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Title: Starving for their art : hunger, modernism, and aesthetics in Samuel Beckett, Paul Auster, and J.M. Coetzee
Author: Moody, Alys
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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As literary modernism was emerging in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a number of its most important figures and precursors began to talk about their own writing as a kind of starvation. My doctoral thesis considers the reasons for and development of this previously little-explored trope, arguing that hunger becomes a focal point for modernism’s complex relationship to aesthetic autonomy. I identify a specific tradition of writers, beginning in the nineteenth century with proto-modernists such as Melville and Rimbaud, flourishing in the pivotal figures of Knut Hamsun, Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett, and expiring with modernist-influenced contemporary writers such as Paul Auster and J. M. Coetzee. Although these writers are avid readers and devoted disciples of one another, mine is the first study to read them alongside one another as a coherent literary tradition. Reading them in this way, I am able to trace the development of the ‘art of hunger’ as a locus for a crisis in aesthetic autonomy that spans the twentieth century. I develop this line of argument in two phases. In the first, I trace the emergence of an art of hunger out of modernist engagements with philosophical aesthetics and its notions of aesthetic autonomy. Readings of the “art of hunger” in Herman Melville, Arthur Rimbaud, Knut Hamsun, Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett’s post-war work reveal that starvation carries autonomy to an extreme and hyper-literal endpoint, revealing both its desirability as an aesthetic ideal and the impossibility of art’s complete autonomy from the body, the market or the social dimensions of language. In the second phase, I consider how this trope has animated later twentieth-century engagements with modernism. For authors writing in the aftermath of modernism, hunger provides a way of considering new complications to aesthetic autonomy in the light of both their debt to modernism and their specific historical circumstances. In this light, I consider three different extensions of the modernist art of hunger: its absorption into high formalism in Beckett’s late prose; its collapse in the face of an emerging concern with the social in Paul Auster; and its transformation into an ethical aesthetics of food taboos, restriction and asceticism in J. M. Coetzee.
Supervisor: Mukherjee, Ankhi Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: English Language and Literature ; American literature in English ; Hunger in Literature ; Modernism ; Aesthetics ; Samuel Beckett ; Paul Auster ; J. M. Coetzee ; Franz Kafka ; Knut Hamsun