"Only Connect"? Literary Interventions in a Time of Cruelty
Borato, Meryl Leigh
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My dissertation,Only Connect? Literary Interventions in a Time of Cruelty, investigates how fiction and drama of the early twenty-first century focus on the social problem of cruelty, mainly defined as ignorance of, indifference to, or weariness of the suffering caused by gross economic inequality. I contend that politically committed works of literature from the U.S., Britain, and Australia hone in on the suffering of others as the most urgent and widespread problem of our time, which can be summarized in bell hooks words as the fact of lovelessness in advanced capitalist societies. I read literary texts that delve into the political, aesthetic, and philosophical sides of this problem, including work by Caryl Churchill, Tony Kushner, Ian McEwan, Martin Crimp, Richard Flanagan, Pat Barker, Cormac McCarthy, J.M. Coetzee, and Karen Finley. My dissertation proposes that literature provides an affective realm wherein individuals can witness, discover, and reflect upon situations of others vastly different from their own, thereby allowing them to apply this understanding in real life and form more empathetic relationships in the world. My research brings together diverse voices in political science, theories of emotion, philosophy, and aesthetics and aims to provide a more capacious model of literary analysis beyond what Rita Felski has aptly called the limits of critique. As she reminds us, Works of art do not only subvert but also convert; they do not only inform but also transforma transformation that is not just a matter of intellectual readjustment but one of affective realignment as well. For this reason, I emphasize that my chosen literary texts and performances do not simply respond to but intervene in the problem of cruelty and help shape our experience of this lived reality. My research therefore participates in the interdisciplinary debate about how to justify literary scholarship to the wider academic community and proposes that the contemporary field, with its blending of genres and geographic reach, can lead the way.