Denise Rose Hansen (UCL) - 2018-19 Students

This Is Not a Novel: The 1960s Experimental British Novel and the Visual Arts

My thesis fills a lacuna in 20-century literary history by offering a detailed analysis of the relationship between 1960s experimental literature and the visual arts. Although 1960s experimental literature’s relation to sculpture, painting and collage is striking, not enough has been done in concretising the connection. There is a growing scholarly interest in 1960s British experimental writing, as exemplified by recent work on B.S. Johnson, Tom Phillips and Ann Quin. By attending to the pivotal relation to the visual arts, I offer urgent contributions to how we read and understand the novels of the decade, exploring the strong relationship with the visual arts for the Sixties author: art galleries posed a site of artistic innovativeness that writers readily employed as a key model for novelistic experimentation. Through archival research of letters, notes, unfinished manuscripts and interviews, I will illuminate how Sixties novelists (J.G. Ballard, Alan Burns, Ann Quin) transfigured paradigms encountered in conceptual art, pop art, modern sculpture, cubism and surrealism into formal and narrative innovations and thereby provide new perspectives to aid our understanding of 20th-century literature, fiction writing, and literary form.

My interdisciplinary study is comparative across authors but also across media, and moves in and across three areas: experimental fiction, visual arts’ relation to literature, and, through its formal and material explorations, book history.

Ballard, Burns and Quin looked to radical artists for ideas they could translate into writing techniques, opting for literary modes they felt reflected their experience of the world, such as disjunction, fragmentation, aleatoricism, seriality, the cut-up technique, writing methods imitating collage, and interspersing text with images. Such application is worth literary analysis in its own right but becomes ever more potent in the light of archival materials that illuminate the authors’ reflections on making these choices.

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