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Centre for Modern European Literature and Culture

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Lectures and seminars 2014-15

Below is a list of Centre for Modern European Literature events for the 2014-15 academic year.

Week 2: Charles Forsdick, ‘Contemporary French Translingual Writing’
The paper explores the recent emergence within French literature of a substantial group of authors known as ‘translingual’, i.e. those whose relationship to France, French and Frenchness is not based primarily on colonialism and its afterlives, but is linked instead to a choice to migrate culturally, linguistically and (usually also) geographically into a sphere of French influence. What such texts reveal is that the traditional ‘linguistic family romance’ (Yildiz), of which literature is an essential vehicle, is under real strain as we see the potential for ‘French’ literature to be de-colonized, de-ethnicized and de-territorialized. Translingual literature in French is often read, however, as being more about the demonstration of creative potential or the indication of cultural complexity than the actual performance of new literary possibilities. Concluding with a consideration of the work of specific authors, including Vassilis Alexakis and Dai Sijie, the paper suggests that translingual authors encourage us to read literature in French – and to understand the genesis of that literature – in ways that reflect what Robert Stam has called a ‘relational, contrapuntal, polycommunal multiperspectival history’. In the light of this approach, it is suggested that translingual writing in French permits a particular glimpse of French as a language increasingly detached from its close ties to a single nation, and of French literature as a body of texts whose transnational and multilingual dimensions are becoming more and more apparent.

Thursday 16 October 2014: Lilian Munk Roesing, ‘”Freud is Dead”: On Lars von Trier’s Antichrist‘ (Scandinavian Literature and Film series)
‘Freud is dead’, according to the female protagonist in Lars von Trier’s Antichrist. However, the film seems to be thoroughly congenial with psychoanalysis in its opening primal scene and in its dreamlike aesthetics. Based on Lacan’s understanding of Antigone, I shall argue that the film is a tragedy, situated in a universe ‘between two deaths’. In a baroque, allegorical way, the film depicts nature as radically separated from God, and this is where its ‘anti-Christianity’ could be said to reside, as well as in its turning upside down not only the myth of Christ, but also the myth of Oedipus.
Dr Lilian Munk Roesing is an Associate Professor in the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at the University of Copenhagen. Her publications include articles in the fields of literature, aesthetics and psychoanalytic cultural criticism, and three books: At læse barnet (Reading the Child: on Klein, Winnicott, Freud, Proust, Joyce, Walter Benjamin; 2001), Kønnets katekismus (The Catechism of Gender: on Irigaray, Lacan, Badiou, Anzieu; 2005), and Autoritetens genkomst (The Return of Authority: on Freud, Lacan, Zizek, Moses, Hamlet, Kierkegaard, Imre Kertész; 2007). She is also the author of the forthcoming book Pixar with Lacan. The Hysteric’s Guide to Animation (Bloomsbury, 2015).

Thursday 30 October 2014: Prof. Hanna Meretoja (University of Tampere, Finland), ‘A Sense of the Possible: Narrative Hermeneutics, the Ethics of Storytelling and Contemporary Perpetrator Fiction’
The lecture explores the contribution of narrative hermeneutics to the current discussion on the ethical potential of narrative fiction. It argues for acknowledging the ethical complexity of the role of narratives in our lives, including both their ethical and their violent potential. A particularly overlooked aspect of the ethical potential of narrative fiction is the way in which it can cultivate our sense of history as a sense of the possible. This idea is explored in relation to the ethical challenges presented by contemporary ‘perpetrator fiction’, in particular Jonathan Littell’s Les Bienveillantes (2006, The Kindly Ones) and Günter Grass’s Beim Häuten der Zwiebel (2006, Peeling the Onion), two widely debated novels that deal with the Second World War and the Holocaust in ways that unsettle a clear-cut dichotomy between victims and perpetrators.
This event will combine the above lecture and a book launch for Professor Meretoja’s monograph The Narrative Turn in Fiction and Theory: The Crisis and Return of Storytelling from Robbe-Grillet to Tournier (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), a volume in the Centre for Modern European Literature’s series ‘Palgrave Studies in Modern European Literature’.

