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Centre for Modern European Literature and Culture

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Lectures and seminars 2009-10

Below is a list of Centre for Modern European Literature events for the 2009-10 academic year

Wednesday 30 September 2009: Dr Kim Knowles (University of Kent), ‘Film, Architecture, Poetry: Reading Architectural Space in Man Ray’s Les Mystères du Château du Dé

In 1929 Dada and Surrealist artist, photographer and filmmaker Man Ray was commissioned by the Vicomte Charles de Noailles to make a film about his winter home in Hyères in the south of France. On his first viewing of the building, designed by the modernist architect Robert Mallet-Stevens, Man Ray was struck by its ‘cubist forms’, which ‘brought to mind the title of a poem by Mallarmé’. This poem, Un Coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard, in many ways provides a model for Man Ray’s film, not simply in the title of the latter – Les Mystères du Château du Dé – and its frequent use of textual inserts, but also in its relationship to space. Mallarmé, in his preface to the poem, stated that ‘Les “blancs” en effet, assument l’importance, frappent d’abord.’ The building of the reader’s awareness of the spaces between the words is reflected in Man Ray’s approach to Mallet-Stevens’ architectural spaces and his use of the film camera to ‘read’ them. This paper illustrates the different ways in which Les Mystères du Château du Dé brings together the spatial qualities of film, poetry and architecture. It argues that Man Ray’s creation of complex geometric compositions within the frame, which stem from the architectural intricacies of the Villa de Noailles, mirror Mallarmé’s typographical compositions on the page, in an attempt to overcome the invisible, intangible nature of space.

Wednesday 21 October 2009: Professor Roger Griffin (Oxford Brookes University), ‘Programmatic Modernism’

In this lecture I will argue for the heuristic value of extending the concept of modernism to embrace social and political movements intent on healing the crisis of modern history, even at the cost of creating an entirely new order through a radical programme of ‘creative destruction’. The talk focuses on neglected linkages highlighted by this conceptual framework between the extraordinary breakthroughs in the spheres of aesthetic, cultural, and philosophical creativity that characterize the early twentieth century in Europe and the utopian socio-political experimentation of the period determined to explode the continuum of History, frequently with catastrophic human consequences.

Roger Griffin is Professor of Modern History at Oxford Brookes University (UK) and has published over 80 works on a wide range of phenomena relating to generic fascism, including two monographs, The Nature of Fascism (1991) and Modernism and Fascism: The Sense of a Beginning under Mussolini and Hitler (2007), and a collection of essays, A Fascist Century (2008). He has also edited two anthologies of primary and secondary sources relating to fascism, Fascism (1995) and International Fascism: Theories, Causes and the New Consensus (1998), and (with Matthew Feldman) the 5-volume Critical Concepts in Political Science: Fascism(2003). He is currently working on a book on terrorism for the ‘Modernism and’ series that he is editing for Palgrave Macmillan.

Wednesday 28 October 2009: Professor John Flower (University of Kent), ‘Mauriac, Collaboration and the French Theatre’

On 27 March 1946 the seat (fauteuil) in the Académie française previously held by Cardinal Baudrillart became vacant. The art critic, travel writer and occasional novelist Jean-Louis Vaudoyer who had also been director of the Comédie française from March 1941 until March 1944 was encouraged to apply. Mauriac objected, accusing Vaudoyer of collaboration and successfully appealing to the Communist-dominated Comité national des écrivains for support. Vaudoyer withdrew his application but four years later would finally be elected. In his speech of welcome, Emile Henriot made no reference to Vaudoyer’s activities at the Comédie française. Despite some continuing reservations, Mauriac publicly and privately acknowledged the hastiness of his earlier actions, but they tell us a good deal about his own anxieties and self-interest.

