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Knowing and Feeling in Late Modernist Fiction: Nabokov, Beckett, Banville, Coetzee

Battersby, Doug (2017) Knowing and Feeling in Late Modernist Fiction: Nabokov, Beckett, Banville, Coetzee. PhD thesis, University of York.

[img] Text (Battersby PhD thesis (8.12.17))
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Abstract

This thesis explores the relationships between knowing and feeling in the fiction of four late modernist writers: Vladimir Nabokov, Samuel Beckett, John Banville, and J. M. Coetzee. My approach is informed by and builds upon Derek Attridge’s claim that literary works are best understood as ‘events’ performed through acts of reading. The thesis shows how these writers’ works explore knowing and feeling both through the description of characters’ experiences and through the cognitive and affective experiences these descriptions give rise to in readers. Capturing this demands a slower and more textually immersed mode of close reading than is customary in academic criticism, and my chapters therefore focus on a single text by each author: Nabokov’s Ada or Ardor (1969), Beckett’s Ill Seen Ill Said (1982), Banville’s Ancient Light (2012), and Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians (1980). The introduction to this thesis argues that contemporary criticism continues to be shaped by the epistemological bias which has been present in literary studies since the heyday of the New Critics. This bias is conspicuously evident in critical accounts of Nabokov, Beckett, Banville, and Coetzee, and the originality of my readings partly derives from the predisposition of other critics prematurely to resolve the cognitive and affective uncertainties generated by these authors’ works. I argue that these writers stage intensely enigmatic feelings which their subjects try to know, and that these experiences of knowing and not knowing are themselves affective. Each chapter examines an epistemological-affective state which is particularly prominent in the author’s work, namely: ambivalence, undecidability, disorientation, and uncertainty. In a coda to the thesis, I suggest that, beyond contributing to critical understanding of Nabokov, Beckett, Banville, and Coetzee, the larger ambition of this study is to argue for and exemplify a mode of close reading which is better able to capture the singularity of aesthetically difficult literary fictions.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of York > English and Related Literature (York)
Depositing User: Mr Doug Battersby
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2017 11:30
Last Modified: 02 Mar 2018 14:35
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/18950

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