Centre for Modern European Literature and Culture

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Centre for Modern European Literature and Culture
Research Seminar Series 2021–22

Eight-minute Lunchtime Lectures

This series of webinars is designed to create a forum for interdisciplinary research and cooperation within the Division of Arts and Humanities. Each webinar will be scheduled for one hour and consist of three eight-minute lectures by colleagues and PhD researchers presenting on aspects of their research, followed by 30 minutes of discussion.   

Spring term 2022

Wednesday, 30 March, 13.00-14.00.

Karen will be presenting on ‘Reconceptualising Failure in the 21st Century. Ian’s talk is entitled, ‘In the Shadow of Proust’. To be followed by informal discussion.

Karen Borg Cardona: Reconceptualising Failure in the 21st Century: A World Literary Approach

The last two decades have witnessed a series of spectacular failures which have had severe and widespread global consequences, from the global financial crisis and increasing wealth inequality, to the rise of far right extremist political parties and movements throughout Europe and the US, to the inadequate response to the threat of climate change. Despite this, failure has often been understood on the level on the individual, as the result of a moral inadequacy or lack of determination. Rather, how can we reconceptualise failure in a way that shifts focus – and blame – from the individual as a method of examining the interconnections between global world-systems and local socio-political contexts? And how can we envision global and local failure as a method through which to approach contemporary world literature?

Karen Borg Cardona is a Lecturer in the Department of Comparative Literature. She has previously taught at the University of Warwick and the University of Malta. Her research interests include world literature, contemporary literature, quest narratives, and conceptualisations of failure.

Ian Ellison: In the Shadow of Proust

Marcel Proust died in 1922, leaving behind incomplete revisions to the final three volumes of A la recherche du temps perdu, which were published posthumously. That year also marks the release of the first volume of the first full English translation. In these senses at least, 1922 marks a nascent moment in Proust’s literary afterlife. A hundred years later, few modern writers have undergone such posthumous memorialization as Proust. This talk, which takes its cue from my ongoing postdoctoral project, will consider how, in imagining their own afterlife and in living out their artistic posterity, Proust and his Recherche become key drivers in their own alteration, perversion, and – perhaps ultimately – obsolescence.

Ian Ellison is a DAAD PRIME postdoctoral fellow based across the University of Kent, the Paris School of Arts and Culture, and the Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt am Main. His first book, Late Europeans and Melancholy Fiction at the Turn of the Millennium is due to be published with Palgrave Macmillan this summer.

Please join us on Zoom: https://kent-ac-uk.zoom.us/j/4697463217

Meeting ID: 469 746 3217

Autumn term 2021

Wednesday 13 October 2021

Researchers who have kindly agreed to contribute to the webinar are Madeline Bass, PhD student (MOVES European Joint Doctorate), Bernardino Branca, PhD student, School of Arts, and Nicholas von Behr, PhD student, School of Architecture and Planning. Their papers will be addressing questions concerning allegory and the hermetic tradition in the Italian Renaissance, European Imperialism, and the organisation of space and place prior to the First World War:

Madeline Bass: Europe, Abyssinia, and the limits of abolition; Rereading Barraké and Bilillee

Abyssinian settler colonialism has created a rigid vision of the Horn of Africa, one that relies on erasure, misnamings, and retellings. These practices reflect modes of European imperialism, creating a transnational historiography and archive of Oromia that needs unsettling. Two textual representations of Oromo women from the 1800s exemplify this case: British explorer Samuel Baker’s descriptions of the Nile River and German Prince Hermann Pückler-Muskau’s earlier travels over the same era. By reading these texts as narratives of two Oromo women, Barraké and Bilillee, questions of race/ialization, empire, and the possibilities for liberation are brought to the forefront.

Bernardino Branca, Interpreting Giordano Bruno: Edgar Wind’s 1938 Letter to Frances Yates

In September 1938 Edgar Wind wrote an 18-page long hand-written letter to Frances Yates, also a member of the Warburg Institute in London. In answering to her queries concerning Giordano Bruno, Wind underscored that Bruno ‘did not die as a martyr of Modern Science’. Moreover, he saw in Bruno a champion of a specific feature of the culture of the Italian Renaissance, that is, the ‘Allegorical’ method of Biblical hermeneutics. Bruno’s Allegorical method of interpretation was in stark contrast with the ‘Literal’ one of both Luther and of the post-Council of Trento’s Catholic Church. According to Wind, the implications of this conflict went far beyond the ones of a theological dispute. This letter greatly affected Yates’ direction of her studies. The publication in the 1960’s of Yates’ works on Bruno, which actually owe so much to Wind’s 1938 feedback, was to provide a seminal influence upon Renaissance studies ever since.

Nicholas von Behr: How resistance to fire and better hygiene shaped the development of urban architecture in pre-WW1 Paris and Brussels

The inhabitants of Paris and Brussels during the period of the Belle Epoque were terrified of being caught inside a blazing building – this had happened in 1897 when a charity event in Paris had led to the horrific death of more than a hundred wealthy citizens including many women. Building regulations were being adapted based on technical standards for new fire-resistant materials such as steel and reinforced concrete. Better accommodation for workers became another concern of enlightened architects. All of this influenced the development of urban architecture before the First World War.

Wednesday 3 November

Dunstan Lowe: The Art of Gore: Uses of Blood in Lucan’s Civil War Epic

Abstract:  War and violence always feature in Roman epic, but Lucan’s Civil War has the densest imagery of bodies undergoing horrific trauma. This has been convincingly read as a political and metapoetic allegory. I suggest that this critical conversation should absorb all the blood we see spilt: in particular, Lucan draws contrasts between vital, vigorous blood (sanguis, cruor) and its seeping, sickly opposite (sanies, tabes). The first of these often represents traditional Roman bravery and stamina, subverted into fuel for Caesar’s unrelenting prosecution of the war. The second signifies vitality decayed: its horror and disgust reflect angst, even nihilistic dread, about the Rome of the text. A few key passages are enough to show this.

Rachel Lehmann: The Feeling of Emptiness and its Failed Treatment in Michel Houellebecq’s Sérotonine and Joris-Karl Husymans’ A vau-l’eau  

Abstract: The postmodern individual seems to be confronted with a new form of misery, a misery of a moral, psychological nature. He is in the grip of an uneasiness, a feeling of inexistence and vacuity exhausting him further. This ‘unbearable’ feeling of emptiness, described and developed by Michel Houellebecq in his latest novel Sérotonine (2019), does not seem to be a symptom exclusive to our consumer society and its cult of personal happiness. In parallel, the fin-de-siècle author Joris-Karl Huysmans describes a similar state in a text from 1882. How is this seemingly timeless phenomenon treated by both authors? What parallels can be drawn?