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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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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