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Title: The dancer walking the ruins : Laura Riding and dialectical thought
Author: Tilbury, Simon John
ISNI:       0000 0004 7651 4825
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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This thesis explores the origin and expression of dialectical thought in the life and writings of the American modernist Laura Riding. Within a biographical framework, I trace the steps by which it became the defining characteristic of her poetic, literary and critical works. A few have noted Riding's dialectical manner; none have appreciated its centrality. This is the first detailed study. An introductory outline of the origin and definition of dialectic provides a working theoretical context for the study that follows. Riding was born Laura Reichenthal in New York City, 1901. Her father, a Jewish émigré, was a committed activist for the left and included Riding in his campaigning at a very young age, immersing and educating her in the political and philosophical radicalism thriving in New York's Jewish communities of the era. There she internalised the revolutionary dialectics that would inform her aesthetic practice. Breaking with her father in her teens, she abandoned politics for literature. As Laura Riding - the name she adopted in 1927 and with which her literary writings continue to be associated - she moved to London and began collaborating with Robert Graves, relocating with him to Majorca in 1929. Producing poetry, fiction, criticism and experimental philosophico-literary works, she became a formidable presence within European literary modernism. Many aspects of her work are dialectical. Paradox, inversion and negation are perennial textual features. Key events in her life were also experienced as dialectical. Her insistence upon 'death' as an inverted sigil of unmediated vitality points toward a negatively dialectical mode of thought. In this regard, the theories of Theodor W. Adorno prove invaluable. Adorno provides a unique lexicon of terms - 'constitutive subjectivity', 'administered world', 'true object' - with which to draw out Riding's dialectical subtleties. Reading them alongside Adorno's negatively dialectical theory of modernist art and aesthetic praxis, certain aspects of Riding's writings are illuminated and, in some respects, they correspond. After a suicide attempt in 1929, Riding's perspective changed. Before it, her point of view was positioned within institutionally determined 'reality', and 'truth' beyond it was adumbrated by dialectical means. Afterwards, she believed herself transfigured: the embodiment of immediate, consciously apprehended noumenal objectivity. But the written word remained recalcitrant toward her attempts to inscribe this newfound positive 'truth'. This frustration contributed to her abandonment of poetry at the end of the 1930s. Re-emerging in the 1960s as Laura (Riding) Jackson, her disavowal of poetry and exploration of 'truth-potential' in language utilised dialectical approaches derived from her earlier experiences and writings.
Supervisor: Mengham, Roderick Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Robert Graves ; Laura (Riding) Jackson ; American Poetry ; American Modernism ; Anglo-American Modernism ; Seizin Press ; Epilogue ; Gertrude Stein ; Hegel ; Negative Dialectic ; Theodor W. Adorno ; New Criticism ; Allen Tate ; The Fugitives ; modernism ; poetry ; Riding ; dialectic ; Adorno ; Graves ; suicide ; philosophy ; literary criticism ; Laura Riding