Research in Plain English – Anarchist Art

The next in our series of blog posts from Sussex doctoral researchers has been provided by Diarmuid Hester. Diarmuid’s thesis title is “Passionate destruction, passionate creation: art and anarchy in the work of Dennis Cooper”. Diarmuid blogs at http://schoolboyerrors.wordpress.com

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What is anarchist art? Can an artwork express the convictions of an anarchist artist? Is there a literary form which might be most appropriate to an anarchist writer’s experience of contemporary American society? My PhD thesis tries to answer these questions by considering the role of anarchism in the work of experimental American author Dennis Cooper, locating the evolution of his artistic sensibility within the context of American literary history and anarchist politics in the US.
Cooper is a brilliant and controversial poet, playwright, novelist and blogger whose work is most often associated with 90s “Queercore,” a current of transgressive literature which sought to interrogate conventional taxonomies of sexual identity (gay and straight). Critical assessments of his work, therefore, have largely attempted to determine the primarily sexual politics of his work, e.g. how his writing challenges us to think differently about the way sexual identity is constructed and urges us to consider the implicit connections between sexuality and power. My research builds upon these studies by demonstrating that Cooper’s iconoclastic encounter with the subject of sex is symptomatic of his ongoing adherence to an anarchist critique of contemporary society. His novels, poetry and collaborative theatre, I contend, offer various artistic responses to the multifarious forms of control and domination (sexual, political, technological…) which characterise life in the modern world.
The ideas and arguments my doctoral research engages with are particularly timely, given the recent resurgence of interest in anarchist ideas in the United States, the emergence of quasi-anarchist collectives like “Occupy” across American towns and cities in 2011, and widespread disillusionment with an American political establishment which failed to protect its citizens from the sub-prime mortgage and credit crisis.

My blog in plain English: The biggest danger with PhD study, as I see it, is the temptation to become so focussed on your research that it colours your perception of everything: all that you read, watch or hear becomes drawn into the orbit of your thesis. This can produce a tediously repetitive intellectual constellation which not only poses a threat to the quality of one’s research (where thought is only affirmed and rarely challenged), but impedes the opportunity to seriously interact with ideas and individuals whose usefulness to PhD study is not immediately apparent. For this reason, to circumvent this temptation, on http://schoolboyerrors.wordpress.com I blog about anything from tattoos to film to fashion, attempting to think critically and engagingly about topics peripheral to my doctoral work.

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Do you have your own blog that you would like to let other Sussex researchers know about? Is it related to your doctoral studies or is it, like Diarmuid’s peripheral to your research? If you would like to share your work more generally, do let us know at researchhive@sussex.ac.uk.

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