'Beauty tradition experiment' : Scotland, the avant-garde, and landscape in the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay and Alec Finlay

Rights statement
Awarding institution
  • University of Strathclyde
Date of award
  • 2015
Thesis identifier
  • T14324
Person Identifier (Local)
  • 200965322
Qualification Level
Qualification Name
Department, School or Faculty
  • This is a critical study of Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925 - 2006) and Alec Finlay (b. 1966), analysing the ways in which they developed their practices as poets, artists and publishers. This thesis uses Alec Finlay's concept of the homely avant-garde as the starting point for an exploration of both poets' engagement with the relationship between art, society and the environment. Both poets' work is animated by the interplay of tradition and experiment, a relationship that is reflected in their treatment of place and conception of dwelling. I aim to show that while their work shares certain formal interests and cultural contexts, their responses to them are quite distinctive.This thesis builds on existing commentary through close textual analysis and extensive use of archival material including public and private correspondence. It is to my knowledge the first scholarly study of Alec Finlay, drawing on his work andinterviews. My project brings new theoretical approaches to the subject. I take a broadly cultural materialist approach, locating the Finlays' avant-garde poetics and art practice within their original contexts of post-war Scottish culture and the international small-press avant-garde. Later chapters consider the Finlays' treatment of landscape and the environment. I apply the pastoral theory of William Marx, Raymond Williams and Terry Gifford to Ian Hamilton Finlay's short stories and garden poems, exploring the tensions between nature and culture, country and city. In my analysis of Alec Finlay's eco-poetry and art, I reject Heideggerian ecocriticism's emphasis on poetry as a medium for the revelation of man's essential state of being in nature. Instead, I look to the geophilosophy of Deleuze and Guatarri in order to suggest that Alec Finlay's social and environmental art brings forth a series of becomings through its emphasis on pragmatic,co-operative and sustainable forms of creativity.
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