Making modernism's monsters: atavistic bodies and the politics of declining life

Heffer, Byron (2019) Making modernism's monsters: atavistic bodies and the politics of declining life. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This thesis enquires into the significance of monstrosity in literary modernism. It argues that an analysis of monstrosity in the work of Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), Mina Loy (1882-1966) and Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) provides new ways of situating the modernist body in relation to contemporary preoccupations with biopolitics, animality, media technologies and the posthuman. The aim of this thesis is to show that theories of posthumanism which emerged from postmodern or poststructuralist thought cannot provide a persuasive account of the modernist fascination with the monstrous. On one hand, the writers I analyse prefigured the canonical strains of posthumanist thought by imagining bodies which disrupt the categorical divisions between humans and animals, organisms and machines, the living and the nonliving. On the other hand, they repeatedly evoke the monstrous by drawing on narratives of atavistic regression and tropes of contamination, horror, degeneration and pathology. Literary and artistic modernism coincided with a period in which anxieties about the ‘species body’ (Foucault) of humanity were intensely debated among scientists, eugenicists, politicians, artists, writers and cultural critics. By positioning avant-garde and modernist writers and artists in the context of biopolitical modernity, this thesis argues that critics have often neglected the contested and politically ambiguous origins of modernist posthumanism. In seeking to understand the connection between historical forces and cultural production, ‘Making Modernism’s Monsters’ contributes to current debates about the emergent cultures of literary posthumanism, the cultural logic of modern biopolitics and representations of the body in modernist-era art and literature.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > English
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR0161 By period > PR0401 Modern > PR0471 20th century > PR0478.A-Z Special topics, A-Z > PR0478.M66 Monstrosity
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 12 Jul 2019 14:03
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:48

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