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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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Chapter Two “Wherever did you get your talent from?” Continuity of Poetic Heritage in The School of Eloquence


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Chapter Two “Wherever did you get your talent from?”

Continuity of Poetic Heritage in The School of Eloquence101

Poetry is all I write, whether for books, or readings or for the National Theatre …. All these activities are part of the same quest for a public poetry, though in the word public I would never want to exclude inwardness. I think how Milton’s sonnets range from the directly outward to the tenderly inward, and how the public address of the one makes the clearing for the shared privacy of the other. (Harrison quoted in Astley, 1991: 9)

In the abovementioned quote Harrison sets out a clear poetic task for himself, most boldly fulfilled in his acclaimed verse The School of Eloquence.102 The poet must be able to express both the inner world of the individual and the outer world of historical and social turbulence: in other words, the public and the private. In his book entitled Identity: Conversations with Benedetto Vecchi Bauman quotes the Spanish-language writer Juan Goytisolo who observes, “intimacy and distance create a privileged situation. Both are necessary” (2007: 14). Intimacy and distance are the most important features of Harrison’s poetic perspective. Inextricably linked, these two attitudes stem from the experience of his working-class boyhood, his entrance into the school of eloquence and how he became a poet and stranger within his own community. As Harrison duly noted in one interview, from the moment he began his formal education at...

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