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Title: 'Tension, apprehension, and dissension have begun' : crises of identity in the Cold War writings of Alfred Bester, 1950-1960
Author: Cobb, M. A.
ISNI:       0000 0004 6059 2511
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2016
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Between 1950 and 1960, Alfred Bester produced numerous works which utilised his contemporary Cold War atmosphere in order to examine and extrapolate the current cultural state. The purpose of this thesis is to offer a reading of Bester’s works which focuses exclusively on the portrayal of psychology and the exploration of identity crises in relation to the split self. Designed to demonstrate Bester’s unique approach to the self as inherently split between the social and the personal, this thesis understands the Cold War as a collective neurosis, and uses this model as a framework for its examination of psychology. As such, this thesis aims to demonstrate that Bester’s use of psychology expresses the universal nature of compulsions and literature’s importance in depicting genuine human characters. The impact of nuclear weapons and the Cold War state of anxiety, paranoia, and suspicion on the human psyche is widely recognised and examined through the lens of identity. However, Bester’s particular approach utilises this understanding of identity to depict the reciprocal nature of individual and political psychology. One of the key arguments presented here is that Bester’s portrayal of universal psychology is designed to mirror the Cold War state of tension and anxiety against individual psychological pressures. Conformity or isolation are extrapolated to exacerbate a loss of self that can only be regained through reconciliation between the public and private spheres. Thus, Bester’s approach is designed to argue that such reconciliation is required in order to break down barriers of the ‘other’ and dissuade collective delusions of normality. This thesis argues that Bester’s approach to psychology develops and foreshadows the growing awareness that individuals may not be in control of their own mind, and the importance of human understanding in extrapolating and predicting the future of society. By depicting the Cold War as collective neurosis, Bester’s works mirror social identity crises against individual crises in order to depict the impact of social influence and the place of the individual within society. Tracing the development of this approach, this thesis examines Bester’s works chronologically from 1950 through 1960. With the intention of establishing Bester’s commitment to his approach, this thesis has expanded beyond his fiction to include his non-fiction, such as letters, editorials, interviews, and essays, as well as crossing genre lines between his sf and mainstream writing. Not only is Bester’s understanding of psychology thereby revealed and charted, but an exploration of the ability of various modes of writing to examine psychology is undertaken, as is an overview of the general literary atmosphere in which Bester was working.
Supervisor: Sawyer, A. ; Seed, D. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral