Silence and Absence in the Twentieth Century

City University of Hong Kong Research Start-up Grant, HK$183,060

Principal Investigator (2013-2015) This project asks how the concepts of silence and absence have been used as metaphors to understand European literary culture during the twentieth-century.  Western political, religious, and philosophical thought has been historically predicated on assertions of presence and agency.  However, several key twentieth-century theoretical interventions—including psychoanalysis, phenomenology, and cinematic narrative theory—created opportunities for writers to think about stories as a recount of the things that are not there, rather than the things that are.  This project will consider three key questions that have yet to be comprehensively explored:

  •  Q1)     How have the metaphors of silence and absence been used by critics to understand literature and culture during the twentieth century?
  • Q2)     How have writers used silence and absence to describe their experience of the twentieth century?
  • Q3)     How has the dialectical interplay between (1) and (2) contributed to the changing understandings of narrative structure and form?

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