Late modernist styles: modernist legacies in post-millennial British and Irish literature

Harrison, Liam (2022). Late modernist styles: modernist legacies in post-millennial British and Irish literature. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis makes an intervention into the field of modernist legacies by investigating how a selection of British and Irish novelists are engaging with modernist legacies for their own creative practice. This thesis examines how contemporary writers are creatively reflecting on modernism in relation to their own artistic concerns with temporality, cognition, negation, and the limits of representation. A central undertaking of this thesis distinguishes modernist legacies from their dominant critical associations with influence and comparison, to reconsider what modernism means in practice for contemporary writers. While engaging with recent critical debates around modernism’s shifting definitions and historical coordinates, this thesis is less concerned with fixed meanings of modernism, and more concerned with what the critical and creative genealogies of modernism can tell us about the developments of contemporary literature. Drawing on various kinds of temporal ‘lateness’ – late style, late modernism, historical lateness – catalyses this study’s understanding of contemporary engagements with modernist legacies, across novels that are predicated on states of ‘intransigence’ and ‘unresolved contradiction’. Authors like Eimear McBride, Mike McCormack, Zadie Smith, Rachel Cusk and Claire-Louise Bennett engage with a modernist inheritance as a complex point of departure for their novels. These authors are not recycling old styles but reconsidering how the problems posed by modernism are navigated in terms of their own literary innovations. In turn, this study examines how historical and material realities are rendered in contemporary literature – from the difficulty of narrating sexual assault and psychological trauma to the social and political fallout of the Celtic Tiger as experienced by a small community in Ireland, or in the emotional struggles with identity and the structures of racism in contemporary London. Consequently, I examine how various British and Irish novelists are renegotiating modernism, not as homage, but as a means of exploring the limits of representation to address pertinent political and ethical questions through the novel form.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and Creative Studies, Department of English Literature
Funders: Other
Other Funders: Wolfson Foundation
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature


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