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Constructing Identity

Continuity, Otherness and Revolt in the Poetry of Tony Harrison

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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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Chapter One “Correct your maps: Newcastle is Peru!” Continuity of Exploration and Exploitation in The Loiners

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Chapter One “Correct your maps: Newcastle is Peru!”

Continuity of Exploration and Exploitation in The Loiners44

The following chapter focuses on the theme of “constructing identity” in Tony Harrison’s poetry while also commenting on themes developed in his subsequent collections: the theme of revolt, which originates in The Loiners, reappears in The School of Eloquence and acquires its most acclaimed shape in v., and the theme of continuity, with its variations: continuity between public and private experience, between past histories and a present moment, between the author and the poetic persona Tony Harrison, between male and female as opposite but potentially complementary energies, but above all, the continuity of imperial structures of power which permeate the history of individuals, communities and nations. In Harrison’s poetry, the theme of continuity is closely related to the problem of “difference,” which often takes the form of estrangement from the speaker’s home, family and class he grew out of.45 The state of alienation of the poetic “I” is most acutely palpable in those moments when the poet returns to his roots, to a place literally and metaphorically understood as a source of poetic inclinations, of one’s own voice and crude but continually renewable inspiration. Consequently, the city of the poet’s birth and childhood years, Leeds—as a real place and a poetic metaphor—reoccurs in his poetry, its enduring presence already stressed in the title of Harrison’s first book-form collection, The Loiners.

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