Gardiner, Nicholas (2020) Dead as a Doornail: New Materialism and the Corpse in Contemporary Fiction. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The human corpse has become a familiar and increasingly prevalent icon within the contemporary cultural and narrative landscape. Although several academic works perform an analysis of the dead body in contemporary literature and culture, to date none have done so in conversation with the ‘new materialisms’, a diverse body of scholarship aiming to reappraise traditional perceptions of matter in response to the radically changing conditions of the late-twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The current project sets out to remedy this critical deficit.

Conceptualising the literary corpse as a subject that stages critical encounters with the materiality that always already subtends human existence, this thesis explores how textual depictions of the deceased body provide an imaginative space through which to explore new materialist modes of being in the world. Reading a diverse corpus of representative texts ranging from 1987–2016 through a selection of new materialist theoretical lenses, the thesis analyses a variety of ‘necro-corporeal’ figurations that frequently recur within the contemporary literary landscape — dissection, mutilation, reanimation, preservation and decomposition. Over the course of three sections, it examines how the literary corpse’s complex ontology manifests and is managed within contemporary fiction, the role of such representations in facilitating encounters with the non-human and the insights they disclose about literature’s capacity to induce such encounters.

In doing so, the thesis argues that the corpse constitutes a paradoxical ‘(non)human subject’ that simultaneously grants insight into the material world with which we are intimately entangled and problematises the possibility of unmediated access to that world. Encouraging a more proximal relationship with matter whilst ultimately respecting its unassailable otherness, this thesis demonstrates that the literary corpse fittingly encapsulates the productive challenges that characterise new materialist thought in the twenty-first century.

FINAL THESIS - Gardiner.pdf - Accepted Version
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