Aesthetics of Vulnerability
The Sentimentum & the Novels of Graham Swift
Gothenburg Studies in English No. 85

Edited by Karin Aijmer & Britta Olinder
December 2003
Goteborg University
ISBN: 9173464791
214 pages, 6 " x 9 "
$72.50 Paper Original

This is a Ph.D. dissertation. Arguing against the view that postmodernism is marked by "the waning of affect," this book investigates the fate of sentimentality in postmodernist fiction. The investigation focuses on the novels of the British author, Graham Swift, tracing in them the emergence of a blending of representations of sentimentality with a postmodernist aesthetics and a postmodern ethico-spiritual imagination - a blending resulting in what is designated by the shorthand "the sentimentum."

The expression of the sentimentum is further shown to rely on Swift's move toward the fulfillment of an aesthetic of vulnerability, which neutralizes the opposition between irony and sentimentality, and which also corresponds to an ethics of vulnerability that has found its formulation in the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas. Through close readings of Swift's novels, from The Sweet Shop Owner to Last Orders, it is shown how both the aesthetics and the ethics of vulnerability are gradually more pronounced and affirmed through each successive installment in Swift's oeuvre.

Ultimately, though, the ambition of the book is to bring attention to an aesthetic and thematic configuration that may be found in a number of postmodernist novels. Hence, the study is concluded by comparative and complementary readings of novels by Julian Barnes, Penelope Lively and Jeanette Winterson that illustrate the wider relevance of the concepts of the sentimentum and of aesthetics of vulnerability.


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