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    Rupture and rapture: French theory in Britain,1956 –1986

    McAuliffe, Colm (2021) Rupture and rapture: French theory in Britain,1956 –1986. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    This thesis considers the trajectory of French theory across a number of sites of reception in Britain in the late twentieth century. It focuses upon para-academic spaces: the New Left Review, the BFI Education Department, Screen journal, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and the rhetorical devices employed by the pop group Scritti Politti. In doing so, this research offers an original account of French theory’s journey in contemporary British history. This thesis is the first to investigate the reception of French theory in Britain through the method of institutional histories, archival research and contemporary interviews. It is also unique in its emphasis on intellectual spaces separate from the academy. The research presented in this thesis demonstrates the intoxicating, performative, and often antagonistic nature of the encounter between these travelling theories and these intellectual scenes in Britain. I maintain that French theory has a uniquely British history, arguing against existing accounts of this phenomenon, each of which place it as a primarily American invention. My thesis argues that French theory’s journey in Britain is indebted to the work of intellectuals working across a range cultural institutions and media, as the legitimacy necessary for these theories to take hold were denied by more traditional means of reception and diffusion. The introduction contextualises French theory’s journey in Britain, along with my own engagement with these theories. The first chapter examines the initial appearance of French theoretical texts in the New Left Review, demonstrating how the journal positioned itself contra extant forms of socialist humanism. The second chapter traces the reception of French theory through the pioneering work undertaken at the BFI Education Department, specifically highlighting the key roles played by Paddy Whannel and Peter Wollen in allowing the institution to become fertile terrain for the import of these theories. The third chapter considers Screen journal, an offshoot of the BFI Education Department, as a site where French theory served as the very core for its own form of theoretical practice. The fourth chapter examines the reception of French theory in a curatorial context through the work of the Institute of Contemporary Arts and its attempt to link the presentation of talks by French theorists with Britain’s concurrent accession to the Common Market. The final chapter examines the work of the pop group Scritti Politti, particularly focusing upon the rhetorical devices employed by frontman Green Gartside, and his use of French theory in a strikingly performative manner.


    Item Type: Thesis
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 25 Nov 2021 15:00
    Last Modified: 08 Dec 2021 08:51


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