Reading Technologies, Literary Innovation, and a New Fiction
This thesis initially uses writing by B.S. Johnson, Giles Gordon, and contributors to Gordon’s 1975 anthology Beyond the Words: Eleven Writers in Search of a New Fiction, to construct a critical framework by which this ‘New Fiction’ may be defined. As a critical approach to contemporary writing in the late twenty-first century, The New Fiction constitutes a focused critique of formal conservatism, identifying a literary mainstream failing to learn from the innovations of Modernism and adapt writing methodology to suit the cultural situation of the novel at this time. The New Fiction proposes a range of methodological solutions to this problem, encouraging writing which engages with other media, explores solipsistic and experiential subject matter, and wilfully employs formal and linguistic unorthodoxy. Additionally, The New Fiction confounds the pervasive notion of B.S. Johnson in particular as a ‘one-man avant-garde’, identifying collaborative and communicative links between he and other innovators such as Ann Quin, Alan Burns, and Eva Figes. In doing so, the thesis provides evidence for an active and coherent literary group supported by publishers Marion Boyars and John Calder, comparable to groups such as the French nouveau roman. Neither the critical nor the contextual aspects of The New Fiction as a whole is the subject of sustained critical examination, and a primary goal of this thesis is to contribute substantially to the field in both of these areas, supported by case studies of writing by Johnson and Quin. A second aim of this thesis is to employ The New Fiction’s critical framework, considering the return of several New Fiction writers to mainstream publication in the twenty-first century. New editions, and a new wave of criticism, provide an opportunity to investigate the potential application of The New Fiction as more than simply a historical case study of the avant-garde novel. The latter part of this thesis draws connections between The New Fiction and more recent criticism, examining the critical trajectories which connect Johnson, Gordon, and their collaborators to other critics concerned with literary innovation, and the novel’s relationship with new media. This examination is supported by way of direct comparison to twenty-first century American writers, making new critical readings identifying the presence of methodological and ideological similarities in the writing of Mark Z. Danielewski and Jonathan Safran Foer. Ultimately, this thesis argues that The New Fiction continues to provide a valid critique of contemporary writing alongside valuable historical context, in the reading of innovative twenty-first century works.
- PhD