My Ph.D. explores the legacy of modernism in contemporary literature, specifically examining how concepts of lateness and late style theorised by Theodor Adorno, Edward Said, and Ben Hutchinson, provide new ways of thinking about modernist legacies and ruptures. I particularly focus on the challenges of writing after Samuel Beckett, who Anthony Cronin famously named ‘the last modernist’. My project explores the lateness and lastness of Beckett’s modernism, across various sites of tension in contemporary fiction.
The sites covered in my project include: the limits of the possible, the city, the body, and the self – spanning authors as varied as J.G. Ballard, W.G. Sebald, J.M. Coetzee, Tom McCarthy, Zadie Smith, Rachel Cusk, and Teju Cole. Moreover, my research has a particular focus on Irish Modernism, and its ‘Modernist Afterlives’ as Paige Reynolds puts it, in the work of Eimear McBride, Claire-Louise Bennett, and Mike McCormack, amongst others.
My research negotiates the triangulated relationships between lateness (Adorno, Said, Hutchinson), ‘Late Modernism’ (Tyrus Miller, Shane Weller, Thomas S. Davis) and modernist legacy (David James, Urmila Seshagiri, Laura Marcus), in an attempt to tease out the paradoxical possibilities in late forms. My project builds on Peter Boxall’s Since Beckett, which considers Beckett’s lateness and lastness as both ‘poetics of exhaustion, and a poetics of persistence’. The diminishment we see in late Beckett texts – Worstward Ho, Ill Seen Ill Said, Company, Stirrings Still – produces an aesthetic which appears undoubtedly terminal, yet the impossible trajectories of these texts find ways to contradictorily invent new and productive ways to ‘stir’, as Beckett puts it in Three Dialogues, ‘from the field of the possible’. My research explores the prominence of this contradictory, exhaustive aesthetic in fiction which engages with modernist legacies, and how forms of Beckettian lateness are ‘stirring still’ in contemporary literature.