Imagined Futures: Museum of London Display
Oct28

Imagined Futures: Museum of London Display

Birkbeck's very own Dr Caroline Edwards has curated a new display at the Museum of London on Imagined Futures. The display was commissioned as part of the year-long City Now: City Future programme of events and the design work was undertaken by Martin McGrath Studio. The display is installed at the Museum's Rotunda terrace, is free to access and will be up until April 2018.  Writers displayed include: Mary Shelley, H. G. Wells, Richard Jefferies, George Orwell, John Wyndham, Anthony Burgess, J. G. Ballard, Emma Tennant, Doris Lessing, Neil Gaiman, J. K. Rowling, China Miéville, Maggie Gee, Bernardine Evaristo and Julie Myerson. Here's the blurb: Of all cities, London is one of the most widely represented in literature. During the 19th century, when it rose to prominence as the centre of the British Empire, London was considered the peak of civilisation. However, this achievement was matched by the violence of a colonial system that damaged the places and peoples from which the city drew its vast wealth, in India, Africa and the Caribbean. London therefore made the ideal setting in which to imagine future visions – in books that destroy the metropolis through scenes of devastation, or rebuild it as a fairer society. From Mary Shelley’s disaster novel, The Last Man (1826), to H. G. Wells’s techno-utopian vision in The Sleeper Awakes (1899), London established its reputation as a city in which to enact different visions of the future in literature. In the 20th century, such imagined futures became increasingly bleak, particularly in the post-World War II period, and by the 1970s writers were experimenting with surreal future London landscapes. More recently, London has become home to the leading characters in influential books for younger readers, such as J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (1996). In the 21st century, as we come to terms with the environmental impact of climate change, the city has once again found a new role as a literary setting. This display was curated by Dr Caroline Edwards, Senior Lecturer in Modern & Contemporary Literature at Birkbeck, University of London, and designed by Martin McGrath Studio. Quotes reprinted by kind permission of the authors/publishers. Featured image ©Museum of London. Used with...

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Report: Caroline Edwards Keynote for Dystopia Now
Jun18

Report: Caroline Edwards Keynote for Dystopia Now

by Caroline Edwards   Birkbeck's Centre for Contemporary Literature recently organised a one-day conference titled 'Dystopia Now,' held at the School of Arts on 26 May 2017. I was really thrilled to be asked to deliver the opening keynote for the conference, alongside Dr Mark Bould who gave the closing keynote to round off the day's talks.  My talk was titled 'Techno-modernity: how we love it, how we fear it' and considered the way in which ‘techno-modernity’ inspires a double-sided speculative response among writers: firstly, giving concrete form to our fear of the loss of modernity and/or civilisation that we find in so many post-apocalyptic narratives (like dystopias, these are enjoying an impressive renaissance just now) – this is why we love it; and, secondly, also inspires our fear of the kind of future modernity will deliver in its final, perfected incarnation – and this is why we hate it. In the spirit of Gregory Claeys’ authoritative new book, Dystopia: A Natural History (2017), I focussed on a few aspects of literary dystopianism that we can chart through some of the indicative early texts of the genre. These texts comprise what Tom Moylan and Rafaella Baccolini would term ‘the classical, or canonical, form of dystopia’ (Moylan and Baccolini 1) – as described in their influential edited collection, Dark Horizons: Science Fiction and the Dystopian Imagination (2003) – including the utopian problem of labour (who will do the drudgery/menial work in the good society) and the solution of automation; the question of designing the good society (in techno-modernity, read here, the good city) and architectural visions of the future; the relationship between the individual subject and the utopian collective (what happens when collectivisation or community is forced or imposed upon you? What happens to privacy and individual space in these techno-modern cities? How are social units organised (families, childbearing etc.).   In the talk, I considered canonical early and proto-dystopian texts, such as E. M. Forster’s 1909 novella 'The Machine Stops,' novels that challenged late nineteenth-century monopoly capitalism, including Émile Souvestre’s The World as It Will Be ('Le monde tel qu’il sera,' 1846), Ignatius Donnelly’s Caesar’s Column (1890), and Frank Norris’ anti-railroad novel, The Octopus (1901) – which I argued might be considered proto-dystopian in their visions of oligopolistic capitalism, which offer a striking relevance for our own contemporary era of unfettered neoliberal globalisation – and more orthodox dystopias such as Jack London’s The Iron Heel (1908), Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1924 novel We ('My'), Valery Bryusov’s overlooked symbolist short story 'The Republic of the Southern Cross' (Respublika iuzhnogo kresta) (1907), and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932). I briefly discussed feminist anti-fascist dystopian texts of the...