Thursday 6 November 2014: Lasse Horne Kjældgaard, ‘Out of (British East) Africa: Isak Dinesen and the Trials of Colonialism’ (Scandinavian Literature and Film series)
For her complicity with the crimes of colonialism, Karen Blixen stands ‘on trial’ today in the postcolonial reception of her work. It is, however, often forgotten that this trial was anticipated in Blixen’s texts, which often revolve around issues of colonial justice and injustice. This paper will address, and attempt to untangle, this historical and textual complex.

Thursday 4 December 2014: Edlira Mandis, ‘”A cage went in search of a bird”: Marie NDiaye’s Literary Explorations of Negative Maternal Figures and Spaces’ (Postgraduate Research Seminar series)

Thursday 10 December 2014: Helder Mendes-Baiao, ‘Political Culture and Literature in French-Speaking Switzerland in the 18th Century’ (Postgraduate Research Seminar series)

Thursday 12 February 2015: Jara Fernandez-Meneses (Hispanic Studies, University of Kent), ‘Contemporary Spanish Film Legislation’ (Postgraduate Research Seminar series)
This talk evaluates the role that Spanish film legislation has played in Spanish cinema since the consolidation of Spanish democracy in 1982. Through a close reading of the primary pieces of legislation enacted between 1982 and 2008, I will address the following research questions: What are the core state funding policies? What is the cultural and political function of state funding policies? Have state funding policies created a particular type of industrial model and particular types of films? If so, how may we critically assess the funding policies and the resulting films? In order to answer these questions, I base my theoretical approach on Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of field as articulated in The Rules of Art (1996) and the notion of habitus as defined in Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgments of Taste (1984). This paper argues that the study of film legislation is crucial in understanding how contemporary Spanish cinema and its cultural value have been created. Firstly, laws are the main instrument through which the Spanish state regulates the funding policies directed towards the production of films. Given the weak nature of the Spanish film industry since its inception and the lack of private investment, the Spanish state has been the major financial provider for the production of films. Secondly, film legislation embraces the definitions of the type of films that are considered worthy enough to receive state funding and, consequently, the type of films desired by the state to be nationally consumed and internationally exported. Therefore, this paper argues that it is necessary to account for why and how the funding policies have been established, by whom and towards the support of what kind of films.

Thursday 19 February 2015: Merete Pryds Helle, ‘Narrative in the Digital Age’ (Scandinavian Literature and Film series)
Metete Pryds Helle is a well-known and prolific Danish author, with a BA in Comparative Literature from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Her talk will focus on the many challenges literary fictions, and their authors, encounter in the shift from paper format to digital and social media, and on how these new media structure the narrative format in various genres. She will include examples from her own designs of literary apps, and text message novels.

Thursday 26 February 2015: Larry Duffy, ‘Flaubert and the Incorporation of Disciplinary Knowledge: Literary and Medical Discourses of Professional Struggle and Regulation’ (Research seminar paper and book launch)
Larry Duffy will be launching his new book, Flaubert, Zola and the Incorporation of Disciplinary Knowledge (Palgrave Studies in Modern European Literature; Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). As part of the launch of the above title, published in the Centre for Modern European Literature’s book series, Larry will present a research seminar based on a key aspect of the book, details of which are as follows:
This paper discusses medical and literary narratives of professional conflicts surrounding disciplinary regulation of the medical and pharmaceutical professions in nineteenth-century France. These narratives – featuring health professionals of varying degrees of professionalism – claim persecution under a regulatory regime set up and presided over by Mathieu Orfila, France’s leading toxicologist. Following discussion of the institutional context for medicine and pharmacy established by the time of the July Monarchy, the paper reads Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary alongside Charles-Nicolas Halmagrand’s Considérations médico-légales sur l’avortement (‘Forensic Considerations on Abortion’, 1844). The latter text, superficially a medical treatise on a major forensic issue, is a polemical account of its author’s arrest, trial and acquittal on abortion charges, and his subsequent blackballing for charlatanism. Without claiming a direct material link between the two texts, and aiming to transcend the problematic distinction between literary and non-literary discourse, the paper argues that the medical treatise is a document with many ‘literary’ features, and then draws upon striking similarities between its author’s self-pitying and self-promoting rhetoric and that of Flaubert’s pharmacist, Homais, to identify Madame Bovary as a documentary articulation of issues surrounding the disciplinary regulation of medicine and pharmacy.

