Organic Systems: Session 2 – report
Jun08

Organic Systems: Session 2 – report

On Thursday 23rd May 2019, we held the second workshop in our series Organic Systems, which is supported by CHASE, the Consortium for the Humanities and the Arts in South-East England. This episode of our collaboration between Birkbeck and Goldsmiths took place in Birkbeck’s Cinema. A sizeable audience came along, including CHASE PGR students and also interested members of the public who had seen the event advertised as part of Birkbeck’s annual Arts Week. Like other events in the series, the workshop had the following aims: To provide beneficial research expertise from guest speakers in designated training sessions. To hold round-table sessions in which guest speakers with strong research interests and expertise will present and discuss ideas – with contributions also welcome from the registered participants. To encourage meeting and networking among scholars in related areas, leading to the development of this research area. After a general introduction to the themes of the series, we heard from Dr James Machin, currently based at the Royal College of Art, who discussed his experience of applying for and undertaking research fellowships in fantastic literature. James successfully applied for grants to visit the Harry Ransom Centre in Austin, Texas and the University of California at Riverside. His research was not on science fiction as such but on early instances of ‘weird fiction’, overlapping with horror and Gothic, notably the writing of H.P. Lovercraft and John Buchan’s lesser-known work in this field. James showed us his applications on screen, and gave advice on making them successful. In particular, he said, be thorough, and argue the case that the archive in question is crucial to your research, which couldn’t be completed without it. In response to questions, James also described the experience of working in an archive and the thrill of encountering original material that has rarely if ever been viewed before. The second part of the day was an extended panel discussion with three speakers: Sean Cubitt of Goldsmiths; Katie Stone, who is undertaking a PhD on science fiction at Birkbeck; and Francis Gene-Rowe, who is completing his studies at Royal Holloway. The panel was chaired by Aren Roukema who is completing a PhD on science fiction and religion at Birkbeck. Sean gave a fascinating presentation involving clips from the films Source Code (2011) and Déja Vu (2006), exploring the interaction between sound and image and their construction of virtual worlds. Katie and Francis then produced more of a dialogue between two streams of thought that were supported by an extensive series of slides, headed The Strange Ecologies of Science Fiction. Films mentioned and glimpsed included the recent Avengers blockbuster and other superhero...

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Chronitis
May15

Chronitis

Myles na gCopaleen à la recherche du temps perdu by Tobias Harris This article first appeared in the Modernist Review blog in 2016. Since it is no longer available there, we republish it here in advance of our Birkbeck Arts Week 2019 session, ’Irish Times: Myles na gCopaleen's Cruiskeen Lawn' which takes place at 7:40pm on 21st May in the Birkbeck School of Arts. Register for your free place to attend here. *** Brian O’Nolan (1911-1966) was an Irish writer who is now mainly referred to by his pseudonym Flann O’Brien, and known for his novels At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) and The Third Policeman (1967). However, in his lifetime he was far better known as Myles na gCopaleen, the name under which he published the satirical Cruiskeen Lawn several times a week in the Irish Times for a quarter of a century (as well as his novel, An Béal Bocht/The Poor Mouth, in 1941, and his plays, Faustus Kelly and The Insect Play, in 1943). Cruiskeen Lawn runs to something like four million words. Modern readers are likely to encounter it in one of several slimmed-downed compilations produced after his death, but on two occasions O’Nolan chose to reprint anthologies of Cruiskeen Lawn himself. First in 1943, he published a bilingual anthology which, as Steven Curran has argued in Éire-Ireland, sharpens its focus on the figure of Myles as a satirist and bears a mock newspaper front cover declaring: 'Myles na gCopaleen Crowned King of Ireland'. The second occasion was in 1959-1960, when O’Nolan republished about sixty columns in four numbers of a short-lived periodical which was called Nonplus, edited by the novelist Patricia Murphy (née Avis). The older O’Nolan also preserves a particular flavour of Cruiskeen Lawn by favouring some types of column over others. Whilst the character known as The Brother appears here and there and Keats and Chapman feature twice, just as in 1943, the republished columns are predominantly complex and multilingual satirical sallies into heavyweight topics: aesthetics, language, literature, politics and the national culture. (I should note that it has been suggested that many of the more ‘literary’ columns were written by co-author Niall Montgomery.) Some of this reprinted Nonplus material had already been published not once, but twice. This creates unusual effects. One such doubly reprinted column appeared first in 1946 (and this is the version that O’Nolan republishes in Nonplus, but more on that later) and again in 1958. It’s a set of preoccupations about posterity and maturity combined with strange recollections on time that turns into a plagiarising pastiche of the theories of W. B. Yeats. Sufficiently interested? Okay, I’ll try to summarise. On 7...

