Max Shirley profile

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Max Shirley

University of Westminster (2023)


Dr Lucy Bond


(Un)containable Bodies: Experiments in Life-Writing and Form, post-1968


The conventional novel is a dead or dying form; it cannot adequately represent the reality of life in the contemporary moment. My research proposal explores how writers, activists, and academics have attempted to address and capture the “self”. This thesis will focus on formal experiments in the field of life-writing, in the post-1968 period, and consider the socio-economic conditions under which such texts were created.

The aim of this research project is twofold. Firstly, I argue, that beginning in the 1970s, there is an undeniable shift in the field of life-writing. With the advent of the neoliberal era, the development of queer and feminist anti-establishment political movements, and advancements in critical theory, artists and authors began to write about the self in experimental ways and new forms. As a result, this period saw an increase in the popularity of hybrid autobiographical forms, and the emergence of several new genres altogether. Many of these experimental forms, such as autotheory, are incredibly under-theorised. Moreover, no monograph on experimental life-writing post-1968 has been produced, and research in this field typically contends with the content of texts rather than their composition or textual practice.

Secondly, this project will investigate the work of several key figures within this movement—namely, Kathy Acker, Claudia Rankine, and McKenzie Wark, among others. These writers, I argue, all attempt to push language and written/visual forms to their limits to reimagine how art can be created and interpreted. I will examine their work—paying particular attention to composition and authorial process—across four chapters. Each chapter will examine how these texts respond to a particular social construct.

Contemporary life-writing is nothing if not political and politically motivated. In order to resist the normative powers of gender, capital, and other societal entities, the minoritarian subject must forge new forms for themselves.