Self-Doubt: Revision and the Late Modernist Crisis of Confidence
In the second half of the twentieth century, artistic traditions and practices were held up to an unprecedented degree of ethical scrutiny: critical schools such as post-colonialism, feminism and queer theory, began the slow work of dismantling the straight, white, male basis of literary authority. One result of this dismantling was the post-modern break from tradition. Another result – which I am calling ‘late modernism’ – was a continuation of that tradition, but with the addition of a radical ethical self-reflexivity. Through reading late modernist authors such as J.M. Coetzee, Geoffrey Hill, Michael Haneke, I argue that this reflexivity is not merely a formal device, but stems from a practice of self-doubt: a compositional method based on extensive (perhaps excessive) revision – an habitual, self-corrective doubling-back; a cultivation of provisionality – and that this habitual motion becomes both the motor and the organising principle (often even the subject) of the finished (but unfinishable) texts.