The logics of dissolution : delineating the urban problematic in contemporary British literature

Keyes, Jarrad Morris (2011) The logics of dissolution : delineating the urban problematic in contemporary British literature. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This dissertation argues that traditional models of 'place' based on the city-country dichotomy do not adequately represent the complexities of contemporary British space. Prompted in large part by the epochal restructuring of capitalism in the 1970s, the urban problematic profoundly changed the production of space. Far from heralding an 'end of geography' commonly associated with globalization, the urban problematic recognizes that the ontological character of 'place' was transformed to such an extent that it problematizes and ultimately renders obsolete the city-country dichotomy. To understand this process, and raise the insufficiencies of conventional approaches among literary criticism typified by Raymond Williams's seminal text The Country and the City, the methodology of this thesis cross-reads literary texts with theoretical and analytic works. Using the works of J.G. Ballard, John King, David Peace, and Niall Griffiths alongside those of Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey, and with extensive reference to the social, political, and economic history of Britain, this dialectical approach problematizes conventional distinctions between 'fiction' and 'theory' as much as it critiques commonplace ideas of space. With reference to Ballard's Concrete and Steel Trilogy, Chapter One establishes the threshold of the urban problematic, identifies its constitutive features, and provides a theoretical framework that structures the discussions in the subsequent chapters. The important subjects of gentrification, the privatizatlon of municipal housing, and the commodification of culture are addressed in Chapter Two through the revisionist accounts of London and the Thames Valley in the works of King. Chapter Three considers the sustained critique of Thatcherism in the works of Peace, which use the breakdown of the city-country dichotomy to map out the social effects of deindustrialization. As part of a codified response to the urban problematic, Griffiths's works provide Chapter Four with the materials necessary to revise traditional ideas of landscape. Meanwhile Chapter Five utilizes Ballard's later works to illustrate the virtual city, a concept which represents the most systematic response to the contemporary urban problematic in this thesis.

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