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Title: Unity and fragmentation in four novels by Virginia Woolf
Authors: Cygan, Philippe
Issue Date: 2010
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: This thesis examines four novels by Virginia Woolf – Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, The Waves and Between the Acts – for the purposes of, firstly, establishing the specificity of literary language and, secondly, showing that such specificity is a form of access to basic structures of the human condition. I propose a reading of these novels on the basis of a theory of literary language articulated onto a fundamental anthropology. My starting point is a discussion of the tension between a force of unification and one of disintegration in the four novels, because such a tension is a theme of these novels; it is also seen as the spring of the literary experience by theorists such as Paul Ricoeur and Wolfgang Iser, who are the sources of inspiration of this thesis; and most importantly, such a tension is an avatar of aporia, which I consider one of the characteristics of literary language. I define literary language both negatively, along the lines of its demarcation from ordinary communicative language, and positively, in terms of performativity, figurality, fictionality and aporia: language in literature, rather than being a tool of communication, elicits a drift towards performativity of which the symptoms are figures of speech, referential irrelevance and contradictions. Such a theory of literary language is present in Woolf’s four novels, thematically, as a reflection, rudimentary and fragmentary, on artistic practice; it is also present on a formal level, as the active principle of her literary practice. To those strictly literary concerns, I add an existential depth: the specificity of literary language is seen as a mode of access to a fundamental dimension of our human condition. I discuss such a dimension, philosophically, under the name of ‘fundamental anthropology’ with the help of Emmanuel Lévinas and Ludwig Wittgenstein. I conclude my thesis by showing how, in the context of Woolf’s work, theory of literary language and fundamental anthropology are articulated onto each other.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics

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