Useless Activity. Webb, Christopher (9781800854635). Hardback.

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Using rare archival material from Washington University, St. Louis (WUSTL), the University of Glasgow, and the British Library, Useless Activity is the first study to ask why the experimental writing of the 1960s and 1970s is so fraught with anxiety about its own uselessness, before suggesting that this very anxiety was symptomatic of a unique period in British literary history when traditional notions about literary work – and what 'worked' in terms of literature – were being radically scrutinised and reassessed. The study is divided into five chapters with three of those dedicated to the close analysis of work produced by three writers representative of the 1960s British avant-garde: Eva Figes (1932–2012), B.S. Johnson (1933–1973), and Alexander Trocchi (1925–1984). The book argues that these writers’ preoccupations with concepts related to work, such as leisure, debt, and various forms of neglected labour like housework, allow us to rethink late modernism’s relation to realism while posing broader questions about the production and value of post-war literary avant-gardism. Useless Activity proposes that only with an understanding of the British avant-garde’s engagement with the idea of work and its various corollaries can we appreciate the contribution made by these writers to the development of the modern British novel during the mid-twentieth century, and probe some of the reasons for their move away from certain forms of literary realism.

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