William Sansom belongs to a loose category of British novelists working around World War II and in the wake of prewar modernism who produced fictions recapitulating neither high modernism's assertive experimentation nor the 1930s retreat into social realism. While this writing failed to precisely resemble late modernist minimalism or the nouveau roman (new novel), it resonated with such approaches. Despite the alleged parochialism of postwar British writing, key late modernist concerns—exhaustion, silence, a withdrawing phenomenological world—are frequently present. While most of his fictional output depicts bourgeois disconcertedness, Sansom also wrote horror stories, sometimes sharing clear affinities with the Lovecraftian weird. This article considers the weirdness of his more apparently conventional fiction, specifically The Body (1949). Here one finds an apparently straightforward tale of domestic anxiety, a farce of jealous subterfuge. Nevertheless, the writing deals in intensities that disrupt the quotidian frame, particularly in scenes attending to the inanimate stuff of the middle-class lifeworld. Most Sansom criticism reads this paraphernalia according to first-wave Freudianism. Sex—or its repression—manifests in unlikely places until the libidinally trussed narrator finds everything horrific. However, this interpretative key cannot dispel an overwhelming strangeness. The novel's dread is not just psychological but phenomenological. Reading this effect via Graham Harman's imagining of a Lovecraftian Martin Heidegger for whom dasein is “no longer the biggest star in the theatre,” I argue that The Body mediates, as both a late modernist and a weird text, between competing psychoanalytic and existential accounts of the uncanny.
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Research Article| July 01 2016
“The Full Horror of Plumbing”: Psychoanalysis, Existentialism, and the British Postwar Weird
Genre (2016) 49 (2): 181–198.
Joe Kennedy; “The Full Horror of Plumbing”: Psychoanalysis, Existentialism, and the British Postwar Weird. Genre 1 July 2016; 49 (2): 181–198. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-3512321
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