Voices of dissent: Interpenetrations of aesthetics and socio-politics in three modernist case-studies.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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This thesis explores the interpenetrations of aesthetic and socio-political issues in three modernist novels by John Dos Passos, Jean Rhys, and Samuel Beckett. It aims to argue for the importance of theory and the retrieval of voices of dissent in contemporary modernist studies. Theodor Adorno’s aesthetic theory, Raymond William’s cultural critique, and the contemporary conceptualizations of Jacques Rancière, Isobel Armstrong, and Jean-Michel Rabaté are applied to the primary texts in an attempt to uncover dissenting qualities at both a textual and contextual level. In this process, the thesis also addresses the ways in which each text and author can be seen to challenge the socio-literary landscape of their time. One of the premises upon which this study has been predicated is that the particularities of modernist form can be reconsidered and reappraised with the help provided by theorists who remind us of the political import and even the radicalism of literary aesthetics. Numerous texts could be refreshingly reassessed in contemporary modernist studies, if approached from reconciliatory angles that acknowledge the value of contradiction as an intrinsic feature of critique in the process of reevaluating the socio-political relevance of modernist aesthetics. In particular, the retrieval of voices of dissent against the social, economic, and political contexts of modernist narratives is indispensable to the attempt to envisage and nurture a socially responsive and responsible modernist studies in the twenty-first century. In the three chapters of this dissertation, Manhattan Transfer, Voyage in the Dark, and Murphy are seen to critique the status quo within modern capitalist metropolises and give dissent a variety of voices. The overarching aim of this thesis is to account for the elements that compose this variety. At the same time, all three of the case-studies have been approached from analytical perspectives that recognize and emphasize not only the necessity, but also the radical limitations and failures of dissent. These limitations and failures are often seen to be enciphered in the interpenetrations between the texts’ aesthetics and socio-politics, as well as conditioned by the textual and semantic effects of contradiction. Within a newly envisaged, socially responsive and responsible modernist aesthetic, the radicalism of critique can be illuminated by the radicalism of aesthetic frameworks. It is my hope that the analyses undertaken in this thesis, along with the aesthetic and critical theories that have assisted them, can be seen to partake of such contemporary concerns.
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