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Call For Papers: Waste: A Symposium
Apr10

Call For Papers: Waste: A Symposium

CFP: Waste: A Symposium, Papers on Disposability, Decay, and Depletion Birkbeck, University of London, 21 September 2017 A one-day event to be held at Birkbeck College, University of London, on 21 September 2017.   Confirmed keynote speakers: Professor Esther Leslie (Birkbeck, University of London) Dr Leo Mellor (University of Cambridge) Dr Rachele Dini (UCL / University of Cambridge) This one-day interdisciplinary event will make visible the untold story of waste by exploring its representations, both material and metaphorical, within contemporary culture. Through an investigation of waste’s presence (or lack thereof) within modern life, this conference will disrupt the entrenched value judgements surrounding objects, places and people otherwise deemed redundant. By exploring how we create, classify and treat waste material this discussion will simultaneously review and challenge the ethics of human waste(-ing); the marginalisation of populations rendered disposable within a globalised socio-economic framework. Calling on related discourses from the arts, social sciences, medical humanities and beyond, this symposium will bring together a diverse mix of academics, artists and industry experts to share insights on a (waste) matter that impacts and implicates us all. The event will be free to attend, with lunch and refreshments provided on the day and a drinks reception for attendees and speakers in the evening.   Call for papers (deadline 1 May 2017): Proposals are invited for twenty minute papers which will be presented in panels of three. Abstracts of up to 500 words should be submitted to: wasteconference2017.mailbox@bbk.ac.uk by the 1st of May 2017. Please also include a short bio (no more than 150 words), contact details, and any institutional or industry affiliation. Possible paper topics include (but are not limited to) the following: Pollution and toxicity (e.g. physical / metaphorical, environmental, social) Junk, dirt and rubbish (e.g. the abject, hygiene, creation of) Decomposition and decay (e.g. illness, corpses, physical ‘wasting’) The temporality of waste (e.g. ‘wasting time’, ageing and depletion) The geography of waste (e.g. LULUs, derelict spaces, wastelands) Literatures of waste (e.g. fiction about waste, recycling, printing) Human waste / Wasted humans (e.g. bodily matter, biopolitics of disposability) Petrocultures and industrial waste (e.g. extraction, environmental damage of) Economies of waste (e.g. commodification, the cost of waste, disposal industries) Following the conference, there will be the opportunity to submit papers for a Special Collection in the journal Open Library of Humanities (8,000 words, peer reviewed) and Alluvium Journal (2,000 words, non-peer reviewed).     Featured image by Alan Levine under a CC BY...

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Caroline Edwards on Kim Stanley Robinson and Francis Spufford in conversation with Adam Roberts, 3 April 2017
Apr05

Caroline Edwards on Kim Stanley Robinson and Francis Spufford in conversation with Adam Roberts, 3 April 2017

