Body and City in Contemporary London Writing

Zhang, P
(2018) Body and City in Contemporary London Writing. PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.

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This thesis explores the images of body and city in the literary representations of contemporary London in a selection of British novels published around the new millennium. Fuelled by a deep concern with the ways in which volatile socio-cultural changes have borne upon the daily practices of urban life, contemporary London writing has manifested a tendency to attempt to reclaim a sense of authentic engagement with the metropolis by recovering and reasserting the significance of the experiences of an embodied self. Since the onset of modernity a deepening division between the thinking self and the feeling body has characterised the urban condition of London. This division is both reflected in London novels – in various forms of tension between visual and embodied experience – and is questioned and challenged from various perspectives. Through a focused representation of multifarious sensory perceptions, physical actions, distinctive body images, sexual difference, embodied localised views, and spatial relations between body and city, the contemporary London writers examined in this study draw attention to the resistance that the illegible, irreducible corporeal dimensions of urban life present to a hegemonic visual order. Moreover, these writers strive to re-incorporate vision as one facet of the reciprocal sensuous engagement with the metropolis, in order to offer up further possibilities for creating a sense of place in the ever-more de-corporealised and de-materialised urban space. This commitment to rendering a ‘palpable’ version of London is taken on by established contemporary London-based writers such as Iain Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd and Ian McEwan, and their younger counterparts like Zadie Smith, Tom McCarthy, John Lanchester and Nicola Barker, as well as writers such as Geoff Nicholson, Lee Rourke, William Boyd and Penelope Lively, whose imagined Londons have received less attention from the academy. Drawing together a varied selection of literary texts, this thesis broadens the scope of literary criticism on contemporary London writing. A close textual analysis of the search of contemporary London writers for an inhabitable version of London, and their attentiveness to corporeal experiences also shows that in the most recent stage of postmodernity, literary realism has been reconsidered – with innovative techniques and new perspectives – as a viable form of engaging with a seemingly un-representable urban reality. This thesis demonstrates and interrogates the ways in which contemporary London writing attempts to make the reader ‘see’ and ‘feel’ the presence of a living metropolis.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 14 Aug 2018 09:40
Last Modified: 16 Jan 2024 17:21
DOI: 10.17638/03016395