Wednesday 11 November 2009: Dr Richard Hibbitt (University of Leeds), ‘Reflections on Fin-de-Siècle Cosmopolitanism’

The concepts of nationhood, nationalism, and cosmopolitanism begin to play a major role in French political and cultural discourse towards the end of the nineteenth century, illustrated by works such as Ernest Renan’s 1882 speech ‘Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?’ and Maurice Barrès’s 1892 article ‘La querelle des nationalistes et des cosmopolites’. This interest is also evident in the critical and creative works of writers including Paul Bourget, Edouard Rod and Teodor de Wyzewa, who consider the value of cosmopolitanism in the wider context of perceived social and cultural decadence. Bourget in particular exerts a significant influence on other fin-de-siècle writers, through works such as Essais de psychologie contemporaine (1883 and 1885) and the novel Cosmopolis (1893). This paper will examine the ambivalence towards cosmopolitanism during the period before focusing on the respective responses to Bourget’s novel by Henry James and Thomas Mann. In 1892 James wrote the short story ‘Collaboration’ in reaction to the manuscript version of Cosmopolis, offering an alternative conception of cosmopolitanism based on artistic co-operation. In contrast, the young Thomas Mann refers approvingly to Bourget’s negative critique, testifying to his belief in the importance of the nation state. I will argue that the gradual transition in Mann’s view of cosmopolitanism in the following decades culminates in Der Zauberberg (1924), which can also be read as a rewriting of Cosmopolis.

Wednesday 18 November 2009: Professor Edward Hughes (Queen Mary, University of London), ‘Literature and Life’s “Small Lives”‘.

This illustrated lecture takes its cue from Pierre Michon’s Vies minuscules (1984) before broadening out to consider other instances of how literature conveys often anonymous, everyday lives. The lecture explores Michon’s reflection on socially obscure lives and on what happens when these become the subject of literature. It then works beyond Michon to consider other writers and contexts where the lives ‘covered’ are featured as standing outside the social conditions in which literature is normally produced and read.

Wednesday 2 December 2009: Professor Leonard Olschner (Queen Mary, University of London), ‘Paul Celan: (Auto-) Biography and Late Poetics’.

Wednesday 16 December 2009: 
Centre for Modern European Literature Book Launch
Ben Hutchinson, W. G. Sebald. Die dialektische Imagination (de Gruyter, 2009)
Kim Knowles, A Cinematic Artist: The Films of Man Ray (Peter Lang, 2009)
Paul March-Russell, The Short Story: An Introduction (Edinburgh University Press, 2009)
Peter Read (co-ed.), Giacometti: Critical Essays (Ashgate, 2009)
Jeremy Scott, The Demotic Voice in Contemporary British Fiction (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)
Axel Stähler, Konstruktionen jüdischer Postkolonialität. Das britische Palästinamandat in der anglophonen jüdischen Literatur (Winter, 2009)
Axel Stähler (co-ed,), Writing Fundamentalism (CSP, 2009)
Shane Weller (ed.), Samuel Beckett, Molloy (Faber & Faber, 2009)


Thursday 28 January 2010: Hans Kundnani (journalist), ‘Adorno and the 1968 Generation’

Theodor W. Adorno had a deep but complex influence on Germany’s 1968 generation. Many of the young West Germans born between 1938 and 1948 who were politicised in the 1960s and became involved in the student movement that reached its climax in 1968 were drawn to the Frankfurt School’s analyses of the connection between capitalism and fascism, which would come to be central to their critique of the Federal Republic. In particular, the student movement’s understanding of itself as an ‘anti-authoritarian’ movement derived from Adorno’s writing on the ‘authoritarian character’ as well as Horkeimer’s analysis of the ‘authoritarian state’. Initially, Adorno was sympathetic to the student movement, although he was anxious about its use of direct action. But the student movement increasingly turned against him, culminating in the occupation of the Institute for Social Research in 1969 that was led by Adorno’s teaching assistant, Hans-Jürgen Krahl. However, from the late 1970s onwards, some members of the 1968 generation rediscovered Adorno and in particular his view of Auschwitz – which had been marginalised in the student movement’s analysis of fascism – as a metaphysical break. In particular, Joschka Fischer aimed to apply the ‘new categorical imperative’ that, according to Adorno, the Holocaust had imposed on mankind (‘to arrange one’s thoughts and actions so that Auschwitz will not repeat itself, so that nothing similar will occur’) to German foreign policy.

