Year of Study in Programme: First
Supervisor: Dr Andrew Monnickendam
Area/Topic of Research: Modernism
Title/Provisional Title of Thesis: Literary and Political Tradition in the Dialectics of John Berger’s Fiction Writing
Short Abstract: Often described as an unorthodox Marxist, John Berger’s texts express the influence of dialectical materialism on their content and form without dismissing essentialism. His novels A Painter of Our Time (1958) and G. (1972) and his trilogy Into Their Labours (1990) explore the dialectics of art and politics, history and subjectivity and reality and fiction by appealing to essentialist notions of art, desire and labour amongst others, to link revolutionary ideals to concepts of tradition. This is reflected in the fragmented, many-sided character of his works, which follow in the footsteps of modernist artists such as James Joyce or Pablo Picasso. He sees in the dynamism with which these artists contrast the aspects of the realities they depict the most adequate artistic form to convey Karl Marx’s philosophy. Under these premisses, the aim of my thesis will be twofold: a) to situate, from a Marxist perspective, Berger’s novels in the Modernist tradition as political works intended to resist what he saw as the hegemonic ideological currents of his time; and b) to propose dialectical materialism as a literary formal feature in his fiction. For this purpose, it will be necessary to situate Berger’s novels in their historical context and evaluate the place they occupy in the Modernist tradition, and how they resist and/or reproduce what Marx argues are modes of thought derived from the capitalist mode of production; and to assess to what extent Marx’s philosophical system can be seen to structure these texts.