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Luminous Presence: Derek Jarman's Life-Writing

Parsons, Alexandra Jane; (2018) Luminous Presence: Derek Jarman's Life-Writing. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).

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British filmmaker, writer, artist, activist and gardener Derek Jarman (1942–94) blended visionary queer politics and a commitment to rehabilitating LGBTQ+ pasts with repeated acts of experimental self-­‐‑representation. This is the first book-­‐‑length study to focus on his books, all of which are autobiographical. I use an expanded concept of the term life-­‐‑writing to encompass not only his published books, but also his strategic self-­‐‑ representations in film. The thesis focuses on work produced in the last decade of Jarman’s life, a period of intense and prolific activity, especially following his diagnosis as HIV-­‐‑positive in 1986. During this period, he produced a series of books that contain strong autobiographical elements. Like a number of artists and writers including David Wojnarowicz and Edmund White, he consistently created art with material drawn from his life, using it as a generative activist force. I argue that Jarman extends what autobiography can do, in ways that are notably different from the scope of his contemporaries’ AIDS literature and ways of bearing witness. He repeatedly uses particular images and symbols, creating transhistorical, allegorical forms of self-­‐‑ representation that take inspiration from diverse periods including the classical period in Ancient Greece, the Medieval and Renaissance. He used interdisciplinary methods across media to create urgent work. I argue that Jarman’s collaborative collage technique in his life-­‐‑writing is a queer practice of survival that also seeks to change the terms of his representation. Through it, he explores the performative power and potential of life-­‐‑writing whilst nevertheless seeking to represent his lived experience. Jarman’s unusual approach helped create new ways to communicate about LGBTQ+ lives. The thesis finds that Jarman’s diverse and moving body of life-­‐‑writing is intrinsic to his artistic and political project. This uniquely interdisciplinary work is a testament to optimism in community during a time of crisis.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Luminous Presence: Derek Jarman's Life-Writing
Event: UCL (University College London)
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > SELCS
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10047387
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