Thursday 25 February 2010: Dr Ariane Mildenberg (University of Kent), ‘Hyperdialectic in Gertrude Stein’s Compositions’

In ‘A Transatlantic Interview 1946’ Gertrude Stein first spoke of her obsession with ‘words of equal value’, an idea influenced by Cézanne’s mode of composition and best developed in her 1914 work Tender Buttons. Drawing upon the thought of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who found in Cézanne a paradigm of the reduction, the method at the heart of phenomenology, this paper demonstrates that Stein’s interrogation of language in Tender Buttons approximates the philosopher’s late notion of ‘hyperdialectic’. Like Cézanne’s compositions, Stein’s strange work lays bare the usually unperceived passage between pre-reflective experience and articulation, a passage that cannot be closed as it remains what Merleau-Ponty terms an ‘écart’, a temporal space of  distantiation which is nevertheless the necessary condition for the production of meaning. Just as ‘hyperdialectic’, which emerges from ‘écart’ and is therefore a dialectic without synthesis grounded in our continual interrogation of experience,  the ‘hyper’ oscillation in Stein’s work between sense and non-sense does not reflect what extant scholarship refers to as postmodern groundlessness or indeterminacy, but rather a grounding of thought in pre-reflective intentional experience.

Thursday 11 March 2010: Professor J. J. Long (University of Durham), ‘Post-Wende Photography of Berlin’

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, there have been countless books and articles devoted to the changing face of Berlin and its role in German memory and cultural identity. There has also been a large number of photographic books devoted to the city’s architecture. But up to now, there has been remarkably little work on architectural photography as a means by which the cultural meaning of the built environment is mediated. This talk will examine the work of one of the most interesting recent photographers of Berlin, Florian Profitlich, whose stunning images concentrate on the architectural heritage of ‘old Berlin’ at the expense of the city’s postwar history. In order to understand Profitlich’s work, I look, first of all, at the work of another photographer of Berlin, F. Albert Schwartz, whose images from the 1880s and 1890s use many of the same techniques. Situating both in relation to discourses of historic preservation and national memory, I argue that while Profitlich’s images seem to reactivate older conventions of architectural photography in the service of a deeply conservative aesthetic, he cannot but include references to the city’s more recent past, not in terms of image-content, but in terms of the dialogue that he establishes with past photographers and styles.

Thursday 8 April 2010: Professor Colin Davis (Royal Holloway, London) ‘On What Can’t Be Said: Judith Butler, Charlotte Delbo, and the Story of One’s Death’
What can and cannot be narrated? The statement of Edgar Allan Poe’s M. Valdemar, ‘I am dead’, would appear to push language beyond its narrative capabilities. In her book Giving an Account of Oneself (2005) Judith Butler argues that we cannot give a full account of our lives, let alone our deaths or the lives of others. Yet Auschwitz survivor Charlotte Delbo’s book Mesure de nos jours(Measure of our Days, 1971) narrates the lives of surviving and dead comrades in a problematic first person, including the story of one character, Mado, who claims that ‘I died in Auschwitz and no one can see it’. This paper discusses the problems and pitfalls of recounting on behalf of others or oneself; and it considers how, and at what cost, Delbo’s work in particular succeeds in telling of the lives and deaths of others without undue appropriation of their experience.

Thursday 13 May 2010: Dr Pierre Laffitte (University of Amiens), ‘Gilles Deleuze : sens et contingence’

De Logique du sens à Mille Plateaux, le parcours de Gilles Deleuze va d’une logique restreinte à une logique générale du sens ; il passe de la lecture du structuralisme à sa critique : redéploiement et progression ‘hypercritique’, plus que rupture, en fait. Comprendre cette progression passe par la prise en compte de la rencontre avec Félix Guattari, cofondateur de la psychothérapie institutionnelle, et à ce titre visage singulier dans les rapports qu’entretint tout un pan de la clinique psychiatrique au structuralisme de Lacan : rapports faits de prise en compte théorique, de questionnement, de dépassement ou d’approfondissement clinique et politique.