Ludic Late Modernism: Play, games, and sport in postwar experimentalist fiction
My doctoral thesis interrogates the preoccupation with the ludic in British and transnational writing from the 1950s to the 1970s. It posits that through games experimentalist writers found a means to challenge what they held to be a misconception on the part of their establishment contemporaries who, in the wake of modernism, had returned to realism as the dominant mode of literary expression. Experimentalist writers’ varied engagement with games allowed them to make palpable that the notionally less rule-oriented forms of narrative and verse also followed analogous sets of arbitrarily accepted conventions.
My thesis focuses on three authors through a particular game: George Lamming and cricket; B. S. Johnson and football; and Alexander Trocchi and pinball. These recently recuperated authors have come to be seen as key to redressing our understanding of mid-century aesthetics and their turn towards the ludic. Building on readings of their works as late modernist, the thesis puts forward that their incorporation of and experimentation with game forms within their texts became the distinguishing feature of avant-gardism during the period. Attending to games in their works is essential not only to interpreting them, but to a revision of the broader twentieth-century shift from modernist to postmodernist aesthetics, in other words from redemptive formal mastery to meaningless play.