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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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Introduction “The whole view North”


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“The whole view North”

Born in 1937, Tony Harrison is a poet who crossed the boundary dividing the English working and middle classes. He was one of those children who, due to educational reform,1 received state scholarships and went to grammar schools, and as a result, had the opportunity to become the students representing the first generation of the working class of the North at university level. Reading Harrison’s poetry, it seems justifiable to say that his poetic path started not when he published his first poem but much earlier, in 1948, when, as a “scholarship boy,” he crossed the threshold of Leeds Grammar School, finding himself from that moment onwards “at the friction point of two cultures,”2 as Richard Hoggart put it (2005: 239). This was a crucial moment, a triggering point that changed the trajectory of Harrison’s ← 11 | 12 → life, opening doors to the world of eloquence and simultaneously depriving him of a clear identification with the place he grew out of, and one to which he will be returning again and again in his verse, continually “Facing North,” as one of his titles asserts. In this poem, Harrison describes “the act of poetic composition” as “luminous O of … light, itself illuminating” (Byrne 1998: 177) darkness.

God knows why of all rooms I’d to choose

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