The seventies according to Muriel Spark: space and the novel
In this thesis I read a selection of novels by the Scottish writer Muriel Spark as participating in a broader ‘spatialization’ of fictional and aesthetic production consolidated during the 1970s, through which they refract the decade’s socio-cultural change. My intention is to establish a richer historical and theoretical context than that in which Spark’s fiction has traditionally been understood, such that its distinctiveness will both emerge from and in turn shed light upon this wider background. In particular, the stylized, economical spatiality of Spark’s work in this period seems at odds with the most influential accounts of spatialization as either an attenuation of historicity or an expression of an unconscious and broadly realist ‘mapping’ impulse (these being the poles of Fredric Jameson’s diagnoses of the spatial turn). What I consider Spark’s more reflexive ‘miniaturism’ reaches towards a condensation of the historical referent, while bringing into focus the discrepancy between container and contained; the playful collision of spatial scales in these postmodern allegories grants them a fabulist and gendered dimension distinct from Jameson’s more expansive and totalizing ‘cognitive mapping’. Beyond situating Spark within a pre-existing context, then, approaching these novels theoretically and historically opens up a different perspective on the ‘spatial form’ of much postmodern fiction. More broadly, I argue that it is through this parallel formal evolution within the longer history of the novel, with its particular limits and potentials for fiction’s ‘utopian imagination’, that these texts critically mediate (and not merely reflect) a perceived ‘cultural closure’ in the years after 1968 – a teleological spatial metaphor which recent histories of the seventies have begun to contest.
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