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The theatre of transcendence : Patrick White's last four novels


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Young, Richard William 1995 , 'The theatre of transcendence : Patrick White's last four novels', Research Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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White's fiction is a writing under pressure from the twin claims of
being and becoming. In his earlier novels, for example The Tree of Man,
the essential and absolute structures of being emerge as the ultimate
ground of existence. White was always concerned with the flow of
existence, and in particular, with the question of identity. The question
White particularly wrestles with is whether identity is reducible to the
unchanging forms of being, or whether it is given over to the flux of
existence. White's project became, in part, an attempt to find a trope
which would contain, without reconciling, the dual claims of being and
In his last four novels, The Eye of the Storm, A Fringe of Leaves, The
Twyborn Affair, and Memoirs of Many in One, the theatrical emerges as a
structure which contains within its form both being and becoming. The
theatrical presents a structure which consists of an enclosing form in
which an action —a becoming—unfolds. The enclosing form appropriates
being to its structure, while the action appropriates becoming. The
theatrical thus operates as a metaphor of the reconciliation of the absolute
and the contingent. It is the theatrical, emerging ever more clearly in
White's last four novels, which determines the ultimately ungrounded
quality which they exhibit, and which denies any seeing of the ultimate.
The theatrical elements do not reflect any falling away of White's
powers as a writer, on the contrary, they signal a solution to the problem
which he wrestled with throughout his career: of holding together within
a fictional structure the antithetical claims of being and becoming. This
shifts White's fiction away from the modernist attempt to lay hold of the
ultimate and unchanging, and towards those concerns with existence as
such which might be characterised as post-modernist. In order to justify
this view of White's fiction, those philosophers who have contested the
notion that mind and language can reach the absolute—in particular
Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Derrida—will be
appealed to.

Item Type: Thesis - Research Master
Authors/Creators:Young, Richard William
Keywords: White, Patrick, 1912-1990
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 1995 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 136-142). Thesis (M.A.)--University of Tasmania, 1996

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