THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING The Autobiographical Subject in the Drama and Memoirs of Ronald Duncan
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This study developed after considerable time spent collating and cataloguing data contained in Ronald Duncan's archive. Familiarisation with the material led to my identifying a need to explore the elusive nature of the personality that biographical material should hope to uncover. Duncan was prone to mainly confessional writing, a kind of writing that demands a causal inference between life and work. Furthermore, the archive supplies multiple data sources that serve to aid chronology, trace reliability, provide external corroboration and investigate truth-value. My study follows a loosely chronological structure after discerning shifts in his thematic concerns. The years up until the mid-' 60s are detailed because, from his youth until that time, Duncan is consistently idealistic but expresses preoccupations particularly manifest in society in each period. Chapters 1 and 2 study Duncan's concern with utopian politics (1930s); Chapter 3, his relationship to religion (1940s); Chapter 4, his part in West End Theatre in the 1950s; and Chapters 5 and 6, his tackling of issues of gender and sexuality (1950s and '60s). Each chapter draws upon the autobiography and-related documents of those years. The thesis refers particularly to Duncan's dramatic writing, avoiding serious analysis of the poetry because it has been recently researched. Because theatre movements are imbued with popular cultural codes, these and his memoirs are chosen to convey how his texts centralise the idea of authenticity but also manipulate the idea using subjects and characters caught between idealism and despair, the textual and the historical. Consequently, my approach to Duncan's work emphasises subject-hood rather than a pre-textual authorial presence which prompts the reader to seek an explanation for the work in its producer. Theoretical implications emerge from the association of Duncan's autobiographical personalities with the notion of writerly authority and its creations. With Duncan the 'question' of self-hood is ultimately conceived as a process whereby the text is attributed to the author through a complex and disparate set of operations, not referential simply to a real individual, but to several simultaneous selves and subject positions. Displacing a perception of the author as the origin of meaning, webs of intertextual voices are discerned within the texture of discourse.
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