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Title: Modernism, empathy, and the contemporary novel
Author: Marton, Agota
ISNI:       0000 0004 7971 5921
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis reveals previously unrecognised relations between modernism, empathy, and the contemporary novel. It argues that Ian McEwan, Ciaran Carson, and Zadie Smith in particular reclaim a rich history of empathy that defines their approach and reason to rework modernist texts. Drawing on philosophical, psychological, sociological, neuroscientific, and aesthetic theories of empathy, my chapters offer close readings of contemporary and modernist novelists' representations of empathic experience to ultimately demonstrate how McEwan's, Carson's, and Smith's reclaiming of modernist empathies is at the same time formally, creatively, ethically, and attentively enabling. McEwan pays particular attention to Woolf's representation of self-other and subject-object relations, dramatizing, through his highly engineered narrative patterns, aesthetic and intersubjective empathies. Carson miniaturizes Joyce's attentional associative patterns, staging an empathic way of reading that involves an attention to and a distraction from the text. Zadie Smith dramatizes Forsterian tension between narrative symmetry and a comedy of arbitrariness, using Forster's ideas about musical and visual empathy and distinction between rhythm and pattern to map urban relations onto networks of a more relaxed coexistence. Through their close attention to modernism's representations of empathic experience, these novelists sidestep the simpler notions of empathy that their non-fictional statements suggest, expanding empathic attention in their novels to include attunement with art, objects, and others. Their reason to do so has various consequences. Firstly, they test the creative expansiveness of modernism, probing how closely they can attend to Woolf's, Joyce's, and Forster's novels without creating a simple pastiche. Secondly, they problematize new ethical, reconstructive tendencies of post-postmodern humanist realisms. Thirdly, through their minute attention to modernist empathies, these novelists also advocate an empathic, inclusive, patient way of reading to accommodate and expand twenty-first-century attentional demands.
Supervisor: MacKay, Marina Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council ; Scatcherd European Scholarship
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: empathy studies ; contemporary fiction ; British and Irish literature ; visual culture ; modernist legacies