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Reading through London: Urban space and ontology in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent

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Drawing from urban and ontological perspectives on Joseph Conrad’s prose and schizoanalysis, this article examines the entanglement of urban spaces and unstable subjectivities in The Secret Agent. Conrad’s psychological realism and impressionistic depiction of London generate a sense of place, topophilia, which imbues the novel with an extratextual dimension that oscillates between textuality and spatiality. The novel foregrounds characters in the cityscape as they permeate setting and narrative with their subjectivities and vice versa; the unstable subjectivities and spaces generate affective resonances that fracture the narrative and implicate the reader. An accompanying narratological analysis demonstrates how Conrad’s narrative techniques facilitate the reader’s interpolation into the liminal, ontological dimension of text and place.
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Keywords: Joseph Conrad; modernism; narratology; ontology; schizoanalysis; subjectivity; urban space

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000121572938University of Toronto

Publication date: March 1, 2020

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  • Cities have been increasingly at the forefront of debate in both humanities and social-science disciplines, but there has been relatively little dialogue across these disciplinary boundaries. Journals in social-science fields that use urban-studies methods to look at life in cities rarely explore the cultural aspects of urban life in any depth or delve into close readings of the representation of cities in individual cultural products. As a platform for interdisciplinary scholarship from any and all linguistic, cultural and geographical traditions, the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies prioritizes the urban phenomenon in order to better understand the culture(s) of cities.
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