Report: He Doesn’t Talk Politics Anymore
May20

Report: He Doesn’t Talk Politics Anymore

by Joseph Brooker On Thursday 18th May I introduced an event about the politics of US fiction since the 1960s. This was part of Arts Week 2017, and a contribution to the theme of art & politics which was one element of this year’s series of events. Though I had been involved in organizing the event, its substance was provided by two speakers, Professor Martin Eve and Dr Catherine Flay, which leaves me in a position to reflect and report on it. Eve’s title came from Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), where it refers to a character in the Second World War who comes under suspicion because of his reluctance to discuss politics. Had the same happened, Eve asked, to US fiction in recent times? To answer this question he problematized a number of the terms involved. What, for one thing, was now the meaning and scope of ‘American literature’: could it even, he provocatively asked, include writing from Iraq and Afghanistan under US occupation? What is the best meaning of ‘politics’ itself, and how should we consider politics’ translation into literary work: should this be measured in a utilitarian fashion by the work’s effects, in the form of action taken by readers influenced by fiction? A further issue is the limits of the corpus that we study: the canon of contemporary US fiction, Eve argued, is very narrow compared to the real range of what is published in the US, and does not necessarily correspond to what most people are reading – insofar as they are reading at all, as a recent statistic recorded that 25% of people did not read any novel in a year. Eve also took note of the recent turn against ‘critique’ in literary and social studies. Scholars like Rita Felski have argued that ideology critique and the performance of symptomatic readings of literary narratives have become formulaic, and requested new models of critical reading. At the same time Bruno Latour in the social sciences has suggested withdrawal from the ideological critique of science as the revelation that science is ‘socially constructed’ can give excessive succour to authoritarian politicians who cast doubt on the evidence of climate change. Eve noted that these two critiques of critique in fact move in somewhat different directions and need to be viewed as distinct. Eve noted that African-American writers might make a significant contribution to a discussion of the politics of fiction, but also that they had often seemed marginal next to a certain group of white writers such as Pynchon, Don DeLillo and David Foster Wallace. Eve pointed out that black writers are often viewed primarily as...

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Report: What Goes Around
May20

Report: What Goes Around

by Martin Eve Last night, Tuesday the 16th May 2017, I attended “What Goes Around: Fifty Years of The Third Policeman” as part of Birkbeck, University of London's Arts Week. As its name suggests, this event, hosted by Dr Joe Brooker and Tobias Harris, centred around the half-century of the publication of Flann O'Brien's extraordinary novel. Brooker and Harris were joined on-stage by a cast of readers who punctuated the evening with performances from the text (even if some were perhaps rightly reluctant to attempt Irish accents). The evening was paced in such a way as to be accessible to those coming fresh to O'Brien's work and consisted of a biography, a publication history, and then several passages of close reading and discussion. For instance, Harris began by detailing the strange writerly life of Flann O'Brien (which is, in fact, a pseudonym of Brian O'Nolan, who also wrote under several other aliases, including Myles na gCopaleen). What was particularly interesting here – and that I did not know beforehand – was that that all but 240 already-sold copies of O'Nolan's first novel, At Swim-Two-Birds, were destroyed due to bombing during World War II. Indeed, over the course of the evening it became clear that World War II was a significant factor in O'Nolan's difficult publishing career. With the biographical angle covered, Harris and Brooker then moved to give a background to The Third Policeman; a novel never published in O'Nolan's own lifetime. This is no mean feat, since the novel features extraordinary twists of logic and physics. In essence, the unnamed narrator is transported to a fantastical realm (a “parish” of sorts) where the police force are obsessed only with recovering stolen bicycles. That the narrator does not possess a bicycle is a source of great concern to them. The narrative features several other curious turns, such as a spear where the point is so sharp that it protrudes invisibly many inches in front of the point we can see. “You're missing the point”, one of the policeman remarks, as though as much at the reader as the spear. Further, it transpires later in the text that the reason the policemen have so many stolen bicycles to investigate is that they are, themselves, stealing the bikes. They do so since they believe that the longer a person spends on the bicycle, the more he or she becomes merged as some kind of cyborg-like hybrid of (wo)man-bicycle. This is, indeed, a most strange novel. Discussions with the audience ranged from the novel's metafictive implications – that is: how much is this is a novel about the acts of reading and...

