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The visual unconscious: The latency of art and orality in Stein, Burroughs, Ballard and Coupland

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Unpublished
  • Declan Lloyd
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Publication date2020
Number of pages314
QualificationPhD
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date29/10/2020
Publisher
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

This thesis explores the latent presence of 20th century visual art in the literature of a number of seminal authors from the Modernist period onwards. The term ‘latency’ denotes the more underlying, hidden presence of art, beyond the ‘manifest’ text, and also conveys the largely psychoanalytic approach adopted throughout. In conjunction with this, I explore how and why this latency often appears alongside emergent patterns and characteristics of orality, as explicated by theorists like Marshall McLuhan and Walter J. Ong. Orality is a term used to distinguish cultures of a non-literate mentality, who reside in an entirely different order of consciousness, and this thesis explores some of the key aesthetic traits of this mentality as they appear within both art and literature, showing affinities across these forms. I show how orality is synonymous with the so-called ‘primitive’ mentality which inspired a great many artists and movements of the twentieth century and beyond, and which culminated in the emergence of Primitivism. Primitivism had a seismic influence on many artistic and literary movements and led to a suffusion of the oral world throughout the twentieth century and beyond. By examining the work of authors who are strongly influenced by art and artists, often collaborating or working closely with them, or sometimes even venturing into visual art themselves, I show how the traits of orality can still be felt many years after the peak of the Primitivist movement. This perhaps confirming McLuhan’s belief in a long awaited, inevitable return to orality, as we move ever deeper into the electronic age. In order to trace such a wide-reaching suffusion, I look to a range of authors who are all influenced heavily by different artists and movements, all from different periods. For Gertrude Stein this is Cubism and especially the work of Pablo Picasso, for William Burroughs it is the quasi-occult art, calligraphies and permutations of Brion Gysin, for J. G. Ballard it is the European Surrealists, and particularly the paranoiac-critical artwork of Salvador Dalí, and for Douglas Coupland it is Pop Art and the work of Andy Warhol. All of these authors are consciously appropriating, adopting and transposing art within their texts, often as a means to channel a preexisting philosophy or to provide a newfound means of expanding upon their own authorial hermeneutic. I explore how the latent presence of art can take many forms, from inheriting and transposing the aesthetic styles, methods and ideas of an artist into literature, to adopting the overarching philosophies and ideologies of entire movements.