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Title: Transatlantic crosscurrents : European influences and dissent in the works of Paul Bowles and William S. Burroughs (1938-1992)
Author: Heal, Benjamin J.
ISNI:       0000 0004 5989 4416
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis examines the European influences on the works of Paul Bowles and William S. Burroughs, focusing on the themes, styles, techniques and preoccupations derived from Existentialism, Surrealism and Primitivism. Their texts, informed by their interest in the transatlantic intellectual currents of the time and non-American influences, represent a dissenting voice against the commonly and officially held values of the post-World War II United States and Western ideological power structures, and offer an insight into the development of a twentieth century American cultural identity. Examining Bowles and Burroughs in parallel gives a unique insight into their differences and striking similarities with regard to their experiences of expatriation and European sensibilities. Analysis of the historical context and material history of the publication, underlying influences, themes, techniques and preoccupations of their works reveals a deeper political engagement than has been previously shown. Bowles and Burroughs participated in a broad transatlantic dialogue of ideas, as reflected in the geopolitical and chronopolitical similarities of their works. The thesis focuses on their use of similar themes such as alienation, derived from Sartrean Existentialism, and their shared existential negativity toward life in the United States. It is argued that their style and method of indirect ideological expression, derived from Existentialism, enables a form of expression that can effectively and covertly interrogate American identity. Their use of experimental techniques drawn directly from the politically charged European based art movements of Dada and Surrealism, such as automatism, is shown to create a politically useful distance between the work and the author, while Surrealist preoccupations with shock, intoxication and violence evoke a closer relationship between the work and the reader. The notion of 'primitivism' and a persistent interest in 'primitive cultures' that intersects with representations of sexuality and a rejection of modernity in their works is examined as a reflection of their negative attitudes toward the modernism represented by the United States. Examining the parallels between their works and the development of film noir also reveals an engagement with a broad transatlantic exchange of ideas, styles and techniques across media. Their experimentation with the constructed nature of authorship, which developed through literary practice in their later works is shown to interrogate the concurrent poststructuralist theories of authorship. The historical contexts, influences of European intellectual cross-currents and range of connections between Bowles and Burroughs combine to make a compelling case that their works are politically charged, transatlantic in style and technique, and stridently significant in the history of English language literature and our understanding of contemporary American and European cultures.
Supervisor: Ayers, David Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: PR English literature ; PS American literature