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Title: The socially real edge of modernism : political agency in British Literature, 1914-1939
Author: Menmuir, Alasdair
ISNI:       0000 0004 2745 0001
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2013
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This study considers marginal modernist writers' negotiations of counter-currents in political thought, especially in terms of literary and political strikes, moments at which the minor collective consolidates. Their theories of what democracy might mean to the twentieth century can be seen as important in a reinterpretation of the moment of modernism. The writers explored are neither reactionary nor apathetic, but imbricated in a cultural nexus that incorporates mainstream and radical currents, and that cannot be delineated by national or international categories. Their figuration of collectives and their fashioning of political agency are particularly relevant to considerations of the individual artist-intellectual and the engaged political activist, and the poems, plays and other discursive writings explored here respond to issues of commitment and the radical form in which that commitment might be expressed. By focusing on close readings of British poetry (and other discursive forms) written in the period 1914-1939, I read minor modernist literature's socially real content as being expressive of a modernist dialectic which takes experimental literary form as a technique to represent the contradictions of modern society. Each chapter is historically embedded in the context of the work, taking the form of four case studies analysing the flashpoints in the history of the inter-war period. These chapters centre on writers who could be considered as part of a minor Anglo-American modernist continuum, who are set in dialogue with the European avant-garde. Chapter one focuses on John Rodker and Mary Butts, writing in the context of pacifist debates and the state of exception during the First World War. Chapter two, on Mina Loy, considers her manifesto style in relation to post-war constructions of democracy, particularly in its implications for poetic subjectivity. Chapter three, on Hugh MacDiarmid and Edgell Rickword, isolates the General Strike of 1926 as a high-point of British historical radicalism, yet to be considered as a major topic of British literary engagements. The British Surrealist movement of the 1930s constitutes the focus of chapter four, with writers such as Charles Madge, Humphrey Jennings and David Gascoyne central to an analysis of representational poetic strategies in terms of their access to and influence on political and social reality. My conclusion is a kind of coda to the concepts of social realism latent in much of this work, bringing the study into the contemporary by way of an analysis of experimental form and the socially real in contemporary poetry of the British Poetry Revival, considering work by Andrew Crozier, Roy Fisher and Barry MacSweeney.
Supervisor: Piette, Adam ; Ladkin, Sam Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available