student profile: Mr Ben Eldridge


Thesis work

Thesis title: Fiction, Science, & Discursive Power: Peter Watts' Functionally Generative Linguistic Paroxysms

Supervisors: Peter MARKS

Thesis abstract:

Language explicitly shapes human fields of knowledge in ways which are frequently overlooked, and often outright ignored.  Even mainstream literary studies have, to a large extent, withdrawn from detailed examination of the one recurrent constituent element of all literature - words themselves.  Throughout this project, I will be considering the work of contemporary Canadian science fiction writer Peter Watts, whose textual textures necessitate a re-centering of language; his texts demand a recognition that a relationship with words is integral to all aspects of human perception.  Watts' fiction is frequently described as bleak, misanthropic and dystopian, amongst a whole range of other equally grim epithets.  And indeed, his ouevre is unquestionably harsh and unforgiving, extrapolating realities in which even technologically augmented posthumanity has become basically obsolescent.  Humanity, in Watts' fiction, is perhaps just one evolutionary misstep that so far refuses to realise its extreme redundancy.  However, for all the narrative nihilism, it is Watts' idiosyncratic prose that is, arguably, the most subversive part of his project.  The ultimate irony of Watts' textual production is that its very fabric - language - is the thing that finds itself under attack.  Accordingly this project will involve a journey through Watts' manipulation of the constitutive and inescapable foundation of language: grammar - comprised of syntax, morphology, phonology and semantics.  His tapestry of divergent discursive threads is embroidered by stitching contrasting prose styles that, ulltimately, act to wreak a subversive assault on the subjective basis of human language itself.  Watts' work ranges across the boundaries of both form and medium, and this project will be particularly interested in his manipulation of generic categories and grammatical construction to suit his own subversive ends.  In navigating through this structured codification of linguistic and artistic expression, the project will consider whether it is actually syntactical methods of structuring discourse, rather than semantic content alone, that permits such richly diverse textual ambiguity.  En route, we will find that the very same narrative information, reformulated through grammatical alteration (broadly conceived) constitutes a fundamental shift in the essence of respective texts.  Ultimately, Watts' text(s) will be shown to stand as synecdochic representatives for the difficulty of considering language, and the grammar on which it relies, as a disinterested form of communication; and perhaps more profoundly, as a form of power.

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