Knowing and Feeling in Late Modernist Fiction
Prof Derek Attridge and Prof John Bowen
My PhD thesis explores the relationships between knowing and feeling in the fiction of Vladimir Nabokov, Samuel Beckett, John Banville, and J. M. Coetzee. The approach is informed by and seeks to complicate Derek Attridge’s claim that literary works are best understood as events performed through acts of reading. I show how these writers place knowing and feeling into contact both through their experiential descriptions and through the experiences - at once cognitive and affective - these descriptions solicit from readers. My thinking about knowing and feeling draws on an array of critical resources, including Eve Sedgwick’s ground-breaking Epistemology of the Closet, the recent psychoanalytic writings of Adam Phillips, and contemporary work informed by advances in cognitive theory, such as H. Porter Abbott’s Real Mysteries: Narrative and the Unknowable. The primary contention of the thesis is that the fictions of Nabokov, Beckett, Banville, and Coetzee stage intensely enigmatic feelings which their subjects try to know, and that these experiences of knowing (and not knowing) are themselves affective. I suggest that we can produce fuller and richer accounts of these texts by capturing how they delight, disturb, and move their readers.
My research has been supported by an Arts and Humanities Research Council award and a Leverhulme Trust Study Abroad Studentship, which enabled me to spend the academic year 2015-16 working at Trinity College Dublin (under the supervision of Dr. Sam Slote).
Beyond the thesis, I am interested in a range of topics in literary theory and modern and contemporary fiction. In forthcoming and under-review articles, I have offered a theoretical argument about how we respond to the constative and descriptive dimensions of texts through a debate about Nabokov’s Ada or Ardor, used Beckett’s Ill Seen Ill Said as a provocation to explore how literary fictions evoke subjectivity, and advanced an account of how contemporary fiction reanimates modernism in affectively charged ways through a short reading of Banville’s The Sea. I have also presented my research at international conferences in the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Australia, and elsewhere.