Postmodern NihilismTheory and Literature

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Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Original languageEnglish
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Award date02 Dec 2003
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Abstract

This thesis examines the relationship between nihilism and postmodernism in relation to the sublime, and is divided into two parts: theory and literature. Beginning with histories of nihilism and the sublime, the Enlightenment is constructed as a conflict between the two. Rather than promote a simple binarism, however, nihilism is constructed as a temporally-displaced form of sublimity that is merely labelled as nihilism because of the dominant ideologies at the time. Postmodernism, as a product of the Enlightenment, is therefore implicitly related to both nihilism and the sublime, despite the fact that it is often characterised as either nihilistic or sublime. Whereas prior forms of nihilism are 'modernist' because they seek to codify reality, postmodernism creates a new formulation of nihilism – 'postmodern nihilism' – that is itself sublime. This is explored in relation to a broad survey of postmodern literature through a series of interconnected themes. These themes – apocalypse, the absurd, absence, and space – arise from the debates presented in the theoretical chapters of this thesis, and demonstrate the ways in which nihilism and the sublime interact within postmodern literature. Because of the theoretical and literary debates presented within it, this thesis concludes that it cannot be a thesis at all.

Keywords

  • postmodernism, nihilism, sublime