This review by the CCL's Dr Caroline Edwards originally appeared on the Birkbeck Department of English and Humanities staff blog (click here to view the original post). A recent author event at Waterstones Piccadilly (Europe’s largest bookshop apparently) surpassed my expectations for the kinds of awkward conversations you often experience at meet-the-author readings. The first reason for this was obvious: the moderator of the conversation was Adam Roberts who is not only a renowned science fiction (SF) author and academic professor but also – and I speak from direct experience here (Roberts has participated in several events at Birkbeck’s Centre for Contemporary Literature) – a gifted comedian when it comes to live performances and always entertaining in person. The second reason was a fact of which I was unaware: that Spufford and Robinson appeared to be friends and exuded an easy camaraderie as well as an unlikely set of shared interests. I say unlikely because, on paper at least, the two authors appear very different. Spufford’s Golden Hill (2016) is published with Faber & Faber, well known for its high literary credentials having introduced writers like T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden and Sylvia Plath to readers. Robinson’s New York 2140 (2016) is published with Orbit, a publisher that specialises in science fiction and fantasy titles, known for publishing SF heavyweights such as Iain M. Banks, Ken Macleod and Charles Stross, as well as acclaimed fantasy authors such as Trudi Canavan and Laurell K. Hamilton. Furthermore, Spufford’s new novel is a work of historical fiction set in mid-eighteenth-century Manhattan when the city was a settlement of just 7,000 British and Dutch traders. Although Robinson’s novel is set in the same city it takes place some 400 years in the future in a speculative twenty-second-century New York, as the metropolis sinks beneath the rising sea levels caused by global warming. What took place during this conversation was, to my mind at least, a fascinating insight into some of contemporary literature’s most pertinent questions concerning genre, setting, historical representation, and our ideas about lived time, or temporality. Roberts invited the two authors to consider their respective novelistic genres – the historical novel and science fiction – and to what extent each form invites the reader’s participation in worldbuilding. Both Spufford and Robinson agreed that the empirical world of the reader can be rendered less certain and more provisional through these two very different novelistic genres. Of course this is a well-known fact about science fiction – that the speculative futures it imagines serve as a mirror for the reader’s (and the author’s) present, inviting a critical reflection upon the kinds of...

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Alluvium Special Issue on Contemporary Speculative Fiction
Mar16

Alluvium Special Issue on Contemporary Speculative Fiction

Our very own Alluvium Journal has just published Vol. 6, No. 1 – a special issue on "Contemporary Speculative Fiction," edited by Dr Mark P. Williams. The issue opens with Mark P. William's "Editorial Introduction" which considers the usefulness of speculative fiction as a generic and conceptual category for thinking about narrative's political and aesthetic work in imagining worlds that are rich in alterity. As Williams writes: "The term Speculative Fiction is, I believe, a usefully fuzzy term for designating a whole range of possible ways of making narrative. In part it seems imprecise because it moves away somewhat from the distinctions between Science Fiction and Fantasy that defined the establishment of the study of Science Fiction, and there are times when the clarity and precision of separation are extremely useful. But I think the relative imprecision. Or rather, the flexibility, of the term can also enable a higher level grasp of what we are dealing with: fictions which, above all, negate the present conditions of social expectation and the limitations of what can be expected to make sense. Speculative Fiction, in its breadth, says that we can make sense of the stories of wildly unlike events which do not seem to bear direct relation to our present times and concerns, and that those meanings can be powerful, significant and valuable to us."  The issue then proceeds with Cathryn Merla-Watson's article “The Altermundos of Latin@futurism,” which gives a virtuoso survey of the richness of Latin@futurism. She details how the aesthetic and theoretical history of Latin@futurism draws together intersections with Science Fiction and the Gothic, while articulating its distinctness as a field and its sheer cultural breadth and diversity. Sébastien Doubinsky explores Jordan Krall’s use of 9/11 as a setting for Speculative Fiction in “Jordan Krall's Speculative Fiction.” In this article, Doubinsky links Krall’s engagement with post-9/11 America with various avant-garde and speculative pre-texts – from William Burroughs and J. G. Ballard to Zamyatin and Bulgakov – examining the ways this distinctly politicised aesthetic of representation functions. This is followed by Martyn Colebrook’s article “Martin MacInnes and Celtic SF,” which examines MacInnes’ Celtic speculative fiction. Colebrook situates MacInnes’ text in light of his precursors in both the Tartan Noir subgenre and more broadly in Scottish fiction and science fiction, particularly the work of Iain Banks, Irvine Welsh and Alasdair Gray to formulate a clear set of confluences with this distinctly Scottish tradition. Finally, the special issue concludes with Williams' own essay “Speculative Resistance in Lost Girls.” Here he considers Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls in order to examine the intersections between that polemical text and Moore’s narrative poem celebrating gay love and...

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