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The life and times of Charles Henri Ford, Blues, and the belated renovation of modernism

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posted on 2023-06-08, 11:53 authored by Alexander Howard
This thesis focuses on Charles Henri Ford (1908-2002). Spanning much of the 20th century, Ford’s multiform and multimedia aesthetic sensibility incorporated poetry, visual art, filmmaking, photography, and magazine editing. Despite the breadth and depth of his numerous interests and achievements, scant critical attention has been paid to Ford. The little criticism that deals with Ford focuses on his experimental novel The Young and Evil (1933) and his magazine: View (1940-47). This thesis addresses this imbalance. It seeks to recover a marginalized poet whose work unsettles contemporary and critical assumptions concerning modernist literary and aesthetic production. In order to do so, focus is shifted from View to Ford’s first modernist little magazine: Blues: A Magazine of New Rhythms (1929-30). Blues made an indelible mark on Ford and informed many of his subsequent poetic and aesthetic projects. This thesis considers the significance of Blues and a selected assortment of Ford’s subsequent projects and literary career moves. Divided into six chapters, and utilizing a reverse chronology, I trace Ford’s various literary endeavors back through the decades. The first chapter focuses on Ford’s poetic and editorial ventures in the 1980s. This chapter re-positions Ford’s late work in relation to a flexible and sociable version of modernism. The second chapter focuses on Ford’s sociable poetics in particular as it culminated in the 1970s. The third chapter draws on the implications of the second and considers the ways in which the modernist Ford is an aesthetic precursor to the postmodern Warhol. The thesis then moves into the 1940s and 1950s to give an account of Ford’s perpetual aesthetic awkwardness. Ford’s conspicuous absence in the annals of literary history is attributable to his poetic and aesthetic unorthodoxy, which precluded easy incorporation into generally accepted critical narratives of modernism and avant-gardism. Ford’s marginalization has meant that his attempt to renovate modernism has gone unnoticed. Conducted in Blues, Ford’s (belated) renovation of modernism is the focus of the final chapters of this thesis. The fifth chapter contextualizes Blues. The sixth and final chapter offers a series of readings focused on Ford’s original literary apprenticeship: Blues.


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  • American Studies Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • dphil


  • eng


University of Sussex

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