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Title: Aphorism in Stevie Smith
Author: Masud, Noreen
ISNI:       0000 0004 7232 010X
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
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My thesis draws up a new theory of the aphorism, a form which has received limited critical treatment in literary and philosophical studies. It uses this model of aphorism to frame an original approach to the enigmatic poetry and novels of Stevie Smith (1902-1971). Surveying the aphoristic tradition through German, French and English lines of development, analysing a range of short-form writing including La Rochefoucauld's maxims, Erasmus's proverbs and Karl Kraus's aphorisms, I suggest that aphorism represents a tool for the social management of emotion. Rhetorically corralled into a slick, collectable shape, the aphorism promises arresting and instantaneous epiphany. However, the accomplished elegance which positioned the aphorism's message as self-evidently true in fact works to repel further enquiry, and ultimately ensures that it will be forgotten or bypassed in favour of another aphorism. Aphorism, therefore, is a form in which dangerous ideas and emotions can be safely displayed and, simultaneously, effaced. Because aphorism's style defuses the imperative to act on what is clearly known, writers like Stevie Smith can use the form as a means of withdrawing from the burden of making an impact on the world. I therefore find that Smith's use of aphorism and its related forms (proverb, epitaph, caption and fragment) offers a route into her texts. With her disconcerting pen-andink drawings, dark comedy, and social ventriloquism which stops short of satire, the rhetorical force of Smith's poetry fascinates and arrests its readers, but nevertheless leaves them unable to react coherently, identify the use-value which her writing appears to promise, or delve successfully beneath its compelling surface. Drawing on hitherto unpublished archival material, I argue that Smith's texts resist analysis because like the aphorisms embedded throughout them, they offer and exemplify a mode of clearly-declared revelation which, at the same time, makes itself unusable.
Supervisor: Marcus, Laura K. ; Bayley, Sally S. M. Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available