Twentieth Century and Contemporary Literature


Easter Term 2018

Tuesday 24 April, 7.30pm: Drama Studio

Poetry reading: D.S. Marriott

UK launch of Duppies
In association with Materials Reading Series.

'Grime is payback for n-words and down-lows. It has dominion but no license for each dissolve is charged with an asbo. It makes music from a manor that is not-me, but what it gives has neither use-value nor beauty.

Grime is a medium of the unknown, it refuses everything but possibility: its violence is one without immunity, but its real is dispossession, and is inconsolable without knowing it.'

D.S. Marriott will be giving a rare UK poetry reading in Cambridge this coming week. This will serve as a UK launch for his most recent book, Duppies, published by Materials in 2017; copies will be available on the night. D.S. Marriott was born in Nottingham in 1963 of Jamaican parentage and was educated at the University of Sussex. He has taught there and now teaches at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He has written many articles on poetics and is the author of On Black Men, published in 2000 by the University Presses of Edinburgh and Columbia, New York, and Haunted Life, published in 2007 by the University Press of Rutgers, New Jersey. His collections of poems are Incognegro (Salt Publishing, 2005), Hoodoo Voodoo (Shearsman Books, 2008), The Bloods (Shearsman, 2011) and Duppies (Materials, 2017). A critical book, Whither Fanon?: Studies in the Blackness of Being is forthcoming from Stanford University Press in 2018.

Tuesday 1 May, 5-6.30pm: GR05

Cal Revely-Calder

‘Beckett on the Surface’

‘This paper is about Samuel Beckett and appearances. I'll be thinking about Beckett as a designer of plays (Footfalls and Play), as a writer of letters, and as a subject of photographs. The idea is to understand why first impressions, in Beckett's later career, seemed to be more intriguing, rebarbative, charming (etc.) to him than speculations on the meanings we might be tempted to read out of them. (I also want to consider how metaphors of 'surface' and 'depth' are, in obvious and not-so-obvious ways, both misleading and useful.) In doing this, I'm trying to reclaim something for both Beckett and superficiality. And as well as Beckett's texts, I'll be considering a range of superficial things from ballet shoes and embarrassment to a '70s Gucci bag.’

Cal Revely-Calder recently finished a PhD at the University of Cambridge on Samuel Beckett, criticism and spectatorship. He has won awards for literary and art criticism from The Guardian and Frieze.

Wednesday 9 May, 5-6.30pm: Judith E. Wilson Drama Studio

Nat Raha and Verity Spott

Seminar and poetry reading

In association with the Queer Cultures Seminar and Materials Reading Series.

Each speaker will give a paper (5.00-6.15), then a reading (6.20-7.00).

'since the soul in our poetic-
falls onto / echoed fabric
composite creolite britain is
orchestrations / cultural
breath divested // dips glottals

that they believe in their whiteness
viral fictions &; departments
monodrama / &; image
, interiors , customs &; screens'

Nat Raha is a poet and trans* / queer activist, living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her poetry includes two collections: countersonnets (Contraband Books, 2013), and Octet (Veer Books, 2010); and numerous pamphlets including ‘de/compositions’ (Enjoy Your Homes Press, 2017), ‘£/€xtinctions’ (sociopathetic distro, 2017), ‘[of sirens / body & faultlines]’ (Veer Books, 2015), and ‘mute exterior intimate’ (Oystercatcher Press, 2013). She’s performed and published her work internationally. She is undertaking a PhD in Creative & Critical Writing at the University of Sussex. Nat’s essay ‘Transfeminine Brokenness, Radical Transfeminism’ has recently been published in the South Atlantic Quarterly. Her paper will be on ‘A Queer Marxist [Trans]Feminism: Queer and Trans Social Reproduction’.

'Ahead of you is a perfect sequence of rational and professionally state sanctioned grills, routers and sieves. Behind you is a repressed derangement of habitation. Inside you, a screaming barb of lyric, passion, expression and defiance. Now sit tight for the probe. 'I never said that I was brave.''

Verity Spott is a poet, support worker, performer and musician from Hove, England. Books include Trans* Manifestos (Shit Valley, 2015), The Mutiny Aboard the RV Felicity (Tipped Press, 2017), Click Away Close Door Say (Contraband Books. 2017), We Will Bury You (Veer Books, 2017), and Gideon (Barque Press, 2014).

Tuesday 22 May, 5-8pm: SR24

Graduate symposium

The seminar annually hosts a group of the faculty's graduate students to present on work in progress or new projects. Each participant will speak for around twenty minutes, followed by the same amount of time for questions, feedback and discussion.

Imogen Cassels: ‘British surrealism, ghosts, forms, touch’

‘A paper plotting new ways of thinking about British surrealism, and in particular British surrealist poetry, through lenses of form, perception, play and ghosts.’

Helen Charman: ‘“I work to earth my heart”: purpose, labour and (re)production in the poetry of Denise Riley and Andrea Brady’

‘More limp puns abound. You conceived the child, but you can’t conceive of its death’. Here, in Time Lived, Without Its Flow and its accompanying elegy ‘A Part Song’ (2012), Denise Riley tries to articulate the difficulty of expressing maternal grief. This paper reads Riley’s elegies alongside Andrea Brady’s Mutability: Scripts for Infancy (2013)—an account of the birth of her daughter— and the explicitly political 'A Pinch of Salt' (2017): four texts that function as sites of convergence for the work of the parent, the work of the poet and the literary product itself. In doing so, it will extend Jahan Ramazani's 'economic substructure' of elegy to the transactional, transgressive character inherent to all reproductive writing. These texts move away from the Marxist basis of both writers’ early theoretical and lyric work, but their consideration of reproductive and artistic labour is intertwined with an increasingly pressing revolutionary imperative. ‘A Part Song’ was republished in Riley’s 2016 collection Say Something Back: the final section of the paper will read republication as a form of reproduction. If Riley’s reflexive elegy relies upon consuming its own vocabulary, what changes when the poem is placed in new surroundings? How does this relate to Brady's move from personal questions of birth and productivity in Mutability to her mention of the fight for reproductive rights in 'A Pinch of Salt'?’

