Liberty or death: a practical and theoretical exploration of alternatives to free will and determinism in contemporary historical fiction

Johnstone, D D ORCID: 0000-0001-9989-6895 (2011) Liberty or death: a practical and theoretical exploration of alternatives to free will and determinism in contemporary historical fiction. PhD thesis, University of Gloucestershire.

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The thesis combines creative and critical work integrated into a single text. The text is presented as the work of a PhD student whose project has been supervised by the disillusioned Professor Thrib. The student plans to write the fictionalised biography of Elsie Stewart, a working class Belfast woman whose life intersected with the defining dramas of twentieth century history. His research diary describes how he and his translator, Lempi, began to reconstruct Elsie's life from archive sources scattered across Europe, and his early output is literary prose of the sort one would expect to find in a historical novel. However, Professor Thrib has built his career on an eccentric form of post-structuralism, and pushed to breaking point by the bureaucracy and double-speak of the university, Thrib demands his student desists from using personal pronouns or any other grammatical structures that imply originative action. As the conclusion of Elsie's story is told in increasingly bizarre fragments, the student looks for answers through close readings of recent historical fictions (In Country, Libra, Midnight's Children, The Passion, Philadelphia Fire, Possession, Star Turn, and Waterland), in the theories of selected modern philosophers (Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, and Baudrillard), and in the eccentric publications of Professor Thrib and other imaginary academics. Unable to account for human agency theoretically, he seeks a new writing that effaces the subject as originator of action; at the same time, however, he obsesses over the human drives of emotion, desire, and corporeal experience. As the student struggles with the bureaucracy of the university and his unrequited infatuation with his translator, what emerges is a novel approach to the question of free will and determinism that goes beyond 'death of the subject' literature. Additionally, the thesis uses skills from a range of disciplines including Creative Writing, English Literature, History, Philosophy, and Social Science, and in its interdisciplinary ambition it argues for the value of art and theory in an increasingly mercantile Higher Education sector.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Advisors:
Thesis AdvisorEmailURL
Uncontrolled Keywords: Free Will and Determinism in contemporary historical fiction
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Creative Arts
Research Priority Areas: Culture, Continuity, and Transformation
Depositing User: Susan Turner
Date Deposited: 06 Mar 2015 14:17
Last Modified: 31 Aug 2023 08:56

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