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Organic Systems: Session 1 – report
May14

Organic Systems: Session 1 – report

Organic Systems: Science Fiction & Ecology Today Session 1: SF & Critical Ecologies (Goldsmiths): 2nd May 2019 Organic Systems is a series of four workshops on Science Fiction and Ecology, aimed primarily at postgraduate research students and supported by CHASE, the Consortium for the Humanities and the Arts in South-East England. The series is a collaboration between Birkbeck and Goldsmiths, two colleges of the University of London, and specifically between the Centre for Contemporary Literature (Birkbeck) and the Critical Ecologies research strand (Goldsmiths). Each workshop has the following aims: To provide beneficial research expertise from guest speakers in designated training sessions. To hold round-table sessions in which guest speakers with strong research interests and expertise will present and discuss ideas – with contributions also welcome from the registered participants. To encourage meeting and networking among scholars in related areas, leading to the development of this research area. The first of the four workshops was held at Goldsmiths on Thursday 2nd May 2019. We began by reflecting in general terms on the rationale of the series and the connections between SF and ecology. We noted the still emerging interest in SF as critical field – in literary studies, film, media, culture, visual art, and so on. Locally, an important agent in this has been the London Science Fiction Research Community (LSFRC), a group primarily based at Birkbeck but involving members from elsewhere. It was LSFRC that first used the title Organic Systems, applied to a series of reading groups that culminated in a symposium in 2017. We thus borrow our title with due respect to them. We can also note an increasing role for SF as a way of thinking about other fields – such as economics,  sociology, media, urbanism, or – as we want to explore – ecology. A good example of this crossover is Economic Science Fictions (2018), edited by William Davies and published by the Goldsmiths Press in 2018. Such work suggests that SF may currently be an interdisciplinary space where different social concerns can meet in fantastical and speculative form. Meanwhile, ecology is more insistent in the media and public consciousness than it has been some time. Indeed the last month or so before our first session featured the dramatic protests staged by the group Extinction Rebellion, and the intervention of Swedish school striker Greta Thunberg into UK politics, among other ongoing events. It is sometimes said that among all cultural and artistic forms, science fiction is unusually well placed to address such concerns: because of its ability to extrapolate and estrange, and because it might be better able than other narrative forms to match the...

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Nocturnes
Jan09

Nocturnes

The Centre for Contemporary Literature is glad to announce that a new MA student-led reading group called Nocturnes is to start this January. It will be held on four dates (listed below) during Spring term 2019. Nocturnes will be hosted by Orla Cubitt, a second-year, part-time student on the MA Contemporary Literature and Culture, and Azad Ashim who is a first year, part-time student on the MA Creative and Critical Writing. The theme broadly connecting the selected texts is Contemporary Traumas, and covers issues including isolation, war, race and loss. This group is open to MA students across the Arts and Humanities programmes so will benefit from a broad range of student voices beyond our individual seminar groups. We think this will be a really good opportunity to meet students from other courses and to share ideas and learning. Please find the dates and texts listed below. All are to be held on Mondays at 7pm-8pm and with only two meetings either side of reading week, has been mindful of existing course loads.   Mon 21st Jan: Bluets by Maggie Nelson Mon 4th Feb: The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blassim Mon 25th Feb: Exit West by Moshin Hamid Mon 11th March: A Little Dust on the Eyes by Minoli Salgado   Week One on Monday 21st Jan will be held in Room 218, 43 Gordon Square. Locations for the following dates are TBC. For a PDF of Week Two's short story 'The Corpse Exhibition', please contact the organizers at: orla.cubitt@yahoo.co.uk.   We hope to see you there! Best wishes, Orla and Azad.   Image by Rory MacLeod, used under a CC BY 2.0...