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Child Be Strange
May19

Child Be Strange

A Symposium on Penda’s Fen Saturday 10th June 2017, 10am–5pm, with a public screening at 6:20pm NFT3, BFI Southbank, London Click here for BFI programme and booking. Programme: 09:30 registration and coffee 10:00 welcome from organizers 10:05–11:25 panel 1: Landscapes Roger Luckhurst: Penda’s Fen, Eeriness and the Polytemporal 70s Adam Scovell: A Sacred Demon of Ungovernableness: Penda's Fen and Folk Horror Jamie Sherry: “I am mud and flame!”: Adolescence and Hybridity in the Liminal Spaces of Alan Clarke’s Penda’s Fen Beth Whalley: “The flame still flickers in the fen”: Wetlands, Modernity and the Anglo-Saxon Past Chair: James Machin 11:25–11:30 comfort break 11:30–12:50 panel 2: Histories Carl Phelpstead: Before England: Mercian Identity in Rudkin and Other Writers David Ian Rabey: Making Space for the Shadows: Penda's Fen, tradition and legacy David Rolinson: I append the map: a documentary history of Penda’s Fen Craig Wallace: The “old, primeval ‘demon’ of the place opening half an eye”: Penda’s Fen and the legend of the sleeping king Chair: Carolyne Larrington 12:50–14:00 lunch (own arrangements) 14:00–15:20 panel 3: Portraits Will Fowler: Dredging the Splintered Light: The Multiple "Unburyings" of Penda’s Fen Yvonne Salmon: Penda's Fen and Contemporary Occulture Daniel O’Donnell Smith: Between the Slits He Sits: The Material Ontology of Penda and the Frame Andy Smith: “Which shall prevail?” Doppelgängers and Duality in the work of David Rudkin Chair: Matthew Harle 15:20–15:40 coffee 15:40–16:20 Closing plenary: Gareth Evans, Carolyne Larrington, and Roger Luckhurst 16:20–17:00 David Rudkin Q&A, with Ian David Rabey     Image by gailhampshire, used under a CC BY 2.0...

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Dystopia Now
Apr24

Dystopia Now

Friday 26th May 2017 9am-6pm Keynes Library, 43 Gordon Square Plenaries will take place in the Keynes Library. In panel sessions, the first panel listed in each case will take place in the Keynes Library, the second panel in Room 106 next door. Programme 9-10: KEYNOTE 1: Caroline Edwards: Techno-modernity: how we love it, how we fear it / Chair: Martin Eve Panel Session 1: 10-11:30 a) Feminist Perspectives / Chair: Heather McKnight Sarah Lohmann: Dystopian Entanglements: Violence in Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time and Sheri S. Tepper’s A Gate to Women’s Country Asami Nakamura: The Politics of Nostalgia in Katherine Burdekin’s Swastika Night Fiona Martinez: Utopian Love in Dystopian Fiction: Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods b) From Big Brother to The Circle / Chair: Christos Callow Jr Simon Willmetts: Surveillance Dystopias Patricia McManus: Happy Dystopians Laura De Simoni: From Heterotopia to Dystopia: changing dramatic spaces in Philip Ridley’s The Pitchfork Disney Panel Session 2: 11:30-1 c) Gender and Dystopia / Chair: Patricia McManus Nick Hubble: Failed Patriarchal Orders and Interesting Times: Gender and Dystopia in Orwell, Banks and Alderman Sean Donnelly: Young Adult Dystopian Fiction as Postfeminist Utopia Heather McKnight: Dystopian Narratives of Motherhood and Reproduction in TV Science Fiction: Challenging the Patriarchy or Reinventing the Witch Hunt? d) New Perspectives: MA panel / Chair: Mark Blacklock Frank Jackman: A comparative reading of entropy in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and J.G. Ballard’s early fiction Lawrence Jones: Utopian, dystopian & heterotopian spaces in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We Eden Davis: Zomes to Zigotisopolis: Counterculture and Digital Utopianism in Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge 1-2: Lunch (own arrangements) Panel Session 3: 2-3:30 e)  Apocalyptic Times / Chair: Aren Roukema Alice Reeve-Tucker: ‘Glowing in that waste like a tabernacle': Religious Hope in Cormac McCarthy's The Road Diletta De Cristofaro: Critical Temporalities in the Contemporary Post-Apocalyptic Novel Chris Pak: Dystopia and Utopia at the Cusp in Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway: A Novel f) Politics & Finance / Chair: Nick Hubble Christina Brennan: Dystopian Finance Fiction: Foreclosure, Homeownership and the end of the United States in Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles Adam Welstead: Dystopia, Dissensus and the Divided Kingdom Esther Andreu: Living in Interesting Times: Dystopia as a Place for Hope Panel Session 4: 3:30-5 g) Cities & Ecologies / Chair: Chris Pak Amy Butt: Aerial Perspective: Estrangement and Vertical Urbanism Sean Grattan: Apocalypse, Near Apocalypse, Post-Apocalypse: The Disaster and What Remains Hollie Johnson: Anthropocentric Hubris: Dystopian Visions of Environmental Fall h) MetaDystopia / Chair: Francis Gene-Rowe Christos Callow Jr: The Dystopian Function of Dystopian Literature and its Criticism: Factual and Fictional Crises in Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster Maxi Albrecht:...

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He Doesn’t Talk Politics Anymore
Mar31

He Doesn’t Talk Politics Anymore

Thursday 18th May 2017 6pm-7.25pm B04, 43 Gordon Square How does fiction imagine worlds different from the one we know? Can works of fiction foster political change in the world beyond the book? Professor Martin Paul Eve, author of Pynchon and Philosophy (2014) and Literature Against Criticism (2017), explores these issues in a lecture, followed by Q&A and responses from Dr Joseph Brooker and Dr Catherine Flay (Birkbeck). This event forms part of Arts Week 2017. To book a free place at this event, click here.   Image from Barack Obama, used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0...

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