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The Poetics of Renunciation: The Jamesian Tradition of Recognition in Modern and Contemporary Transatlantic Novels

Movaghati, Sina

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The present dissertation offers fresh readings of the renunciation pattern observed in some seminal literary fiction of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. By foregrounding recognition (anagnorisis) as the dominant literary preoccupation for canonical modernists such as Henry James and Edith Wharton, the present study tackles the ever-present problematic issue of passivity of action existing in modern and contemporary transatlantic fiction. It has been argued that even though anagnorisis, in the Aristotelian sense of the word, has often been employed as the most critical plot element by modernist and contemporary writers, this revelatory moment tends to produce passivity in the modern protagonists rather than to induce a dramatic action. In this sense, I argue that some well-known contemporary novelists, such as Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan, are strictly Jamesian in treating the concept of recognition. The method of study relies on close readings in a comparative mode. Also, to shed light on the characters’ passivity, I partially incorporated Emmanuel Levinas’ phenomenology of aesthetics. Levinas is primarily a philosopher of ethics, but he has an interesting philosophy on art and aestheticism. His philosophy of aesthetics is drawing more attention from critics in recent years. Similar to philosophers such as Plato, and Benjamin, Levinas is a critic of art and aestheticism. Like Adorno, Levinas believes that art and artistic practices have such power that can derail the subject’s intentionality from the real towards the non-real or imaginary. For him, since an aesthetic image is pleasurable and complete, it does not need to enter a dialogue with a world outside itself; hence it is an autonomous existence that provides an escape route for the subject and disengages him/her from the real world. In this dissertation, I argue that the passivity observed in modern protagonists is due to their engagement with the aesthetic mental image. It is due to this aesthetic image that they are gradually disengaged from the real world. Therefore, the protagonists prioritize the imaginary over the real. As a result, the recognition loses its functionality because the ego is already lulled by the aesthetic image.

Document type: Dissertation
Supervisor: Schloss, Prof. Dr. Dietmar
Place of Publication: Heidelberg
Date of thesis defense: 1 December 2022
Date Deposited: 01 Jun 2023 08:46
Date: 2023
Faculties / Institutes: Neuphilologische Fakultät > Anglistisches Seminar
DDC-classification: 420 English
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