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Title: Modernist Anthropocene aesthetics : ecological innovations in the novels of James Joyce, Djuna Barnes and Virginia Woolf
Author: Adkins, Peter
ISNI:       0000 0004 7969 9511
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2019
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Modernist Anthropocene Aesthetics examines how James Joyce, Djuna Barnes and Virginia Woolf forged new and innovative ways of writing about the planet, nonhuman life and the figure of the human. It argues that the Anthropocene-a term that originated in the Earth sciences and which names the way in which humans are now directly influencing the climatological, ecological and geological composition of the planet-offers a new way to historicise and theorise modernist aesthetics, and that modernism can shed new light on pressing environmental challenges of the present moment. Drawing on and contributing to Anthropocene studies-an emergent interdisciplinary field that spans the sciences, social sciences and humanities-this thesis argues that the early twentieth century was a pivotal time in the history of the Anthropocene, not only in terms of the profound environmental changes taking place but in new and emergent ways of conceptualising planetary life, and that modernist literature was in dialogue with these developments. Presenting how Joyce, Barnes and Woolf were responding to what can be called the modernist Anthropocene, I examine how their texts were informed by contemporary cultural and scientific ideas around materiality, evolution, climate change, and extinction. Moreover, by examining how these writers established innovative aesthetic modes through which to interrogate the relationship between the human and the nonhuman, I suggest that we can see Joyce, Barnes and Woolf as already theorising the Anthropocene. The highly inventive and often radical ways of thinking about materiality, species relations, environments and life itself that we encounter when we read modernist novels, I argue, can be brought into productive dialogue with the posthumanist theory and philosophy that has grown up and around the Anthropocene. In offering new and comparative readings of Joyce, Barnes and Woolf through an approach that combines close readings, archival analysis, historical research and critical theory, Modernist Anthropocene Aesthetics looks to demonstrate how an ecocritical mode of modernist criticism can reorient established literary histories and open up new ways of understanding modernism. The thesis is divided into seven chapters followed by a short afterword. The first chapter is an introduction, which establishes the degree to which the writers studied in this thesis were interested in challenging the dominant idea of the human and the nonhuman, as well as introducing the concept of the Anthropocene and historicising its conceptual origins in the early twentieth century. Chapter 2 and 3 focus on James Joyce. Chapter 2 examines Joyce's presentation of materiality in Ulysses in relation to the Celtic Revival's celebration of Irish nature, while Chapter 3 looks at Joyce's figuring of Molly Bloom as 'Gea-Tellus' and the planetary imaginary in Ulysses. Chapter 4 and 5 focus on Djuna Barnes. Chapter 4 looks at the way in which Barnes's broad oeuvre of writing presents beastly figurations that challenge the figure of the human, bringing her well-studied Nightwood into dialogue with her lesser studied writing and archive. Chapter 5 offers a reading of Barnes's Ryder that elucidates the novel's presentation of sexual difference and species relations. Chapter 6 and 7 take Virginia Woolf as their subject. Chapter 6 examines Orlando's presentation of climate change and suggests that Woolf establishes a material climatic ontology. Chapter 7 looks at the way in which Woolf offers a radical aesthetics and ethics of extinction in her late writing, including Between the Acts. The thesis concludes with a short afterword that sets out how the Modernist Anthropocene is followed by what can be called a Nuclear Anthropocene, and reflects on how modernism's literary innovations might provide the materials for theorising and historicising our new planetary epoch.
Supervisor: Ryan, Derek Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PR English literature