Skip to main content

Transatlantic Crosscurrents: European Influences and Dissent in the Works of Paul Bowles and William S. Burroughs (1938-1992)

Heal, Benjamin J. (2016) Transatlantic Crosscurrents: European Influences and Dissent in the Works of Paul Bowles and William S. Burroughs (1938-1992). Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.57120) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:57120)

Language: English

Restricted to Repository staff only
[thumbnail of 220B.J._Heal_Transatlantic_Crosscurrents.pdf]
Official URL:


This thesis examines the European influences on the works of Paul Bowles and William S. Burroughs, focusing on the themes, styles, techniques and preoccupations derived from Existentialism, Surrealism and Primitivism. Their texts, informed by their interest in the transatlantic intellectual currents of the time and non-American influences, represent a dissenting voice against the commonly and officially held values of the post-World War II United States and Western ideological power structures, and offer an insight into the development of a twentieth century American cultural identity.

Examining Bowles and Burroughs in parallel gives a unique insight into their differences and striking similarities with regard to their experiences of expatriation and European sensibilities. Analysis of the historical context and material history of the publication, underlying influences, themes, techniques and preoccupations of their works reveals a deeper political engagement than has been previously shown. Bowles and Burroughs participated in a broad transatlantic dialogue of ideas, as reflected in the geopolitical and chronopolitical similarities of their works. The thesis focuses on their use of similar themes such as alienation, derived from Sartrean Existentialism, and their shared existential negativity toward life in the United States. It is argued that their style and method of indirect ideological expression, derived from Existentialism, enables a form of expression that can effectively and covertly interrogate American identity. Their use of experimental techniques drawn directly from the politically charged European based art movements of Dada and Surrealism, such as automatism, is shown to create a politically useful distance between the work and the author, while Surrealist preoccupations with shock, intoxication and violence evoke a closer relationship between the work and the reader. The notion of 'primitivism' and a persistent interest in 'primitive cultures' that intersects with representations of sexuality and a rejection of modernity in their works is examined as a reflection of their negative attitudes toward the modernism represented by the United States. Examining the parallels between their works and the development of film noir also reveals an engagement with a broad transatlantic exchange of ideas, styles and techniques across media. Their experimentation with the constructed nature of authorship, which developed through literary practice in their later works is shown to interrogate the concurrent poststructuralist theories of authorship.

The historical contexts, influences of European intellectual cross-currents and range of connections between Bowles and Burroughs combine to make a compelling case that their works are politically charged, transatlantic in style and technique, and stridently significant in the history of English language literature and our understanding of contemporary American and European cultures.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Ayers, David
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.57120
Additional information: The author of this thesis has requested that it be held under closed access. We are sorry but we will not be able to give you access or pass on any requests for access. 29/09/2021
Uncontrolled keywords: American Literature, Twentieth-Century Literature, Transatlantic Studies, Surrealism, Existentialism, Beat Studies, Film Noir, Primitivism, Authorship, Literary Theory, Dissent, Ideology, Expatriation, Violence, Intoxication, Colonialism
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 06 Sep 2016 11:00 UTC
Last Modified: 17 Aug 2022 12:21 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
  • Depositors only (login required):


Downloads per month over past year