Thursday 5 March 2015: Tania Ørum, ‘A Trail of Roses: The Legacies of Gertrude Stein in Danish Art and Literature of the 1960s’ (Scandinavian Literature and Film series)
The Danish poet and critic Hans-Jørgen Nielsen used Gertrude Stein as a prominent example in his campaign to widen the conception of literary texts in the conservative Danish context. In one of his essays, he used Stein’s sentence a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose as an example. Nielsen reads the first half of the sentence as ‘object language’, a statement about reality, and the second half of the sentence as ‘metalanguage’: a comment on the linguistic construction of reality. Taken together the complete sentence is thus a philosophical statement about language and reality as well as about what is endlessly the same and endlessly different. And thus the text is seen to voice an entire ontology which, in its utter simplicity, exemplifies the poetical power and philosophical depth of Gertrude Stein’s writing. Stein’s influence is visible as a trail of roses through Danish 1960s art. The trail leads from Nielsen’s reading of Stein’s rose to the Danish composer Henning Christiansen, who put the sentence to music in his orchestral work A Rose for Miss Stein (1965). The chain of roses was continued by the painter and performance artist John Davidsen, who devoted an entire year to roses. While the conceptual artist Stig Brøgger used his reading of Stein’s How To Write to work out textual fields, films and film scripts. Echoes of Stein’s writing can also be heard in recent Danish poetry such as Pia Juul’s Radioteateret (2010).

Thursday 5 March 2015: Zahra Tavassoli Zea, ‘Delacroix Revisited: Reflections on the Romantic Aesthetics of Godard’s Late Feature Films’ (Postgraduate Research Seminar series)
A vast corpus of works has been dedicated to examining Jean-Luc Godard’s political aesthetics and engagement with contemporary debates from his early narrative films to his Marxist filmmaking collective, the Dziga Vertov Group. On the eve of cinema’s centenary, however, the desire to evaluate the prominence of Godard’s filmography for the history of the twentieth century became increasingly notable. Eventually, the advent of his ‘oeuvre-monument’, Histoire(s) du Cinéma (1998), gave rise to a series of studies whose common mission could be defined as a scrupulous cataloguing of Godard’s uncountable connections with philosophical and artistic traditions – filiation which, for some scholars, can at least be traced back to the great essayist of the Early Modern period, Montaigne. The relevance of exploring the connection of Godard’s cinema with the history of art and philosophy is certainly manifold. Firstly, it allows us to question the director’s interest in renewing his relation to the past, which, according to de Baecque, was absent from his work for a long and significant time. Secondly, it invites us to reflect on Godard’s attitude towards history in times in which the demand for heritage film and period television drama was blooming. This paper, which corresponds to the second chapter of a doctoral research on Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer and Rivette’s common and growing concern with the representation of nineteenth-century literary and artistic sources in the aftermath of May 1968, focuses on Godard’s re-appropriation of romantic aesthetics in Passion (1982) and Prénom Carmen (1985). It is through the exploration of Godard’s contestation of bourgeois ideology behind the representational language of cinema that my paper attempts to answer the following issue: Could Godard’s concern with literary and artistic mythologies of Western culture – following the collapse of the revolutionary illusions of the Dziga Vertov Group – be regarded as a desire to meditate on the Hegelian tragedy, which foresaw the victory of ‘civilisation’, ‘the State’, the ‘light’ over that which is ‘immediate’, ‘elemental’, ‘the lower world’? Drawing on Aragon’s written praise of Godard as the new Delacroix, my paper argues that Godard’s return to nineteenth-century literary myths like Mérimée’s Carmen in Prénom Carmen (1985), or his attempt to reconstitute Goya, Ingres or Delacroix’s paintings as tableaux vivants in Passion (1982), can only be approached through the appreciation of form, colour and light, to the detriment of the storyline. Instead of engaging with nineteenth-century visual culture through the representational and binary system lying at the core of the idea of adaptation and/or translation, Godard witnesses his own times by restoring the romantic aesthetics of sketch and allegory in an attempt to evade ideological simplifications.

