Tade Thompson Q&A
Nov18

Tade Thompson Q&A

We were thrilled to be joined by Tade Thompson, author of the award-winning Rosewater trilogy, for a special Q&A session with students studying on our MA Contemporary Literature and Culture and MA Creative and Critical Writing on 16th November 2020. We had studied Rosewater (2016), the first novel in the trilogy, as a recent example of what Natalia Cecire and Sam Solomon have termed the utopian “mycological promise” of fungi, in which natural, ancient, and magical energy systems convert decay and waste into nitrogen-fixing, plant-sustaining mycelium. Thompson’s trilogy depicts an alien fungal network known as Wormwood that is described as “protecting, nurturing” and is capable of miraculously healing, or worsening the conditions of, disabled people who visit it. Students explored Rosewater within the context of contemporary environmental posthumanism, as a narrative that deconstructs species boundaries between the human, the fungal, and the alien to offer an Afrofuturist speculative vision of what radical botanists and posthumanist theorists would call “becoming-plant,” reanimating the monstrous vegetal in contemporary ecocatastrophe narratives.  A huge thank you to Tade for graciously offering his time after a full day's work during a very busy period of the Covid-19 lockdown! You can watch the full Q&A below, which was chaired by Dr Caroline Edwards and Dr Sean O'Brien, both lecturers at Birkbeck. Featured image by RAS News and Events shared under a CC BY-NC-ND...

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Caryl Phillips Lecture
Oct16

Caryl Phillips Lecture

This year, Birkbeck is delighted to welcome acclaimed author and playwright Caryl Phillips to deliver the annual William Matthews Lecture. Titled " 'One Grim Winter Evening': The Colonial Migrant in Britain,' the lecture will take place on Thursday 12th November 2020, 6-7pm online.  'One grim winter evening' are the opening four words of Samuel Selvon's classic novel, The Lonely Londoners (1956). As Phillips writes: "Selvon's depiction of London as both hostile and a place that his characters hold dear in their hearts, always puzzled me. I grew up as part of a generation who were quick to reject Britain's negative attitudes towards her non-white population. We were 'radical'  and quick to push back, while the earlier generation appeared to be stubbornly determined to belong. I will look again at this postwar migration from the colonies into a not always welcoming Britain, and think about how this colonial migration differed from political or economic migration." Caryl Phillips was born in St. Kitts and came to Britain at the age of four months. He grew up in Leeds, and studied English Literature at Oxford University. He began writing for the theatre and his plays include Strange Fruit (1980), Where There is Darkness (1982) and The Shelter (1983). He won the BBC Giles Cooper Award for Best Radio Play of the year with The Wasted Years (1984). He has written many dramas and documentaries for radio and television, including, in 1996, the three-hour film of his own novel The Final Passage. He wrote the screenplay for the film Playing Away (1986) and his screenplay for the Merchant Ivory adaptation of V.S.Naipaul's The Mystic Masseur (2001) won the Silver Ombu for best screenplay at the Mar Del Plata film festival in Argentina. His novels are: The Final Passage (1985), A State of Independence (1986), Higher Ground (1989), Cambridge (1991), Crossing the River (1993), The Nature of Blood (1997), A Distant Shore (2003), Dancing in the Dark (2005), Foreigners (2007), In the Falling Snow (2009), The Lost Child (2015), and A View of the Empire at Sunset (2018). His non-fiction: The European Tribe (1987), The Atlantic Sound (2000), A New World Order (2001), and Colour Me English (2011). He is the editor of two anthologies: Extravagant Strangers: A Literature of Belonging (1997) and The Right Set: An Anthology of Writing on Tennis (1999). His work has been translated into over a dozen languages. He was named Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year in 1992 and was on the 1993 Granta list of Best of Young British Writers. His literary awards include the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a British Council...

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Writing Shame
Oct15

Writing Shame

Birkbeck is delighted to welcome Dr Kaye Mitchell (University of Manchester) for the first Bloomsbury Research Lecture of the year. Dr Mitchell will talk about her recently published book Writing Shame: Gender, Contemporary Literature and Negative Affect (Edinburgh University Press, 2020). Through readings of an array of recent texts – literary and popular, fictional and autofictional, realist and experimental, this book maps out a contemporary, Western, shame culture. It unpicks the complex triangulation of shame, gender and writing, and intervenes forcefully in feminist and queer debates of the last three decades. Starting from the premise that shame cannot be overcome or abandoned, and that femininity and shame are utterly and necessarily imbricated, Writing Shame examines writing that explores and inhabits this state of shame, considering the dissonant effects of such explorations on and beyond the page.   About the Author: Dr Kaye Mitchell is Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Literature and Co-Director of the Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester. She is a literary and cultural critic with particular interests in modern and contemporary literature, literary theory, gender and sexuality studies, and experimental writing by women. She has published books on literary intention (Intention and Text, Continuum, 2008) and contemporary literature (A.L. Kennedy, Palgrave, 2007; Sarah Waters, ed. collection with Bloomsbury, 2013). Her work in progress includes a monograph on the politics and poetics of shame in contemporary literature, and a special issue on women's experimental writing for the OUP journal, Contemporary Women's Writing. Kaye Mitchell's research is mainly in contemporary literature and culture, with a particular focus on gender and sexuality, critical theory and narratology. The lecture will take place from 7.30pm on Thursday 29th october 2020. Please click on this link to join. Featured image: Chris Kraus in Conversation with Kim Dower by WeHoCity under a CC BY-NC-ND...

