Ryan O’Shea (QMUL) - 2022-23 Students

Sacred and Profane: From Mortification to Masochism in Modernist Writing

This project proposes to research the representation of spiritual mortification in modernist (early twentieth century) literature. Acts of mortification, involving the self-infliction of pain or the abstinence from pleasure, are performed in multiple religions and aim to deny the worldly body. Addressing mortification in a range of spiritual traditions (Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic), this project considers global systems of influence. The cross-religious interests of modernist authors make this global approach to religious influence necessary.

This thesis focuses particularly on a trend whereby authors and psychological theorists of the early twentieth century accused mortifying practices of being masochistic (of generating sexual pleasure through pain and restraint). Modernist authors were the first to explore the psychological and sensory mechanics of this conflation and experimented with new forms of writing to fully explicate (and often parody) its manifestation. Through its focus on mortification and masochism, this thesis aims to consider changing attitudes to sexuality, the sacred, and the sensory in modernist literature and culture.

Primary supervisor: Dr Suzanne Hobson, QMUL
Secondary supervisor: Dr Molly Macdonald, QMUL

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