A Study of Constellational Novel Form
University of Cambridge
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Klee, L. (2021). A Study of Constellational Novel Form (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.80064
This dissertation defines and theorises ‘constellational form’ in the novel, a term I develop from the work of Walter Benjamin. By ‘constellational form’, I mean an associative, essayistic, digressive, allusive, and densely patterned form of prose writing—one that is attuned to interconnection and relationality. Beginning my discussion with Marcel Proust, the chapters of my dissertation explore the affordances of constellational form in novels published over the last two decades (2001–2020) by Jacqueline Rose, W. G. Sebald, Teju Cole, Lisa Robertson, and Olga Tokarczuk. Throughout, I attend to how the formal relationality of these novels entails further questions of ethical relationality. This dissertation seeks to clarify these questions by situating them in terms of the ‘ethical turn’ in literary studies, especially as it has been reframed by the significant meta- critical study of Dorothy J. Hale, The Novel and the New Ethics (2020). Hale persuasively demonstrates that there is an implicit consensus among diverse academic accounts of literary ethics: they concur that the novel provides a ‘felt encounter with alterity’ through its representation of characterological otherness. Yet Hale also acknowledges that ‘a strong example of a counteraesthetic to the ethics of alterity can be located in the Proustian tradition’. This dissertation uses Hale’s suggestion as a point of departure, exploring in depth how the Proustian ‘counteraesthetic’ of constellational form provides an alternative way to imagine novelistic ethics. In particular, I examine how constellational form gives rise more to an ethics of relational affinity than an ethics of alterity. Thus, in my first chapter, I revisit Proust’s La Prisonnière (1923) through a comparison with Rose’s parallel novel Albertine (2001). I propose that Emmanuel Levinas’ image of the ethical relation to alterity as captivity and bondage can be rethought as a constellational form of ‘bondage’ in the sense of ‘enchaînement’—links, chains, and associations of ideas. My second chapter offers a revised account of readerly judgement and ethical confoundment through a close analysis of the complex modes of constellational form in Sebald’s Austerlitz (2001). My third chapter interprets Teju Cole’s 2011 novel Open City as constitutively torn between the ethics of characterological alterity and constellational form, arguing that this tension can be illuminated in terms of Namwali Serpell’s discussion of the ‘spoiled baroque’. In my final chapter, I examine the feminist, baroque variation on constellational form and ethical relationality offered in Lisa Robertson’s 2020 novel The Baudelaire Fractal. Olga Tokarczuk’s proposal that the ‘constellation novel’ is not only a form, but a new novelistic genre then provides the subject of my coda.
Constellational Form, Constellationality, Walter Benjamin, Ethics, The Novel, Teju Cole, Marcel Proust, Olga Tokarczuk, W. G. Sebald, Lisa Robertson, Jacqueline Rose, Association, Digression, Relationality, Politics and Form, Ethics and Form, Relational Formalism, New Formalism, New Ethics, The Ethical Turn, Emmanuel Levinas, Józef Czapski, The Experience of Reading, Aesthetics, Judgement, Baroque, Theory and the Novel, Essayistic Novels, Essayism
I had full funding for my doctoral studies from the John Monash Cultural Scholarship (2018-2021).
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This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.80064
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