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Title: The Sacred and the Esoteric : Locating Mary Butts' Modernism
Author: Slingsby, Thomas Luke
ISNI:       0000 0004 2681 4889
Awarding Body: University of Sussex
Current Institution: University of Sussex
Date of Award: 2010
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During her lifetime, the modernist novels and short stories of Mary Butts (1890 1937) were championed by luminaries such as Bryher and Ezra Pound. Thereafter her work fell into neglect. Since 1984 Butts has been the subject of renewed critical interest which has gathered pace over the last decade. Still, much of her oeuvre is yet to receive sustained attention, and scholars are divided over whether Butts' sacral modernism should be championed as a harbinger of liberatory subjectivities or denounced as validating a racial nationalism. Whereas critics have tended to emphasise one of these elements of Butts' oeuvre to the exclusion of the other, this thesis uses the concepts of the sacred and the esoteric to illustrate their intermeshed nature. Butts' preoccupation with spiritual experience produces not doctrinal constancy, but constellations of syncretic and geographically contingent practices. The term sacred describes Butts' hope that her literary rituals would rejuvenate the "Waste Land" of interwar culture. This attitude prevails in her work of 1916 - 1928, and correlates with a phase of "flight" which sees her react against dispossession from her native Dorset, absorb continental influences, and explore the fractal subjectivities of the city. Chapter Two sees Butts developing a Bergsonian optics which posits the redemption of her "war-ruined generation" from the urban "logic of solids". Chapter Three considers transitional texts in which the object is deployed to probe the ontological limits of the sacral text. Butts' work from 1928 onwards is marked by a shift to esoteric poetics: it encodes a process of "settlement" which retreats from modernity into centripetal, exclusionary metaphysics. In Chapter One, analysis of the holographs of The Crystal Cabinet (1937) shows how a conflicted attitude to the body restricts Butts' palingenetic autogeographics to esoteric registers of meaning. Chapter Four explores the revisionary, homosocial politics of her 1930s classical novels and shows how the rarified psychological spaces privileged here are invested in violence against the African 'other
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available