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Title: Experiment : a manifesto of Young England, 1928-1931
Author: Donaldson, Kirstin L.
ISNI:       0000 0004 5364 7473
Awarding Body: University of York
Current Institution: University of York
Date of Award: 2014
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This thesis examines the little magazine Experiment, published in Cambridge between 1928 and 1931. It represents the first book-length study of Experiment; and therefore offers a deeper level of engagement with the magazine’s social and historical context, its influences, and crucially, its contents. The appearance of Experiment coincided with the tenth anniversary celebrations of Armistice Day; an event which I argue was a catalyst for the formation of a new generation of artists and writers. The First World War created a rupture in society: the myth of the “lost generation” weighed heavily on those who were left behind. The Experiment group had lived through the War; however, their childhood experiences were far-removed from those of frontline soldiers. The Experimenters’ self-identification with the term “postwar” recognised the importance of the War to their sense of identity while simultaneously acknowledging their temporal separation from that moment. This thesis demonstrates how the Experiment group’s conception of themselves as a generation was constructed around their relationship to the First World War. It will be shown that they embraced their temporal distinctiveness while nonetheless attempting to situate themselves within established historical narratives. This is evidenced in the group’s appropriation and subversion of traditional avant-garde methods, for example the production of a magazine and manifesto. However, the Experiment group never explicitly adopted the term “avant-garde”: it will be shown that their preference for the descriptor “experimental” was motivated by their desire to distinguish themselves from the past, by the scientism of Cambridge, and also by the contemporary perception of avant-gardism as “decadent.” The artistic and literary experiments produced by the Cambridge group display an emphasis on “process” over “results.” I argue that this was a result of the contemporary social and political situation in the late Twenties and early Thirties. These years were marked by unprecedented social and political upheaval: the Experiment group were conscious both of the importance of their epoch and its ephemerality, and sought to capture this impression in their art and literature. These dual conditions of permanence and impermanence are inherent in the nature of the little magazine itself. It has been argued that such publications are necessarily incomplete: that they are “only historically legible at the point of their obsolescence.” This thesis argues that in its quest to capture the essence of the period 1928-1931, the Experiment project was doomed: the success of such a venture can only be judged in retrospect. In this regard, Experiment represents the quintessential little magazine. Ultimately, what this thesis provides is a pre-history to the canon of scholarship that addresses the artistic and literary movements of the nineteen-thirties. Previous studies have marked out 1930 as the critical year in the development of the Thirties generation. Members of the Experiment group went on to achieve considerable success beyond Cambridge, influencing the diverse fields of art, criticism, film, literature, and science. This thesis argues that the process of becoming a coherent and active literary and artistic generation was in fact begun in 1928. That process was Experiment.
Supervisor: White, Michael Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available