Thursday 12 March 2015: Michael Czorycki, ‘Journeys to Utopia and Back: Carlo Levi’s Political Pilgrimage and Twentieth-Century Italian Travel Writing on Eastern Europe’
Carlo Levi’s Il futuro ha un cuore antico (The Future Has an Ancient Heart), published in 1956, is an account from Soviet Russia and a model example of the subgenre of travel writing describing the author’s visits to the countries ruled by twentieth-century revolutionary regimes. Levi’s travel narrative illustrates, in an interesting way, the interconnections between literature and ideology and sheds light on the role of literary texts in creating what Tony Judt described as a ‘state of semi-communication’ between Europe’s West and East.
In his talk, Michael Czorycki will discuss the manner in which Levi’s ideological convictions, despite his intention to remain impartial, influence his representation of the places visited, and will argue that his account displays the main characteristics of a classic utopian text. In addition, drawing on recent studies of Soviet propaganda and hospitality techniques, he will explain how the visitor’s perceptions were manipulated by his hosts. (The traveller, in fact, never ventures outside the enchanted circle of pre-arranged, ‘ritual’ situations and itineraries). Il futuro ha un cuore antico can thus be read as a story of the author’s surrendering of his critical abilities and his failure to see through the mechanism of deception deployed by the regime. As a consequence, his ‘political pilgrimage’ (Paul Hollander) can be re-interpreted, allowing a reading that is unexpectedly ironic. Moreover, Levi’s journey, in the end, turns out to be a highly self-referential adventure, as Soviet Russia becomes a sort of mirror reflection of the nostalgically evoked world of the author’s own childhood – the pre-war period of positivism and belief in progress – epitomized by the Turin 1911 International Exposition.
Czorycki will also show how his work on Carlo Levi can be situated within the broader context of Italian literary representations of the European East. His research in this area is based on the theoretical premise Andrew Hammond summarized as follows: ‘the idea that some radically other Europe exists in the east, and that this otherness begins at a set of topographical co-ordinates locatable on the map, is one of the most enduring myths in Europe’s imaginative geography’. In fact, Eastern Europe, quite apart from its factual geographical, historical and cultural coordinates, has often functioned in the West as a literary topos, a sort of distorted reflection of its Western counterpart – inferior and ambiguous, irrational, semi-civilized and exotic – an imaginary space where Westerners’ hopes, fears and anxieties could be located. As a result, Western travel narratives dedicated to Eastern Europe quite often, instead of giving (more or less) faithful descriptions of the region, propose representations highly informed by a number of literary and cultural tropes and filtered through their authors’ cultural preconceptions and ideological bias.

Thursday 26 March 2015: Harri Veivo, ‘Politics, Cynicism and the Body in Poetry in the Nordic Countries in the 1960s’ (Scandinavian Literature and Film series)
The 1960s were a period of fundamental changes for societies and cultures in the Nordic countries. Phenomena such as rural exodus, urbanization, emigration and immigration, rising living standards, television, the emerging youth culture as well as global issues such as the war in Vietnam challenged prevailing values and conceptions on identity, life, politics and other vital issues. The poets and artists of the young generation sought to connect their work in a critical way with the social and political questions of the time, introducing into their texts foreign voices that would represent the multiple tensions of the rapidly changing society and questioning prevailing conceptions of literature and the arts. This eventually gave them political importance and a strong media presence. Yet they were also seeking to question the strict moral codes of the time through sex, alcohol, drugs and deviant behaviour, in modes that put forward the body and that connect them with the tradition of cynicism (as described by Michel Foucault). This libertarian and utopian agenda prefigured some of the political issues that were to gain in importance later, but it was also highly individual and conflicted with the collective efforts. In this paper, Harri Veivo examines a number of Nordic authors, texts and events that exemplify this conflict, using the cases also to examine general historical and theoretical issues concerning the arts, literature, politics and metapolitics.

Wednesday 8 April 2015: Benedikt Hjartarson, ‘Manifestations of Will: Towards a Theory of the International Avant-Garde and Its Manifestos’ (Scandinavian Literature and Film series)
The manifesto is traditionally assigned a central role in theoretical and scholarly writings on the historical avant-garde movements. The publication of manifestos and other programmatic texts was indeed a characteristic trait of the new ‘-isms’ that shaped and polarized the aesthetic field in Europe and beyond in the early twentieth century. This lecture will focus on the early period in the production and distribution of avant-garde manifestos from 1909 to 1923, which was marked by heated debates about the writings of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and his fellow futurists. Tracing the different reactions to Marinetti’s ‘art of making manifestoes’ gives us a significant insight into the cultural dynamics of the aesthetic field in different national contexts, be it in the alleged centres of avant-garde activities or in cultural, linguistic or geographical peripheries. The paper aims at giving an overview of these different responses, thus drawing links between new theoretical approaches to the manifesto and new approaches to the topography of the international avant-garde. The paper will consider manifestos and other programmatic writings of the avant-garde in Latin America as well as in Central and Eastern, Southern and Northern Europe, with a special focus on the Nordic region. The paper further aims at presenting a theoretical framework for analysing the early avant-garde manifesto as a textual medium, linking it to irrational notions of the will circulating in political, vitalist and esoteric discourse in the early twentieth century. The  manifesto will be discussed from a broad historical perspective as the driving force of an avant-garde project that aimed at evoking a new order of life by means of social revolution, cultural revitalization and spiritual regeneration.

