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Title: Violence and the limits of modern liberalism : the political novels of Joseph Conrad
Author: Parker, Jay Thomas
ISNI:       0000 0004 5918 588X
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2016
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Conrad wrote in his political essay, ‘Autocracy and War,’ of the inevitable degradation of political ideals in the cut and thrust of actual politics. This thesis proposes that Conrad’s political novels are fundamentally engaged with modern liberalism. It places Conrad’s political novels in conversation with modern liberal political theory, arguing that close attention to aesthetic concerns is illuminating of the latter’s limits. Violence is abhorred by modern liberalism as a fundamental limit on liberty, yet Conrad’s writing posits violence as ubiquitous in modern liberal politics. Freedom itself is presented in his work as a form of violence; additionally, core liberal concerns––conversation, the public/private split, autonomy, the individual self––are implicated in different forms of violence that tend to perpetuate an unequal status quo. In Conrad’s writing, these all appear as limits on freedom, thus modern liberalism is represented as a negotiation of competing forms of violence. However, Conrad’s self-contradictory writing both undermines and unexpectedly affirms modern liberalism, at least in part. These critiques emerge not from conceptual analysis, but rather from close attention to issues of literary form: in particular, Conrad’s modernist aesthetic, dialogic narrative, and complex use of genre. In terms of the latter, both romance and burlesque infiltrate realist fiction, bringing with them a range of contradictory politics. Via these generic interactions, Conrad finds the origins of modern liberalism in an archaic politics based in elite feudal values that were historically involved in the regulation of violence. This archaic value system is degraded by the democratic impulse of burlesque. Conrad is unable to commit wholeheartedly to either archaic feudalism or modern liberalism, and elitism and democracy appear as two further limits to the latter. Against the grain, perhaps, it is the very debasement of feudal mores by populism that enables modern liberalism’s partial recuperation in Conrad’s work.
Supervisor: Huggan, Graham D. M. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available