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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 Five “This frightening mask.” Continuity of Poetic Gaze in Selected War Poems


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Chapter Five “This frightening mask”

Continuity of Poetic Gaze in Selected War Poems

In her lecture “Precarious Life and the Obligations of Cohabitation” delivered in May 2011 at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, Judith Butler discussed the problem of ethical response to suffering and the special role of images and accounts of war, which are imposed upon the viewer/reader “from the outside, from elsewhere, from the life of others” (Butler 2011: 3), sometimes as an “imposition,” “without … consent” (Butler 2011: 2), and that constitute a “particular form of ethical solicitation” (Butler 2011: 3). Butler puts forward the thesis that “ethical demands that emerge through the global circuits” in today’s world of polyphonic communication “depend on the reversibility of the proximity and distance” (Butler 2011: 4) and further widens the scope of possible analysis, suggesting that “certain bonds are actually wrought through this reversibility” (Butler 2011: 4). To “register an ethical demand … that is reducible neither to consent nor to established agreement and takes place outside of established community bonds” (Butler 2011: 5) she refers to Arendt and Levinas, whose theories treat complicated relations of “ethics, proximity, and distance” (Butler 2011: 5). In the case of the latter it is the frequently discussed (Butler 2004: 131) notion of the “face” of the Other, the one different from the “self,” that proves to be particularly interesting in the context of Harrison’s poetry. The notion of the “face” developed by Levinas and analyzed by Butler in...

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