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Centre for Modern European Literature and Culture

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Lectures and seminars 2015-16

Below is a list of Centre for Modern European Literature events for the 2015-16 academic year.

Thursday 22 October 2015: Dr Rebecca Braun (University of Lancaster), ‘Longing to Belong? The Trope of the Austrian ‘Nestbeschmutzer’ amidst Contemporary German Constructions of Authorship’

This paper outlines a number of different ways of thinking about how authors can have wider social significance, as well as tracing how key figures have used their literary writing to probe or interfere with the very notion of a wider social role (or roles) in the latter half of the twentieth century. I set out my ideas surrounding the place / placelessness of authors first in the context of the immediate post-war period across German-speaking Europe, and then look at the particular case studies provided by Ingeborg Bachmann and Thomas Bernhard in the Austria of the 1970s and 1980s, and now. Both writers have become part of the Austrian canon, not just in terms of a normative body of ‘national’ literature, but also in respect of a much wider national cultural industry that includes tourism, popular exhibitions, and regional cultural events. I ask how the stance of the liminal, blasphemous ‘Nestbeschmutzer’ (literally, someone who dirties their own nest; a ‘traitor’), which both authors deliberately cultivated in their work, maps on to such subsequent normative appropriation. This allows me to explore what such processes may tell us about the contemporary Austrian experience of authorship for a wide variety of literary and non-literary stakeholders, as well as how the Austrian context relates to other models developed in Germany over the last sixty years.

Thursday 3 December 2015: Dr Áine McMurtry (King’s College London), ‘“To use syntax in order to cry, to give a syntax to the cry”: Profane Deterritorializations in Contemporary Multilingual Writings’

Despite documentation of more than 21,000 fatalities at the maritime borders of the EU since 1988, there remains an alarming lack of information about where and how people die at sea. In order to reflect on the humanitarian crisis that has been provoked by the political fortress-barrier at Europe’s southern borders, this paper examines recent works by multilingual writers that pay testimony to migrant fatalities at sea, in particular José Oliver’s poem ‘ostersonntag, travestien’ (2010) and Caroline Bergvall’s Drift (2014).  Drawing on aspects of Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘minor literature’ as detailed in Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (1975)and elaborated in A Thousand Plateaus (1980), I suggest that formal experimentation in these works promotes a deterritorialization of language that devises radical witness for the current crisis in the Mediterranean where lives are being – quite literally – lost, every day. Reflections on the profane by Walter Benjamin and Giorgio Agamben provide a further framework against which to assess the philosophical and political critique within these writings.

Thursday 21 January 2016: Dr Roman Léandre Schmidt, ‘Are “European” Intellectual Journals Possible?’

From a publisher’s perspective, intellectual journals are rarely a lucrative idea, and transnational constellations make things even worse. In a meeting with writers who tried to launch a genuinely European review, Spiegel editor Rudolf Augstein announced in 1962 that he was willing to invest in a literary weekly with a print run of 50,000 under one condition: it mustn’t become an international venture. Since then, both Europe and the press have changed dramatically, but not when it comes to publishing across borders. In my lecture, I will investigate three international publishing networks – Lettre internationale, Liber, and Le Monde diplomatique – that have tried to change this status quo over the past thirty years. What were their motives, how did these networks organize, what kind of transnational imaginary was at play, and, importantly, what were the conditions for success? By retracing success stories and cautionary tales, I will try to give some empirical grounding to the often very lofty and excessively normative debate about ‘European media’.

Wednesday 27 January 2016: Professor Dirk Van Hulle: ‘Genetic Criticism and the Extended Mind’

This research seminar examines modern manuscripts from the perspective of cognitive philosophy, notably the Extended Mind hypothesis, introduced by Andy Clark and David J. Chalmers. According to this post-Cartesian paradigm, cognitive processes do not exclusively take place ‘in’ the head, but in constant interaction with an external environment. This interaction is regarded as a cognitive system in its own right. The central question in the seminar concerns the relevance of this paradigm to the study of modern manuscripts, genetic criticism and literary studies in general.