Thursday 14 May 2015: Marine Authier (University of Kent, Department of French) ‘Unfolding the Mechanisms of Fragmentation in Marcel Proust’s Jean Santeuil
In 2013 the 100th Anniversary of Marcel Proust’s first publication of Du Côté de chez Swann (Swann’s Way) reminded us of Ala recherche du temps perdu’s (In Search of Lost Time) central place in French literary history and of a marked tendency for critics to focus their work on this last novel only. Deleuze, Guattari, Richard and Barthes, for instance, have considered and highlighted the fragmented universe described throughout the seven volumes of la Recherche. This paper aims to go back to Proust’s underresearched early works, more specifically Jean Santeuil (1895),to study the mechanisms of fragmentation and to determine whether it represents a starting point or peripheral experience of the fragment. Proust’s first novel Jean Santeuil was left unfinished in 1895, in the form of fragments and discontinuous bits of writing. Once gathered, they paradoxically form a linear plot as we follow the narrator Jean, a sensitive and nervous young man, from his childhood to his presentation to society. This paper will start by examining the novel’s ambiguous fragmented structure and will argue that, rather than considering the fragment as a symbol of incompletion or loss, it can be endlessly used and moved. The analysis will go on with the rich thematic use of fragmentation in Jean Santeuil. By looking at the critics Fraisse and Deleuze, we will firstly examine in detail the repetition of precise bits of writing which come back within the novel itself, but also a few years later in la Recherche. These echoes are precisely what make Jean Santeuil a unique novel in Proust’s work. We will then look at the representation of Jean’s universe which is divided into four separate but superimposed worlds (temporal, geographical, social and imaginary spaces) in order to demonstrate that the Proustian fragmentation is much more complex than simple divisions and splinters. This paper will argue that the relationship between fragmentation and ‘superposition’ found by Poulet and Richard in la Recherche already exists in Proust’s early work. This superposition is mainly achieved thanks to the narrator, who actively searches for small details in order to control and fix the fragmentation of the universe – leading to the disappearance of its frightening aspect. This paper will therefore conclude by underlying the positive experience of the fragment in Jean Santeuil.

Thursday 21 May 2015: Dominique Carlini-Versini ‘Marina de Van, Cinema and the Body’ (Postgraduate Research Seminar series)
Since the end of the 1990’s, a new trend has emerged in French cinema, labelled in various ways by critics as “New French Extremities”, “Cinema of Sensation” or Cinéma du corps. These films offer indeed a particular focus on the body, representing it in graphic ways and viscerally engaging the viewer in the cinematic experience. In my Skin (2002) by Marina de Van (1971-), offers a particularly striking example of this recent trend. In the film, Esther, played by de Van, is a young and successful market researcher, who accidentally hurts her leg at a party. This will lead her to apprehend her body in a new way and reject social expectations and constraints related to it.
This talk will examine the ways in which the body is portrayed in de Van’s film and interrogate notably the relevance of a feminist reading – which de Van herself rejects – of Esther’s body. It will question the use of violence against the body as a means of liberation and exploration of forbidden sensations. In addition to this, this paper will discuss the involvement of the viewer’s body in the cinematic experience throughout a reflection on the concept of “haptic image” (Beugnet 2007: 65). Drawing on the work of Gilles Deleuze and Martine Beugnet’s study of French contemporary extreme cinema, this paper will reflect upon cinema’s particular ability to involve mind and body and to “move the spectator into thinking” (Deleuze 1989: 156).

Wednesday 3 June 2015: Margot Waddell (Institute of Psychoanalysis, London)