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From Self-destruction to Self-creation and Back Again: The Paradox of Thanatos in Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg

Harma, Tanguy. 2018. From Self-destruction to Self-creation and Back Again: The Paradox of Thanatos in Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

My thesis investigates the antithetical movements of self-destruction and of self-creation in a selection of works by Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. In order to shed light on this paradox, I use the mythological figure of Thanatos, which is conceptualised as a principle of death within life as well as one of life within death. The figure of Thanatos will enable me to trace the ways in which various strategies in the writings both create, and destroy, the texts on multiple levels.

I work with two distinct critical methods to illuminate these paradoxical movements. In the first part of the thesis, the analysis is foregrounded in a combination of French Existentialist theory with precepts from the American Transcendentalist tradition in order to define an American variant of Existentialism. This framework allows the trope of alienation, and its impact on both self and text in Big Sur [1962], to come to the fore. Big Sur is read as a novel that plays on motifs of self-destruction in an unprecedented way in Kerouac’s writing. In ‘Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ [1956], the figure of Moloch is interpreted as a principle of nothingness in the poem. Moloch is understood in relation to various forms of engagement both Existentialist and transcendental in essence.

In Part 2, Kerouac’s Tristessa [1960] is analysed from the perspective of the Kantian Sublime. In Tristessa, the narrator’s desire for the eponymous heroine emanates from the projection of a romanticised form of deathliness that channels the Sublime, and that threatens the self and the text in return, thereby conjuring the paradox of Thanatos.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):

https://doi.org/10.25602/GOLD.00023287

Keywords:

Kerouac; Ginsberg, Beat, Existentialism, Transcendentalism, Thanatos, self-destruction, alienation, engagement, sublime

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature

Date:

31 March 2018

Item ID:

23287

Date Deposited:

02 May 2018 11:22

Last Modified:

15 Jul 2018 00:47

URI:

http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/23287

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