Will Hall: ‘Cathected Reading/Reading Cathected’

‘To what extent has queer theory courted formalist ways of reading, and why? Focusing on accounts of queer reading in Leo Bersani's "Is the Rectum A Grave" and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's "Tendencies," I will chart the overinvestment in form that each critic attributes uniquely to aspects of gay life. It is difficult to imagine queer reading without a queer reader. In my talk, I will argue that Bersani and Sedgwick give us alternate versions of a psychodynamic account of queer formalisms. Whereas Sedgwick's queer reader commits herself to, and finds vital sustenance in, the mysterious power of sound, making the world hospitable through an investment in the merely formal features of language, Bersani's queer reader becomes, oddly contentless, a form himself, and therefore openly hostile to the networks of relations Sedgwick's theory seems destined to repair. Bersani argues convincingly that oppressive social structures are to some degree dependent on the stable significations the queer subject is uniquely positioned to challenge. In theory, this approach consigns queer politics to radicalness, and readers of Bersani (Lee Edelman notably) have encouraged gay people to embrace the radical anti-sociality, as a political stance, that would otherwise be foist on them by heteropatriarchal society. What distinguishes these two approaches (the Sedgwickian and the Bersanian) requires us to think about what happens to us when we read a poem, and about the nature of our emotional investments in putatively non-meaning features of language. Do we become like forms, or, conversely, do we apprehend stable networks of meaning, reconciling ourselves to them in the process of close reading? Examples will be taken from Frank O'Hara & Gerard Manley Hopkins.’

Kate Schneider: ‘A Short History of Postwar Reconstruction Via Humphrey Jennings's Swiss Roll Collages’

‘Throughout the 1930s, the filmmaker, writer, and artist Humphrey Jennings made a series of collages starring an ubiquitous stodgy cylindrical icon of Britishness: the swiss roll. These collages extract the swiss roll from the domain of the ordinary, its native habitat, and place it in foreign contexts. In one, a brightly rendered specimen peeps out from under an ornate commode, and in another, an enlarged swiss roll sits at the foot of the Matterhorn, looking as though it is about to bulldoze an alpine lodge. Yet in all of these pieces, despite an outwardly recognisable modernist collagist aesthetic, and Jennings’s own significant personal involvement in the Surrealist project, the swiss roll as a cultural object seems to inhibit or block an experience of these works as ‘properly’ Surreal. My paper uses these strange, lightly comical, and difficult to place collages to look forward to ideas of nationhood in postwar Britain; an examination of the refractions of the developments of the 1930s into the 1950s. It will consider the way that the swiss roll acts as a transhistorical icon of the clumsy, blundering front of ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ Britain, confrontational in its self-styling of its shortcomings, and use this to illuminate a highly charged manifestation of ‘muddling through’ that emerges in the 1950s as a distillation of the national character. Collage both takes and leaves, and textual muddle is its signature. How, then, might collage be strategically deployed to engage with the imminent demands of postwar reconstruction, a collective question of what exactly to take into the future, and what to leave behind? And might there be a pervasive feeling that an essence of Britishness might reside in the muddle itself? This paper aims to propose some tentative answers to these questions, via the medium of the swiss roll collage.’

Tuesday 5 June, 5-6.30pm: Judith E. Wilson Drama Studio

Lois Weaver and Jen Harvie

‘A Call and Response on Performing Anxieties and Desires’

‘Lois Weaver and Jen Harvie will give a participatory, collaborative, and part-performative presentation on performing anxieties and desires. This will draw on Unexploded Ordnances (UXO), the show Lois is currently touring internationally with her trailblazing lesbian feminist company Split Britches. UXO investigates ageing, anxiety, and unexplored potential, particularly seeking to consider elders' unexplored potential through hearing their/our desires. The presentation will consider some of the many sources of contemporary local and global anxieties, how desire and fantasy can contribute to social change in performance and beyond it, and the potential of conversation as a practical politics.’

Lois Weaver is Professor of Contemporary Performance at Queen Mary University of London, Engagement Fellow at the Wellcome Trust, and a performance artist, writer, director, and activist whose research interests include live art, solo performance, feminist and lesbian theatre, ageing, performance and human rights and the relationships between performance and public engagement. She co-founded Split Britches theatre company with whom she has made such shows as Miss America (2008), Lesbians Who Kill (1992), Upwardly Mobile Home (1984), and the current Unexploded Ordnances. She and Jen Harvie co-edited The Only Way Home Is Through the Show: Performance Work of Lois Weaver in 2015.

Jen Harvie is Professor of Contemporary Theatre and Performance at Queen Mary University of London. Focusing on the cultural politics of contemporary performance, her publications include Theatre & the City (2009), Fair Play – Art, Performance and Neoliberalism (2013), and The Only Way Home Is Through the Show: Performance Work of Lois Weaver, co-edited with Weaver (2015). She co-edits Palgrave Macmillan's Theatre & series, interviews performance makers on her podcast Stage Left with Jen Harvie, and is working on a monograph on feminist theatre and performance in the UK and an edited collection on the work of queer, working class performance artist Scottee.