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Utopian Enclaves in Feminist Cyberpunk
Jul08

Utopian Enclaves in Feminist Cyberpunk

One of our talented PhD researchers, Sasha Myerson, has recently produced this video essay on "Utopian Encalves: The City in Feminist Cyberpunk." The video essay replaces Sasha's conference paper presentation at the Cyberpunk Culture conference, taking place online on 9-10 July 2020. Abstract: Cyberpunk is conventionally considered a dystopian genre. But, as Tom Moylan has argued, there is a sharp difference between dystopias of resignation—which capitulate to the logics of neoliberalism—and critical dystopias, which “adopt a militant stance that is informed and empowered by a utopian horizon that appears in the text”. Such texts seek to overcome dystopia, find a way beyond it, and transform the present moment towards utopia. Furthermore, cyberpunk is a genre deeply rooted in urban experience, recalling both the dense neon-soaked streets of William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), or Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), and the hyperreal, fragmented urban spectacle that appears in the works of Jean Baudrillard and Frederic Jameson. Yet, such spectacle is not necessarily synonymous with dystopia. As feminist geographer Elizabeth Wilson writes, “the excitement of city life cannot be preserved if all conflict is eliminated […] life in the great city offers the potential for greater freedom and diversity than life in small communities. This is particularly important for women.” Wilson’s vision of the city calls for a radical embrace of “the freedom and autonomy they offer”, while making such freedom “available to all classes and groups.” This paper will read Emma Bull’s Bone Dance (1991) and Naolo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring (1998), both texts that work within the genre of cyberpunk, through the critical lens of Moylan and Wilson. Both authors recognise the contradictions of the city, a space often built upon exclusion and inequality that can simultaneously incubate surprising political alliances and glimpses of utopia. My analysis will focus specifically on two passages, the opening of Hopkinson’s text and the ending of Bull’s, which take the conventions of the cyberpunk city and locate within it the potential for a non-hierarchical, diverse and utopian vision of the city that “shimmers just beyond” their pages   Bio: Sasha is a PhD student at Birkbeck College. Her research focuses on urban space and the built environment in 1990s feminist Cyberpunk science-fiction. Examining posthuman and multiple subjectivities, her work explores how such individuals navigate, survive and resist within technologized cities of surveillance and discipline. Sasha is a co-director of the London Science-Fiction Research Community and helps to organise Beyond Gender, a feminist research collective.  For more information see here: http://cyberpunkculture.com/cyberpunk-culture-conference/program-friday/%C2%A726-sasha-myerson/...

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Crisis and Contemporary Literature
Jul07

Crisis and Contemporary Literature

CCL Director Dr Caroline Edwards recently spoke on the opening roundtable at the Virtual Conference for the British Association for Contemporary Literary Studies (BACLS), which was held on Friday 26 June 2020. The theme of the roundtable was "Crisis: Contemporary Conversations" and Caroline spoke alongside: Sheena Kalayil, author of The Bureau of Second Chances (2017), which won the Writers’ Guild Award for Best First Novel, The Inheritance (2018) and The Wild Wind (2019); Ben Doyle, Publisher for Literary Studies at Bloomsbury Academic; and Dr Zayneb Allak, a writer and Lecturer in Creative Writing at Edge Hill University.  Caroline's talk explored the relationship between utopianism as a praxis that responds to historical crises and science fiction, focussing particularly on ecocatastrophe narratives (the subject of her next book provisionally titled Arcadian Revenge: Science Fiction in the Era of Ecocatastrophe). You can watch her talk below or here on Caroline's YouTube channel. For more information about the British Association for Contemporary Literary Studies (BACLS), visit the website: https://www.bacls.org/     Photo by Callum...

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Exploring Physician Burnout
Jul02

Exploring Physician Burnout

Birkbeck CCL member and Director of the Birkbeck Centre for Medical Humanities, Prof. Jo Winning, has just published a new article in the BMJ Medical Humanities journal on "The use of an object: exploring physician burnout through object relations theory." The article (see below) examines the crisis of physician burnout, which has been widely and repeatedly reported across the mainstream press and medical journals around the world in the closing years of the second decade of the 21st century. Despite multiple systematic reviews and commentary on the scale of this ‘global epidemic’, understandings of both the phenomenon and the most effective interventions remain limited. Practice-based medical humanities represents the collaborative sharing of conceptual tools for understanding illness and clinical practice and the shouldering of responsibility for mapping the shape of care, in all its local, national and global contexts, thinking-with rather than critique on the profession and its practices. In keeping with this approach, this article offers a new perspective on the contemporary crisis of physician burnout by exploring the objectification of the clinician’s body within the systems and practice of healthcare. Within the context of medical humanities’ scholarship, discussions of objectification usually navigate towards a discussion about patient identity and its potentially reductive objectification within the frameworks of biomedical science. However, this article crosses the cultural divide between clinician and patient, and comes to focus on the objectification of the clinician herself, using object relations theory from the field of psychoanalysis to excavate the psychodynamics of care and their impact on clinicians, and the systems of healthcare in which care is delivered. Jo's article develops the feminist epistemological concept of 'thinking-with', alongside Donna Haraway's concept of tentacular thinking, which she has also written about in a recent article published in the journal Feminist Encounters (see here for info on this). (If you can't see the article embedded below just hit refresh).                                                                                           Featured image by Rob Rogers, reproduced in Jo's article with permission and shared here under a CC BY-NC...

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