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Title: Writing the contemporary : the banal and the infra-ordinary in the works of Jean-Philippe Toussaint and Nicholson Baker
Author: McArthur Richardson, Sar Eve
ISNI:       0000 0004 2668 8632
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2008
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Fhis comparative study of Nicholson Baker and Jean-Philippe Toussaint addresses the importance of the everyday in contemporary literature and theory. I examine the contemporary in the contexts of knowledge, identity, politics, media, history, urban space, and psychology. What emerges is a consensus of pessimism concerning the contemporary subject in an increasingly homogenised, narcissistic, a-historical, information-saturated yet unmappable world. There are dissenting voices, however, some of which designate the everyday as a realm that escapes hegemonic culture. I undertake an exploration of contemporary literature, which exhibits a preoccupation both with pessimistic subject predicaments and with the everyday, in particular an approach to the latter which is akin to Perec's 'infra-ordinary. My subsequent analysis of Toussaint and Baker yields some contradictions: the infra-ordinary seems both conceptually close to, and yet antithetical to the banal, itself integral to the everyday. To resolve this tension, a deeper understanding of the banal is required, and I make use of Sami-Air to this end. Sami-Ali's psychoanalytic theory reveals the banal to be a critical distillation of the pessimistic subject predicaments I initially identified. The infra-ordinary, however, while close to the banal, ultimately opposes it. I argue that the infra-ordinary and the banal are thus opposing subsets of the everyday, optimistic and pessimistic construals of the same reality. I then question whether for Toussaint and Baker, the presence of the banal, in both form and content, renders their own texts banal. The answer is no: while sometimes employing a banal aesthetic, and negotiating and drawing on the banal, ultimately their texts counter and oppose it, through the use of the infra-ordinary and by other means. I conclude that Toussaint and Baker are quintessentially contemporary, both in their negotiation of the banal and the infra-ordinary, and in their development of a post-postmodern, or 'neo-realist' contemporary form.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available