Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Notes to Self/ Where I'm At

Okay, it probably seems a little bit odd chucking this into the public domain but, for some reason, my thoughts seem to be far more organised when I write them on here. This is, then, a notepad of thesis things to do. Should you be interested in these things, I'll add a little explanatory note at the top...

My thesis, if you hadn't guessed, is on the novels of Henry Green. More precisely, it's on some of the novels of Henry Green, because I'm not writing (in any detail, at least) about the first two and last two works of the corpus. If this sounds a bit weird, it's only because Green is a relatively minor novelist. You'll find a lot of studies of Beckett, or Faulkner, or Phillip Roth, or John Updike, or even Angela Carter, which only entertain certain regions of the body of work within their analytical scope. For my purposes, Green's first two novels, Blindness and Living, are, respectively, juvenilia and an attempt to apply modernist narrative principles to the subject matter of Zola-esque ('Zolan'?) Naturalism. The last two, Nothing and Doting, represent a huge departure from their precedents both in terms of narrative style and subject matter. Essentailly, the five novels (and one autobiography) in my study are those that engage to a greater or lesser degree with the historical event (World War II) that coincided with publication. From Party Going (1939) to Concluding (1948), these novels examine the various ways in which the conflict, its precipitations, and its aftermath impacted on the imaginative and unconscious life of a literary culture that was already embroiled in the aesthetic endgame of modernism. The thesis also uses World War Two as a curtain-closer for one type of modernism and suggests that the employment of modernist technique thereafter occurs in a melancholic mode as the attempt to hang onto the stylistic momentum attained by the movement. In one way, they dramatise the fiery end of modernism, whilst in another they stage its apotheosis, as the 'impossibility' of writing engendered by war (as a kind of ultimately unrepresentable event) was, in one way, exactly what experimental writing after Mallarme looked for. I've used the words 'dramatise' and 'stage' here as I attempt to make these arguments by looking into the nuances of setting in these works, analysing why (to give one example) a railway station frozen in foggy London seems the ideal home for a novel set on the brink of WWII (the failure of the trains in the fog is a failure of the imagination when faced with cataclysm: the lyric moment of waiting is distended in the face of this failure, resulting in a lengthily drawn-out prose poem.)

So, this is what I need to do to each chapter:

Introduction: I like most of the introduction, but the big points need to be shifted to the beginning. I also need to add chapter summaries (best left until the chapters are rewritten, I think), and I have an idea for a 'non-glossary' of Greenian figures which I cribbed from a book called Hitchcock's Cryptonymies. The non-glossary wouldn't be too hard- one item a day for a month would seal that, though I hope the external examiner will appreciate it.

Party Going: I'm nearly there with this one, although some points need tidying up and the introduction should be reordered. There's about 1500 words left to write on it about the imaginative resonance of the General Strike, and I need to lose some flabby bits about Derrida and Frank Kermode.

Pack my Bag: Green's autobiography, which I've used to instigate a mini-chapter demonstrating how the arguments expressed by the setting of Party Going are extrapolated in this book to give rise to a fully-fledged 'aesthetics of space'. Ending needs some extension. A few silly bits that need polishing, but I'm not too worried about this.

Caught: Again, nearly there. The first section and middle bit are almost in place, give or take a few unpackings of Lacanian stuff which I've used (no, I haven't read all, or much of Ecrits). There's a bit on London Bohemia which is a bit all over the shop, but that's eminently fixable. I don't want to spend more than a couple of days on this one.

Loving: The task that should begin next week. This was the earliest chapter I wrote, so had to bear the lode of a nascent thesis when it was being composed. Quite scared of this one, but it will be a welcome break after the war of attrition writing the current chapter has been.

Back: This chapter is probably more relevant to me at the moment because it contains many of the germs of things I might be interested in writing about it the Lovecraftian void known as 'afterwards' (English Surrealism and so on). When I wrote this, I was at the beginning of an AHRC grant, and it shows- lots of theoretical arabesques which reflect having the time and money to read lots of barely relevant books in the library. I really like some of this, but it needs my worst enemy, discipline.

Concluding: Finishing this at the moment and it seems to have encountered a theoretical impasse. Tomorrow, I am going to try and breathe life into the end of it, and on Friday I am going to send it off for supervision. I'm proud of some of the stuff in here, but have no idea what to do with the knobbly bits at the moment.

So there you go. Once again, the blogging has proved cathartic after a mostly frustrating day. Time for tea and the Champions League final, I think...


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