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Writing Agency: The Material Imaginations of Charles Olson, Langston Hughes and Frank O'Hara

Woodham, Timothy; (2021) Writing Agency: The Material Imaginations of Charles Olson, Langston Hughes and Frank O'Hara. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

This thesis explores how Olson, Hughes and O’Hara imagine dynamic forms of materiality as notional structurating agents for their respective poetries. It argues that this aesthetic becomes urgent in the context of what Timothy Melley has called ‘postwar agency panic’: a historical moment of rupture that problematised the conceptual and institutional frameworks underwriting the apparently agentive qualities of the American national subject. Chapter 1 narrates specific moments within the politically fraught topos of post-1945 US culture where agency becomes a problematic concept, and briefly introduces how the stated poets respond to a perceived absence of agency by adopting aesthetics underpinned by the imagined agencies of material processes. Gaston Bachelard’s formulation of ‘material imaginations’ is offered as an appropriate conceptual homology for these postwar aesthetics. Chapter 2 shows how Olson borrows concepts from geology, areal geography and metaphysics to argue for elemental modes of writing and reading that offer roadmaps for the construction of a situated yet internationalist political subject. Chapter 3 rehearses late-career Hughes’ aesthetic inheritances from his various political affiliations of the 1910s-1940s, and explores the ways in which his postwar work uses form to test out the feasibility of locating agency within geographically demarcated spaces defined by repressive socio-political relations. Chapter 4 recapitulates recent arguments surrounding how O’Hara’s poetry seeks to establish alternative structures of kinship in a mainstream cultural landscape defined by normativity and enclosure, but stresses that the concept of intermediality is vital to this endeavour, revealing how O’Hara evokes the material consistencies of different media to enact a dialectic of flight and rest in a dynamic urban landscape. The conclusion places what I term a ‘crisis of the material imagination’ in the context of the Whitmanian prophetic tradition, and considers how these conclusions pertain to contemporary debates surrounding non-human agency.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Writing Agency: The Material Imaginations of Charles Olson, Langston Hughes and Frank O'Hara
Event: UCL
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2021. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
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 > Dept of English Lang and Literature
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10119317
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