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Constructing Identity

Continuity, Otherness and Revolt in the Poetry of Tony Harrison


Agata Handley

The author analyzes the multi-layered and multidimensional theme of identity construction recurring in Tony Harrison’s work from the seventies onwards looking at the way it evolved throughout the years. The book examines identity in the frame of the sociological and philosophical thoughts of such thinkers as Emmanuel Levinas and Zygmunt Bauman and in reference to the systematization proposed by Zbigniew Bokszański: identity as a state or process, identity as a continuity or change, and identity as a consequence of conformity or revolt.

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Conclusion “How have you been useful for the polis?”


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“How have you been useful for the polis?”

This book has been an attempt to analyze the theme of identity in Harrison’s poems, to identify its most important dimensions and to trace the lines of its development from The Loiners, through The School of Eloquence and v., up to the more recent works concerned with contemporary military conflicts and modern warfare. One of the tasks which inscribes itself into the context of this analysis and which was set at the beginning of the book was to determine the poetic identity of Tony Harrison, an engaged poet who pays as much attention to the private as to the public sphere of human experience. Labelled political, sentimental, misogynist, dangerous, unforgiving, insulting and militant, his work escapes easy, unambiguous definitions. To answer the question about his poetic identity is by no means easy if one considers the unquestionable richness of his verse, the controversy he can and at times undeniably wants to provoke, and the fact that he has always understood identity as an dynamic process which takes place in the context of history, never free from the political and social aspect of life.

In this book, Harrison’s work is analysed in the context of numerous theoretical backgrounds, all of them relevant for understanding how the problem of identity has been perceived in twentieth century Sociology, Psychology and Cultural Studies, but also in the light of those authors who concentrated mainly upon the...

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