Thursday 28 January 2016: Dr Lucia Ruprecht, ‘On Supplicants and Dancers: Profane Liturgies in Franz Kafka, Niddy Impekoven, Charlotte Bara and Mary Wigman’

‘Once when […] I was watching the other people praying, my eye was caught by a young man who had flung his long emaciated figure on the ground. From time to time he clutched his skull with all his strength and, moaning loudly, beat it in the palms of his hands on the stone floor’, we read in Kafka’s ‘Conversation with the Supplicant’. Evoking the onlooker’s intense curiosity, such scenes demand to be read within the larger framework of what I would like to call the early twentieth century’s gestural imaginary. My lecture will pace out this imaginary between the writings of Kafka and the dances of Niddy Impekoven, Charlotte Bara, and Mary Wigman. Tracing the dialectical dynamic between the profanation of religion and the sacralisation of art, it addresses gestural performances which reflect back on the forms of authorship that they transport.

Wednesday 3 February 2016: Professor Dirk Van Hulle: ‘Modern Literary Manuscripts and Intertextuality’ (Leverhulme Lecture)

The issue this Leverhulme lecture addresses is the question to what extent the notion of ‘intertextuality’ is compatible with manuscript research and genetic criticism. The introduction of the term intertextuality implied a new emphasis on the reader, which distinguishes intertextual analysis from traditional ‘critique des sources’ or what is sometimes pejoratively called ‘source hunting’. The emphasis on the writer and the dynamics of the writing process in genetic criticism may at first sight seem at odds with intertextual analysis, but they are not as dissimilar as they may seem, and a rapprochement between these disciplines may be mutually beneficial to investigate the role of the reader with regard to the intertext and the ‘avant-texte’, and their relationship to the published text. Manuscripts by writers such as Samuel Beckett will serve as case studies

Thursday 25 February 2016: Professor Werner Michler, ‘Kleist and Profanity’

Even within the new secular culture of the early nineteenth century in Europe, the writings of Heinrich von Kleist are unique in their insistent testing of the central concepts, terminology and scenarios of the profane. Kleist secularises secularisation in two ways. On the one hand, he presents the new phenomena that had replaced religious, sacralised tradition – the institutions of the post-absolutist state, the modern family, individual property and reconfigured gender relations – in extreme and paradoxical situations: a church service to give thanks for the gift of life ends in lynch justice (‘The Earthquake in Chile’, 1807), iconoclasm leads to acts of repentence carried out in a lunatic asylum (‘St Cecilia’, 1810) and diplomacy and love culminate in anthropophagy (Penthesilea, 1808). On the other hand, the new concept of „Kunstreligion“ (art as religion) is also challenged in his works as a possible replacement for traditional sources of authority and power.

Tuesday 1 March 2016: Professor Dirk Van Hulle, Genetic Criticism and Digital Scholarly Editing

In the dynamics of literary and other writing processes, creative undoing plays an important role in the dialectics between composition and decomposition. It entails more than just the sum of all deletions and omissions, and therefore it exceeds the realm of traditional collation. Creative undoing comprises all the stages of a work’s genesis (exogenesis, endogenesis and epigenesis) and works both on a microlevel and on a macrolevel. The Beckett Digital Manuscript Project will serve as a case study to investigate how digital editing can pay extra attention to creative undoing in order to study textual phenomena across versions, involving genetic paths, computer-assisted collation and the inclusion of a writer’s digitized personal library.