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Landscapes of Culture
May30

Landscapes of Culture

by Colm McAuliffe Perhaps everybody does love Raymond (Williams), cultural theorist, border-crossing Welshman, television critic, elegant pipe smoker. A special event during Birkbeck's Arts Week 2018, Landscapes of Culture: Raymond Williams Thirty Years On, depicted Williams across three separate television landscapes traversing 1970, 1979 and 1988, through the Welsh borders of his home, the class upheaval of Cambridge where he taught, and the country house of Tatton Hall, to its natural finale: a strangely lit television studio where his legacy was discussed by an ideologically unusual array of politicians, academics and writers. These three documentaries – rarely seen since their original terrestrial broadcasts – formed part of the London-wide archive television season Radical Broadcasts: Theory On TV, which I have curated with Dr Matthew Harle, an Associate Research Fellow of Birkbeck’s School of Arts. Our intention with this season was not simply to provide a series of snug, nostalgic broadcasts of complex ideas on vintage television but to open up questions around the role of public intellectuals and public service broadcasting: why did the commissioners at the BBC deem it important to give televisual space to such complex interlocutors of theory and criticism? And what could it actually mean to consume television during this period when your viewing options could be limited to a documentary on the meaning of culture in society or Match of the Day? Landscapes of Culture was the final screening in our inaugural run of Radical Broadcasts screenings. Our decision to host this at Birkbeck Arts Week was crucial – we were conscious of the enthusiasm for his work across the Department of English and Humanities (and beyond), verified by the sell-out nature of the screening. However, selling-out is a charge one could never level at Williams. His laconic and uncompromising mannerisms, often embellished by a series of astonishingly beige, to the point of almost anti-colour, turtlenecks, made Williams a reassuring and compelling television presence. In Border Country (1970), we witness Williams debating and walking these landscapes of culture with a pre-fame Dennis Potter acting as the effervescent postulant, with Williams the avuncular cultural confidant. We later catch Williams in a domestic setting, briefly setting down to type at his rather insular desk before stepping away to awkwardly recline and face the camera in his leather swivel chair, a strangely modish item amongst his sparse living room; indeed, one could never question Williams’ commitment to both aesthetic and domestic realism. The Country and the City (1979), helmed by the acclaimed television director Mike Dibb (who worked wonders on John Berger’s Ways of Seeing BBC series earlier in the decade), was a more stylish and dramatic depiction of...

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Gaelic Hardship
May29

Gaelic Hardship

Certainly, I suffered Gaelic hardship throughout my life – distress, need, ill-treatment, adversity, calamity, foul play, misery, famine and ill-luck. As part of Birkbeck's Arts Week 2018, the Centre for Contemporary Literature supported an event that completed a trilogy of annual workshops on the brilliant first three novels by the Irish writer Flann O'Brien. Gaelic Hardship explored his third novel An Béal Bocht, written in Irish in 1941 and published under the name Myles na gCopaleen – which was the pen-name that Brian O'Nolan, the creator of 'Flann O'Brien', had adopted as a newspaper columnist. O'Nolan (1911-1966) refused to permit an English translation of the novel during his lifetime, just as he refused to countenance a second attempt to publish his rejected manuscript Third Policeman (written in 1940 and the subject of last year's workshop). Yet just as that novel was published a year after his death, so too in 1973 an English translation of An Béal Bocht appeared, as The Hard Life, translated by Patrick C. Power. It is in this form that this slim volume has become known to the largest number of readers, though there are still calls for a new translation and suggestions that Power's version omits important aspects of the original. Given the linguistic complexities involved, organizers Joseph Brooker and Tobias Harris (Birkbeck) this time enlisted the expertise of Eoin Byrne, who is working at the University of Galway on a project about bilingual writers including Samuel Beckett as well as Brian O'Nolan. After our introductions to the area and to O'Nolan's career trajectory, Eoin offered an incisive account of key issues around this novel, including the state of Irish-language publishing in the early 1940s and the 'Gaeligores' or Irish-language enthusiasts satirized in the novel. With members of the audience joining in discussion, the workshop was then enriched by readings of particular passages: Hugh Wilde recited an early passage where the English-speaking schoolmaster beats the protagonist's Irish name out of him, and N.J. Harris read the close of the novel, where poignancy seemed to take over from comedy. In the meantime we also looked at Myles na gCopaleen's satiric portrayal of a Gaelic festival at which numerous local Gaels die of rain, starvation, drink or exhaustion from excess of Gaelic dancing; Eoin read the passage aloud in Irish. An Béal Bocht / The Poor Mouth has perhaps been overshadowed by its brilliant precursors At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman, but this workshop placed it centre stage, reminding us of the ferocity of its irony and the sense that – as Eoin finally put it, deliberately echoing Richard Ellmann's words about James Joyce – we are still learning to be its contemporaries. A report on the event, by audience member, Charlotte Deadman, has...

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