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Department of English Studies

Current and Recent Research Students

Mr Avishek Parui

Shelving Assistant in the Library

Contact Mr Avishek Parui


Thesis Title: ‘The Literature of Bio-political Panic: European Imperialism, Nervous Conditions and Masculinities from 1900 to 9/11’

Primary Supervisor: Professor Patricia Waugh

Secondary Supervisor: Dr John Nash

Thesis Summary

This is a research on the nature of the biopolitical gaze and its strategic constructions of cultural and bodily identity in real political situations. The location of medical ontology is examined by situating it against sociological narratives of knowledge that include masculinity, race and the politics of privilege. Essentially a research about the complex convergences of the medical, the political and the philosophical; this Ph.D. thesis brings together a rich range of writers including Joseph Conrad, T.S.Eliot, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell and Ian McEwan and a stimulating set of philosophers and medical scientists including Charles Darwin, William James, Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Ian Hacking, Homi Bhabha and Slavoj Zizek. Divided broadly into four interrelated sections, there are consistent and dialogic analyses of medical politics, cultural identities and literary theory across various historical climates, from the fin de siècle to the Postmodern.

The first section of this thesis begins with the original moment of Darwinism and its cultural panic in late nineteenth century Europe. It looks at the way the discourses of degeneration and criminology evolved along a Social Darwinist vocabulary with associations with the newly discovered laws of thermodynamics and the panic of entropy. The principal thrust of this chapter will be on the works of Joseph Conrad and special emphasis is given to the manner in which Conrad’s narratives contain the politics of panic of its day with the fear of cultural and bodily degeneration. A fresh and original reading of Conrad’s narrative method is done by looking at the way it corresponds to the neurology of its day (Cajal and Sherrington) and also to modern cognitive neuroscience (especially as it appears in the works of Joseph LeDoux and Eric Kandel). The chapter thus deals with the cultural construction of late nineteenth century European masculinity, the panic of its degeneration through nervous breakdown and with how the cognitive crisis in the narrative method (the delayed decoding in Conrad) can be interpreted using theories of cognitive neuroscience and its study of the human mind. 

The second section deals with First World War Shell-shock and how that emerged as a medical and cultural phenomenon that historically paved the way for Freudian psychoanalysis into the British medical scene. Masculinity as it emerges as a deconstructed discourse after First World War is examined as it manifests itself in the real medical records as well as in literary narratives such as Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (1922) and T.S.Eliot’s early poetry of masculine hysteria. As in the first chapter, connections are made to recent works in cognitive neuroscience, especially to the works of Antonio Damasio and Oliver Sacks. The theories of synaptic plasticity, phantom limbs and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are examined by looking at the ways those correspond to phenomenology and the philosophy of the mind. This chapter explicitly analyses how the vocabulary of Social Darwinism informs the medical narratives at a time of political crisis, as manifested in the masculinity panic after the First World War.

The third section of the thesis deals with colonial masculinity as manifested in the works of George Orwell in his essays and the novel Burmese Days; by looking at the way imperial masculinity and its corresponding cultural code of behaviour are dialogic with medical anthropology. The section investigates into the cultural construction of Edwardian masculinity that was informed by the Boy Scout Movement and the hegemonic public school culture that Orwell reports from firsthand experience. An original research is initiated in this section in looking at the ways postcolonial theory – especially Homi Bhabha’s theory of mimicry – correspond to the neuromimetic vocabulary analyzed by modern neuroscience whereby mimicking emerges (through research on mirror neurons) as a signifier of the human imagination that can subvert discursive logic. The chapter brings together social neuroscience, theories of social cognition and masculinity crisis as informed by the repressed hysteria of colonial identities in its contact-zones. The Social Darwinism, eugenics and criminology examined in the first chapter are revisited using postcolonial theory and its analyses of the power dialectic that informed difference.

The final section of the thesis looks at a post-9/11 novel; Ian McEwan’s Saturday and examines how empathy and epiphany emerge as a dialogue of the medical and the phenomenological. As an appropriate conclusion to a thesis that begins with the original Darwinian moment and its cultural confusion, this chapter takes up the Neo-Darwinist medical narrative (represented in the broader cultural scene by the work of Richard Dawkins) and psychologists (represented in the work of Steven Pinker and Daniel Dennett) and looks at how such attitudes can be resisted through a phenomenological frame that enriches scientific understanding, especially with the advent of epigenetics. McEwan’s novel is studied as a narrative that enacts the complex convergence of the medical and the political as a story of neural degeneration, liminality and affect situated at the historical moment between 9/11 and the Iraq War. As in the rest of this thesis about biopolitical panic, the cultural construction of masculinity is investigated in this chapter through the teleology of terrorism and ideology in a postmodern, post-political world that increasingly unlearns its privilege as lack. 


Journal Articles

2013: ‘“Exploring Hands Encounter No Defence”: The Episteme of Violence and Consumption in The Waste Land’, Peer English Issue 8 (February 2013): 51-66 

2013: ‘“Coffee, carefully poured and consumed, puts the idea under chloroform”: The dialectic of the ideational and the personal in Walter Benjamin’s One Way Street’, JSL, Journal of the School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India

2011: ‘“All is hubble-bubble, swarm and chaos”: The cognitive contingencies and possibilities in Virginia Woolf’s “The Cinema”’, Postgraduate English Journal Issue 23 (September 2011)

Book Chapters

‘Dreamed Cinema, Cinematic Dreams: Dreamscapes, Neurosis and Desire in Federico Fellini’s ’ in Dreamscapes in Italian Cinema (Accepted and Forthcoming) ed. Francesco Pascuzzi, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

“‘The Nerves in Patterns on a Screen”: Hysteria, Hauntology and Cinema in T.S.Eliot’s early poetry from Prufrock to The Waste Land’ in Film and Literary Modernism ed. Robert McParland (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013).

“‘Human nature is remorseless”: Masculinity, Medical Science and Nervous Conditions in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway’ in Male Body in Literature (Accepted and Forthcoming) ed. Andrew Mangham and Greta Depledge, Liverpool University Press.

Newspaper Articles

“To buy or Not to Buy, That is the Question” , The Telegraph (Kolkata), October 11, 2012

'More Curry Please, We're British!', 21 February, 2013, The Telegraph (Kolkata), February 21,2013

Professional Memberships and Activities

Member of BAMS (British Association of Modernist Studies)

Indian Secretary of the Katherine Mansfield Society (Appointed as the Indian Secretary)

Member of Postcolonial Studies Association, UK

Selected for the Durham University Learning and Teaching Award (DULTA) programme 2013, and will be a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in UK upon completion of the course

Co-Editor of Postgraduate English Journal from September 2011 to September 2013

Co-organizer of the International Conference “Efface the Traces!” Modernism and Influence 9-11 April 2013 at St. Chad’s College, Durham University.

Postgraduate Mentor of St. Aidan’s College, Durham University, for the years 2011/12 and 2012/13

Trained by the British Council India as a creative writing instructor and currently member of the Judging Panel of the National Short-Story Competition 2013, Pomegranate Publishers, India, in a role that entails expert advice to creative writers and selecting quality work from a huge body of submission.


Winner of the Platform Magazine Award for Short-Fiction, 2009 and published as the winning entry in an issue featuring Salman Rushdie

Winner of the Pomegranate Short Fiction Award, 2010

Winner of the Forward Press Award, 2009 featuring in an anthology of the best poetry of the year

Winner of the Poetry Competition entitled Journeys, organized by Sampad Arts, Birmingham, 2010.