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Title: The Pornographer at the Crossroads: Sex, Realism and Experiment in the Contemporary English Novel
Authors: Hurtado, Jules
Advisors: Wood, Michael
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: English novel
Experimental novel
Subjects: British and Irish literature
Modern literature
GLBT studies
Issue Date: 2014
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: What if the novelist at the crossroads, that eponymous figure introduced by David Lodge in his 1971 essay, also doubled as a pornographer? "The Pornographer at the Crossroads" examines three controversial novels by three English novelists who did just that. With <italic>Crash</italic> (1973), <italic>Dead Babies</italic>(1975), and <italic>The Swimming-Pool Library</italic> (1988), writers J. G. Ballard, Martin Amis, and Alan Hollinghurst each set out to chart a new course that would cut a unique path through the metaphorical impasse between realism and experimentalism identified by Lodge and other critics of the postwar novel. It is these three writers who, during the 1970s and 1980s, began drawing inspiration from what Susan Sontag called "the pornographic imagination," and consequently cultivated a shocking new sexual aesthetic in English fiction. They made their mark on the literary landscape with novels that appropriated the conventions of pornographic narrative, exploring in greater detail than anyone had done before, as well as introducing as a subject worthy of serious artistic attention, sex in its many forms. But this was no idle impulse, no mere ploy to sell more books or gain notoriety for its own sake. Rather, their fictional attempts to map the flows of erotic desire through a rapidly changing Britain also signaled both a break from the increasingly abstract formal experimentation of the 1960s and a divergence from established yet outdated modes of realist narrative still dominant in the postwar period. Their choice of subject matter and means of representing it, in other words, served the collective purpose of reinvigorating a moribund genre by breaking down the creative barriers which had been holding back innovation in the English novel since the end of modernism and the Second World War. My study argues, therefore, that <italic>Crash</italic>, <italic>Dead Babies</italic>, and <italic>The Swimming-Pool Library</italic> together represent a revolutionary experiment in novelistic content, and the arrival of a very different kind of realism. This bold and explicit "pornographic realism," as I call it, takes sex and pornography as its main focus while also using this particular focus to provide fresh perspective on and insight into relevant issues within contemporary culture, issues such as the dehumanizing effects of technology and mass media, the disintegration of traditional moral frameworks and social networks, shifting conceptions of personal autonomy and agency, and the formation of individual and collective identity. As I variously demonstrate in each of my chapters, it had been a direct engagement with both the lowbrow artistic subgenre of pornography and the subject of sex (especially sex defined as "deviant" or "transgressive") that ultimately afforded Ballard, Amis, and Hollinghurst the opportunity to deviate from and expand the very boundaries and traditions of English fiction itself and, in turn, update the novel form to better reflect the complex and evolving realities of the contemporary period. The result is a collection of unabashedly pornographic novels which form the core of what I propose is a much ignored literary avant-garde, one whose daring and original achievements gave new direction to that mid-century novelist stalled at the crossroads and, in the end, made possible the novel in England as we know it today.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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