University of Brighton College of Arts and Humanities
Year of enrolment: 2017
Supervisor: Dr Liam Connell
Citizenship is one of the battlegrounds of contemporary politics. The apparently stable notions of citizenship that have prevailed since the mid-twentieth century have been fundamentally challenged by military techniques such as extraordinary rendition and drone strikes, migration controversies such as the Syrian refugee crisis and 'illegal' immigration, and the UK's EU membership referendum. It is no coincidence that two texts proposing radically new theories of citizenship — Giorgio Agamben's Homo Sacer and Jacques Derrida's Of Hospitality — have become central to critical work across the humanities. Thisexplains why literary theorists, who have been highly attuned to currents in continental philosophy overrecent decades, have found themselves increasingly turning to these thinkers to elucidate the tales of exile and national conflict in modern novels. What is now required is a new approach to reading citizenship in contemporary fiction that is informed by the philosophical co-ordinates of Agamben and Derrida.To meet this requirement, my thesis considers three writers who present insightful depictions of the relationship between the individual and the state: W. G. Sebald, Aleksander Hemon and Roberto Bolaño. Addressing crises of citizenship such as the denaturalisation of German Jews in 1935 (Sebald), the break up of Yugoslavia along ethnic lines (Hemon) and the institutionalised abuse of working-class Mexicans (Bolaño), these writers broach far-reaching ideas about sovereignty, violence and belonging. The full implications of these ideas cannot be seen without the theoretical guidance of Agamben and Derrida, both of whom, in their own ways, challenge our understanding of the political and legal concepts that determine how states take violent action. My thesis demonstrates that the call for an urgent re-evaluation of citizenship comes from fiction as well as philosophy, and provides a way of reading politics in modern novels that will orient future studies.