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Derek Jarman’s life-writing

Luminous presence: Derek Jarman's life-writing is the first book to analyse the prolific writing of queer icon Derek Jarman. He blended visionary queer politics with experimental self-representation and consistently created art with material drawn from his own life, using it as a generative activist force. Although he is well known for his avant-garde filmmaking, his garden and his AIDS activism, he is also the author of over a dozen books, many of which are autobiographical. Much of Jarmanʹs exploration of post-war queer identity and imaginative response to HIV/AIDS can be found in his books, such as the lyrical AIDS diaries Modern Nature and Smiling in Slow Motion, the associative book of colour Chroma, the critique of homophobia At Your Own Risk, and the activist text published alongside the film Edward II. The remarkable range and depth of his writing has yet to be fully explored by critics. Luminous Presence fills this gap. Spanning his career, Alexandra Parsons shows that Jarman’s self-reflexive response to the HIV/AIDS crisis was critical in changing the cultural terms of queer representation from the 1980s onwards. She reads Jarman's self-representations across his literary and visual works as a queer utopian project that places emphasis not on the finished product, but on the process of its production. Luminous Presence examines Jarmanʹs books in broadly chronological order so as to tell the story of his developing experimentation with self-representation. The book is aimed at students, scholars and general readers interested in queer history, literature, art and film.

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‘Are you a closet bigot?’
Alexandra Parsons

Chapter 8 on Queer Edward II examines how Jarman invokes the figure of the queer child along with activist slogans and autobiographical fragments to create an unusual, imaginative activist text.

in Luminous presence
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A Saint’s Testament
Alexandra Parsons

Chapter 9 looks at how Jarman constructs the text At Your Own Risk in the context of the AIDS epidemic and his own HIV-positive status, using his own history alongside the personal histories of others to mark out a newly visible space in an often homophobic culture. He uses montage aesthetics to create activist work.

in Luminous presence
Testimony and elegy
Alexandra Parsons

Chapter 10 examines Jarman's late diaries, Smiling in Slow Motion, collected posthumously by Keith Collins. Here, we explore his increasingly fragmented documentation of his life and influences, and the changing ways in which he responds to and refutes stereotypical portrayals of HIV/AIDS.

in Luminous presence
Blue and Chroma
Alexandra Parsons

Chapter 11 unpacks Jarman's creative use of colour as a queer strategy for creating history in the midst of crisis in the film and accompanying book of poetry, Blue, and the book Chroma. It considers the ethics of bearing witness in the face of trauma and loss, and the therapeutic possibilities of abstraction.

in Luminous presence
A therapy and a pharmacopoeia
Alexandra Parsons

Chapter 12 investigates the collaborative project at work in Derek Jarman’s Garden. We think about the garden as a memorial and about Jarman's gardening as a therapeutic practice via Howard Sooley’s photographs of Jarman, images of the Dungeness garden that so many friends had worked on and some of Jarman's last writings.

in Luminous presence
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‘The past is the mirror’
Alexandra Parsons

The final section of Derek Jarman's Life-Writing concludes that Jarman's self-reflexive response to the HIV/AIDS crisis has been critical in changing the cultural terms of queer representation from the 1980s onwards and reads Jarman's self-representations as a queer utopian project that places emphasis on the process of its production.

in Luminous presence
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Alexandra Parsons

The introduction to Derek Jarman's life-writing sets the scene for the first full-length study of Jarman's books. By bringing cultural history into conversation with queer theory through these books, it shows that Jarman's self-reflexive response to the HIV/AIDS crisis has been critical in changing the cultural terms of queer representation from the 1980s onwards. It reads Jarman's self-representations across his literary and visual work as a queer utopian project that places emphasis not on the polish of the finished product, but on the process of its production.

in Luminous presence
A finger in the fishes mouth
Alexandra Parsons

Chapter 1 explores Derek Jarman's first book A finger in the fishes mouth, a chapbook containing poems dating back to his student years. It considers the book’s postcard-poem form and reflects on its engagement with history, conceived of as existing in a perpetual present, as well as its coded autobiographical content.

in Luminous presence
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‘An autobiography at forty’
Alexandra Parsons

Chapter 2 offers a reading of Derek Jarman's first extended autobiographical text, Dancing Ledge, in which he sought to understand the links between his personal life and his professional world. Chapter 2 explores Dancing Ledge as a fascinating, partial self-portrait composed using the collaborative methods that allowed him to write at a furious pace.

in Luminous presence