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Self-Doubt: Revision and the Late Modernist Crisis of Conscience

Isaacs, David Frederick Alan; (2020) Self-Doubt: Revision and the Late Modernist Crisis of Conscience. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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The thesis explores the textual manifestations of late 20th-century anxieties about continuities between forms of literary authority and forms of sovereign power. Focussing on three authors – Philip Roth, J.M. Coetzee, Geoffrey Hill – who regard themselves as heirs and benefactors of traditional literary authority, but who write with a consciousness of its dubious foundation, it identifies as a common response to those anxieties a self-conscious aesthetic of self-doubt and self-criticism, in which the form of a given work becomes inseparable from its own ethical interrogation. It is a revisionary aesthetic, one founded in the processes of negation, correction, substitution that constitute textual revision and manifest in the use of its tropes and effects. The aesthetic fosters an approach to literary text that favours the provisional over the conclusive: the text is always inadequate, always in need of improvement and correction. The thesis sets out to test the intuition that this revisionary reflexivity is not merely a formal or rhetorical device but stems from genuine authorial anxiety and obstruction: that the struggles of composition, its knots and aporias, become the organising principles of the finished (but unfinishable) texts. Its methodology is therefore genetic. It reconstructs the genetic histories of some of these authors’ major works and, by tracing their negotiations with their own authority, attempts to excavate narratives of composition. It observes in each archive the development of a program of extensive revision that harnesses authorial doubt as a motor of creativity. It finds, with remarkable uniformity, that the texts are narratives of their own revisionary geneses, that they tell the story of the getting-it-right of their coming-into-being. The doubt becomes the form. The thesis suggests, finally, that this revisionary ethic may function to allow the authorial will to power to coexist with a perpetual unlearning of sovereignty.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Self-Doubt: Revision and the Late Modernist Crisis of Conscience
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2020. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
Keywords: Genetic criticism, Revision, Ethical criticism, J.M. Coetzee, Philip Roth, Geoffrey Hill, Modernism, Post-Modernism, Late Modernism, The novel, Poetry, Contemporary poetry, The contemporary novel, 20th century, Textual criticism, Self-doubt
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of English Lang and Literature
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10093364
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