"Making strange": The art and science of selfhood in the works of John Banville

Heather Maureen Moran, Marquette University

Abstract

The aim of my dissertation is to show how John Banville's narrators are engrossed in the search for Self and how they concentrate that search in art. Specifically, I look at seven of Banville's novels: Birchwood, The Newton Letter, The Book of Evidence, Ghosts, Athena, The Untouchable , and Nightspawn , and identify how each narrator conducts his search for Self through the medium of art. Throughout my dissertation I use the terms "Self" and "selfhood" interchangeably and follow the tenets of "Self" Charles Taylor outlines in Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity : namely, that we indeed have a sense of ourselves as beings with inner depths, with the connected notion that we are "selves." This position is not taken for granted in modern and postmodern literature; therefore, in each chapter I provide frameworks involving theories of selfhood, providing a backdrop for considering the ways in which Banville problematizes selfhood and its search in his novels. I argue that Banville suggests the search for a coherent sense of Self is fundamentally grounded in art, especially in the Self's interaction with, creation of, and relationship to art. In each of the novels discussed in this dissertation, the narrator's preoccupations with his selfhood and questions of its authenticity are consistently tied to art--the appreciation of a painting, the creation of a journal, the focus of an imagination which can "recreate" a murdered woman in the pages of a book. My objective is to elucidate Banville's narrators' preoccupations with their Self(s) and include these considerations in the ongoing discussion of identity and selfhood in literature. The dominant literary theory framing my dissertation is reader response criticism, as I often focus on the reader in relation to the text and invoke the role of the reader as co-creator of the text. In addition, I will show how Banville has problematized questions involving selfhood by examining through close readings how the elements of Self and the narrators' preoccupations with Self shape Banville's novels and our reading of them. Analysis of these issues will examine current concepts and theoretical approaches of selfhood and identity formation. Among questions involving selfhood, I look at the relationship between selfhood and community; the arbitrary and fluid nature of identity; subjectivity and the Self; and the construct of the modern and postmodern self-conscious narrative. Indeed, Banville's "search for selfhood" novels foster an awareness of how a self-discernment journey may shape our views of art's power and reach, especially the power and reach of narrative.

Recommended Citation

Heather Maureen Moran, ""Making strange": The art and science of selfhood in the works of John Banville" (January 1, 2000). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI9977737.
http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI9977737

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