A Problematic Sublime: Social Suffering and Testimony in Pat Barker's Novels

Mary Trabucco (2011). A Problematic Sublime: Social Suffering and Testimony in Pat Barker's Novels MPhil Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

       
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Author Mary Trabucco
Thesis Title A Problematic Sublime: Social Suffering and Testimony in Pat Barker's Novels
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-05
Thesis type MPhil Thesis
Supervisor Dr Judith Seaboyer
Dr Tony Thwaites
Total pages 114
Total black and white pages 114
Subjects 19 Studies in Creative Arts and Writing
Abstract/Summary In this thesis, I explore Pat Barker’s use of the sublime as a source of both moral authority and ethical ambiguity. Through an analysis of six novels and a short story that appeared between the 1980s and the turn of the twenty-first century, I suggest that the sublime is an essential element in Barker’s writing, like a troubling speck on the retina that both plagues and enables her ethical vision. The sublime at once ruptures her realistic representation of social suffering and her depiction of the urban ruins of postindustrial England, and underpins her critical examination of testimony and witnessing. Neil Hertz has described the sublime as a “passage to the limit,” and while retaining this influential sense of the extraordinary and traumatic, I show Barker’s use of the sublime as a pragmatic mechanism that highlights the contradictions between the ethical and the political in her novels. In my first chapter, that contradiction is between trauma and mourning in Union Street (1982), Liza’s England (1986), and the Regeneration trilogy (1991–1995), while in the second chapter it is between limitlessness and regionalism in place writing, and includes the later texts Border Crossing (2001) and “Subsidence” (2003). In my last chapter, the contradiction revealed by the sublime is between amoral and moral versions of history in Border Crossing and Double Vision (2003). Through a reading of this selection of novels, I argue that the sublime reveals an irreconcilable tension between Barker’s ethics of indeterminacy and political values of communal consensus and moral repair.
Keyword Sublime
testimony
Pat Barker
ethics
social suffering
witnessing

 
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