Wednesday 2 March 2016: Emilio Gomez Barranco, Redefining the Policy of Authors in the Digital Age: The Case of Albert Serra

The Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra is arguably one of the most radical, singular and controversial auteurs of our time. His meteoric career trajectory has taken him from a state of complete ostracism to international critical acclaim. His first feature film, Crespià: the film not the village (2003), was rejected by festivals and never commercially released, and yet in 2010 Serra was listed amongst the fifteen most significant directors of the 21st Century in the highly esteemed film magazine Cahiers du cinema. The aim of this paper is to draw a chronology (2003-2013), critically traced from a Bordieauian perspective, of the build-up of Albert Serra’s auteur status, analysing the roles of all cultural agents involved (including critics, festivals, institutions, academia and filmmakers). Mapping these complex cultural processes (taste-making, agenda-setting) will allow us to understand how the concept of authorship has been transformed in the Digital Age. In this sense, the case of Albert Serra works as a paradigm of how the accessibility of affordable digital equipment in recent years has provided creators with unprecedented levels of creative freedom. It is this freedom which has been enshrined within film theory and criticism since the development of “La politique des auteurs”, or auteur theory, as featured in Cahiers du cinema in the 1950s.

This paper is an adapted extract of The Hypermodern Turn in Spanish Cinema: Filmmaking in the Margins of the Industry, which focuses on the origins and evolution of the so-called Otro cine español

Thursday 3 March 2016: Professor Stephanos Stephanides, The Intimate Estrangement of Homecoming

Beginning with the vantage point of the cramped space of a fractured island, from which I write, with its overlay and rift of cultural imaginaries, I will explore and reflect on the notion of nostos (or homecoming) in a selection of Mediterranean and world poetry. I will ruminate on Deleuze and Guattari’s notions of minor literature and deterritorialization to articulate a perspective on spatial visions of the vernacular and the cosmopolitan, the national and the mythical, in poetic moments of intimate estrangement. I will begin with the Alexandrian poet Cavafy’s ‘Returning Home from Greece’ (1914), which opens a dialogue of identity not in relation to territory but to open seas, in terms of worldly estrangement, in signs of mediation, and in the body’s intelligibility unfolding new and strange centres of gravity in the energy, erotics and entropy involved in subjecting oneself to another non-symmetrical to oneself, and continue the discussion with poems by George Seferis, Aimé Césaire, Joseph Brodsky, Derek Walcott, and contemporary Cypriot writers such as Niki Marangou, Andriana Ierodiaconou, Gür Gench and myself.

Thursday 17 March 2016: Mylène Branco, ‘Taylorism and the body in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We

Often referred to as the first major anti-utopia, or dystopia, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1924) portrays, what George Woodcock has noted, ‘particular aspects of the trends towards Utopia which seemed to him the most dangerous’ (Woodcock 1956: 91). Imagining the future society of OneState, whose entire social life is based on the rule of reason, Zamyatin’s novel powerfully captures the 1920s tendencies towards an industrial regimentation. Inspired by Taylor’s principles of Scientific Management, the citizens of OneState are subjected to the so-called Table of Hours, which dictate their every movement with scientific precision, to the extent that they behave like machines. This, inevitably, puts the body into focus. This paper will give a historical overview of the origins and concerns of Taylorism. It will analyse how human activities and behaviour are shaped by American theories of industrial reformation and how these have developed in the Soviet Union. Furthermore, it will explore how the political structures of a totalitarian state are designed to keep the human body in its mechanised condition. Drawing on postcolonial theory, it will examine how this affects the self, not only physically but also psychologically.

Thursday 24 March 2016: Prof. Emeritus Karl Wagner, ‘Profanity in Thomas Bernhard and Ernst Jandl’

Thursday 31 March 2016: David Bremner, ‘Mallarmé’s Calculator’

Mallarmé’s 1897 poem ‘A Throw of the Dice’ obliquely narrates the wrecking of a ship, the ‘Master’ of which, just before being submerged by the waves, hesitates to throw the dice held in his clenched fist. Cryptically, he expects that his dice-throw, were he to make it, would result in a ‘unique Number that cannot be another’. Given that poetry and mathematics are obviously not the same thing, does a philosophical consideration of the status of numbers tell us anything about the general relationship between form and content in poetry? A necessary first step towards an answer is an engagement with the tradition which starts from the insight that following the waning of religion, rational knowing has to be flattened into the irrational flux of feeling(Nietzsche-Heidegger), then moves to the conclusion that the sensuous, opaque ‘musical’ dimension of poetry must be directlyinvested with newly ‘obscene’ libidinal drives (Bataille) or productive instabilities of force (certain moments in Deleuze). These thinkers tend to collapse the distinction between form and content, suspicious that the intelligible, ’empty’ forms of mathematics would squeamishly deny their own earthly conditions of emergence. This presentation will look to the ‘non-philosophical’ theory of François Laruelle, which suggests on the contrary that numbers can be seen as wedded to an irreducible blindspot in philosophy’s attempts to preside over the direct running-together of feeling and knowing, and that mathematics and poetry might in fact be seen as allies in reopening this gap.

