers that postmodern processes of fragmentation may well remain complicit with the totalizing tendencies they seek to disrupt. This lucid and sophisticated book demonstrates that Doctor Faustus provides a more astute understanding of German fascism than Mann is usually given credit for.
Representing War: Form and Ideology in First World War Narratives

University of Toronto Press (1993)
In this theoretical reading of First World War narratives, Evelyn Cobley challenges the current orthodoxy by maintaining that these "narratives of protest" remained ideologically complicit with the war they ostensibly oppose. Focusing on both documentary and fictional accounts by English, French, and German authors, Cobley shows how the rhetorical, narrative, and generic conventions of war literature act as carriers of ideological meaning. She discusses not so much what the texts say, as previous critics have done, but how the texts simultaneously express and subvert their message.
Although thematically First World War narratives document the failure of Enlightenment values by depicting the horrors of war as cultural regression, formally they betray a continued investment in the Enlightenment faith in cultural progress through science and reason. Cobley explores the contradiction enmeshing those intent on representing a historical event which was so far beyond ordinary experience that it seemed unnameable. Approaching the narrative text as a contradictory site of inscription, Representing War shows how combatant writers, in their desire to legitimate their texts, resorted either to realist conventions (telling it as it really was) or to modernist strategies (arriving at a higher truth). This study amply illustrates that no formal device is ideologically innocent; each narrative has to be scrutinized for its own specific manifestation of complicity with the war.
By virtue of its well-informed theoretical perspective and its meticulous reading of primary texts, Representing War constitutes a rich contribution to postmodern critiques of representation and subjectivity as well as enhancing our understanding of the First World War as a crisis of modern consciousness.