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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 Three “The still too living dead.” Continuity of Mourning in the Selected Elegies from The School of Eloquence


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Chapter Three “The still too living dead”

Continuity of Mourning in the Selected Elegies from The School of Eloquence

In his paper entitled “Mourning and Annihilation in Tony Harrison’s The School of Eloquence,” Anthony Rowland places Harrison’s “family sonnets” within a larger context of “poetry of mourning,” which is “conventionally explicated within the recognized … and transgressive structure of elegy” (Rowland 1998: 1). Rowland focuses on theoretical approaches to the issue172 although he does not ignore the importance of literary models of elegy, applied to Harrison’s work by Rebecca Smalley in her (unpublished) thesis The Role of Memory in the Poetry of Douglas Dunn and Tony Harrison. Undeniably, structures of elegy and theoretical models concerning mourning cannot be treated as “a rigid interpretative grid” (Rowland 1998: 1) while explaining Harrison’s “complex and elusive” (Rowland 1998: 1) approach to the process of mourning. Nevertheless, they are useful in interpreting the theme of loss and, as the following analysis will prove, its relation to the issue of constructing identity in The School of Eloquence. The reason for this is that structures of elegy and theoretical models concerning mourning lay great stress on “identity’s diachronic relation to its past,” in other words, they focus less on the “contingent in-the-present character (i.e. the social construction of identity) and more … [on] the ways in which past experiences appear to ‘hard-wire’ or determine categories of identity” (Prager 2009: 142). That is not to say that the issue of social construction...

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