Wednesday 6 April: Professor Dirk Van Hulle, ‘Marginalia and the Modernist Mind’

Many modernist writers were preoccupied with the workings of the mind and this interest has sometimes been described in terms of an ‘inward turn’. Recent paradigms in cognitive philosophy, however, regard the mind as ‘embodied’, ‘embedded’, ‘enactive’ or ‘extended’, suggesting that the mind is not limited to the inside of the skull. In spite of their so-called ‘inward’ focus, literary modernists surprisingly often present cognitive processes as forms of enactive cognition, involving the environment. The role of this ‘Umwelt’ in the evocation of fictional minds finds its counterpart in writers’ libraries as part of their immediate surroundings. The interaction between these intelligent agents and their environments leaves traces in the margins of their books. This cognitive perspective is the starting point for an exploration of writers’ libraries, marginalia, reading notes and their hermeneutic potential.

Thursday 7 April 2016: Dr Robert Gillett, ‘Testing Taboos: Hubert Fichte’s Versuch über die Pubertät (1974)’

By any standards, Hubert Fichte’s Versuch über die Pubertät is an extraordinary novel. First published in 1975, it is about love and language, religion and science, sado-masochism and the criminal justice system, terrorism and the emergence of the West German state. And because it treats its ostensible theme of a homosexual puberty around 1949 in such an eminently intersectional fashion, it has as two of its central concerns firstly the socio-linguistic structures that make ideas of blasphemy and profanity possible and secondly the psycho-political forces that lead to blasphemy and profanity as an oppositional practice. By exploring the novel from this point of view, I hope to make sense both of the work itself and of the curious reception it received in a West Germany traumatized by the aftermath of the 1968 revolution and riven by the activities of the Red Army Faction.

Thursday 12 May 2016: Dr Rubén Peinado Abarrio: ‘The (Often-Mentioned but Rarely Explained) Influence of Raymond Carver on Post-1990 Spanish Narrative’

Thursday 2 June 2016: ‘Coercive and Oppressive Corruption as a Precursory Factor of Revolt in the Maghrebi Society through L’Homme Rompu by Tahar Ben Jelloun’

If society’s future depends on people’s global aspirations and the world view of leaders, it is also symptomatic of the orientation given by each individual to life in their environment.

This paper, taking Tahar Ben Jelloun’s L’Homme Rompu as its primary text, will examine the passive economic corruption that has been endemic in Moroccan society for some considerable time. Ben Jelloun’s novel – direct, frank and not adhering to hackneyed phrases – was produced after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, during a period of resurgent democratic movements demanding freedom of expression in the Middle East, the Arab Maghreb, and Europe. Consequently, this critical discussion of the novel, applied through the lens of Jürgen and Ursula Link’s ‘Interdiscursive Events’ that identify a ‘System of Collective Symbols’, will allow access to elements of a coercive and oppressive corruption grounded in the view, conception and attitude of a group of people for whom passive economic corruption self-evidently represents the normative foundation of social life.

Application of the System of Collective Symbols – not limited to the fluctuating nature of words and expressions – will facilitate close examination and excavation of the evident and contradictory nature of ideas expressed in Ben Jelloun’s text. This theoretical framework, relating to expressions or groups of words, will be used in order to present clearly the multifarious contours of endemic corruption, which – in their representation in Ben Jelloun’s text – arguably foreshadow the Arab Spring.