Malcolm Bradbury's modernism: contemporary writing, experiment, and the university

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


What is the relationship between the university creative writing programme and a contemporary modernism? This paper considers the teaching and criticism of the novelist Malcolm Bradbury (1932-2000), who established with Angus Wilson the University of East Anglia's MA in Creative Writing in 1970. One motivation for the course was to use the university as an institutional support for new writing, specifically 'serious' fiction. Speaking as chair of the 1981 Booker Prize, Bradbury described 'serious' fiction as contemporary writing which is 'pressing at the edge of the genre, taking it as a form of enquiry'. This aesthetics of fiction is essentially modernist, with its clear parallel to Pound's 'make it new'. But how modernist was the contemporary writing produced under Bradbury's supervision? While the canonical figures of early-twentieth-century literary modernism avoided the university in favour of the café, the salon, or the little magazine, Bradbury embraced the university as an institution which could provide a kind of patronage to contemporary writers working beyond what Herbert Marcuse has called the 'repressive tolerance' of the market, that 'friendly abyss'. In Britain, the relationship between the university creative writing programme, the avant-garde, and the marketplace has shifted significantly since Bradbury's retirement from teaching in 1995. This paper asks whether the university could be the place for a contemporary modernism -- or is it just another 'friendly abyss'?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2023
EventContemporary Modernisms - Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany
Duration: 25 May 202327 May 2023


ConferenceContemporary Modernisms

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