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Title: Violence and the modern novel : Coetzee and Sebald
Author: Preston, A.
Awarding Body: University College London (University of London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2013
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Early in her long essay On Violence, Hannah Arendt says “no one engaged in thought about history and politics can remain unaware of the enormous role violence has played in human affairs, and it is at first glance rather surprising that violence has been singled out so seldom for special consideration.” In the more than four decades since the publication of her book, much has been done to remedy this omission. Violence is everywhere now. As, through the eyes of our novelists, philosophers and cultural theorists, we look back on the wreck of the twentieth century, we see it as Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History perceived it, as a constellation of violence piled upon violence, a chaotic record of man’s brutality against man. This thesis sets out to chart the presentation of violence in the modern novel, looking specifically at the work of JM Coetzee and WG Sebald, two writers who have not only given us detailed accounts of the operation of violence in their work, but whose novels perform the ethical uncertainties of writing within a tradition that has been tainted by that violence. Using theorists from Benjamin to Arendt to Giorgio Agamben, I will look at the ethical and aesthetic decisions that each writer has made and question how and with what success Coetzee and Sebald have managed to write within the wreckage of a tradition scarred by violence. In wrestling with the subject of violence, modern novelists have had to discard many of the formal certainties of previous ages, tainted as they are by historical violence. I will show how violence, and the need to shape a narrative mode with which to address a debased modern existence, has led to formal inventiveness, to generic hybrids, to complex philosophical performances wrapped within the covers of books calling themselves “novels.” I will look at Sebald and Coetzee’s use of silence, of history, of other writers’ work in their attempts to find a voice with which to narrate the violence of modernity.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available