Twentieth Century and Contemporary Literature

The Twentieth Century and Contemporary Research Seminar is a forum for scholars to present research on aspects of literature and culture in this century and last. While the seminar serves as a testing ground for new ideas that push against the expectations of period and discipline, it is also home to our lively community of postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers, providing a valuable resource within the Faculty.

Over the next three terms, we will also be running a series of 'Contemporary Writers' Readings', in which three invited contemporary poets and novelists read from their latest work or works-in-progress, followed by a public conversation.

If you have any questions please contact the current convenors - Juliette Bretan (jb2112@cam.ac.uk) and Lauryn Anderson (lma44@cam.ac.uk).'

Monday 30 January, 5pm-7pm - English Faculty Room, GR04

Noreen Masud (Bristol)

'What We Do in Flat Places'

How do flat places make us feel? In this talk, I share part of the introduction from my monograph-in-progress Flat Feeling. Starting with Gerald Murnane, and moving briefly through Vernon Lee, T. S. Eliot, Thomas Mann, George Orwell, W. H. Auden and Philip Larkin, I track and complicate the affects associated with plunging and level landscapes in the early years of the twentieth century, as Western cultures consolidated their colonial grip on the Australian bush and American prairies. The affective division is long-wearing: mountains are sources of inspiration, poetry and sublimity, while flat landscapes are variously prosaic, ‘savage’, bleak, boring or horrifying. In this talk, looking beyond these straightforward binaries, I suggest that certain writers – including Larkin and Orwell, at particular moments – find in flat landscapes the potential for modes of affective response, and models of empathic attachment, which have resisted identification and narration. If landscape’s rises and falls might model secure emotional rhythms of response and counter-response between itself and a viewer or navigator, then a flat landscape – a space without contours – might model a space in which attachment goes wrong, or happens in less legible ways. A cluster of relevant feelings here might include: asexuality, arelationality, closetedness as way of life, neurodiversity, trauma, resistance to surveillance, queerness as austerity, fatigue, a reframing of love towards the inert and the inanimate, misdirected desire, the erotics of forgetting, the pleasures of failed or mediated intimacy, attachments which seem to foreclose themselves as bonds to which one has no right.

Tuesday 14 February, 5pm-7pm - English Faculty Room, SR24

Jack Parlett (Independent Scholar)

'"A Blaze that Only Lovers See": Voice, Flamboyance and Amy Winehouse'

It can seem difficult to remember the singer Amy Winehouse without recourse to over-familiar narratives; the tortured soul and self-destructive poet of the heart, who carried forth the message of the blues at the cost of her own life. In literary representations, she has been figured as both troubling absence and cultural icon, a songwriter whose voice and words are bound inextricably to her biography. This paper seeks to explore the stakes of the metaphors that attend Winehouse’s legacy, and to look closely at her lyrics. In doing so, it will also suggest the concept of flamboyance as a meeting point. A word originally associated in French with flames and fire, ‘flamboyant’ can illuminate various aspects of Winehouse’s work; her exaggerated personae, her musical appropriations and the history and form of the torch song.

Tuesday 28 February, 5pm-7pm - English Faculty Room, SR24

Emma West (Birmingham)

'The Poet's Pub'

In a BBC broadcast on 2 April 1937 W. B. Yeats asked listeners to imagine themselves in ‘a poet’s pub’. Over the next twenty minutes, poems were recited and songs sung, accompanied by tankards banging on tables. Just a few months later, Yeats’ vision became a reality. Headed by the Poet Laureate John Masefield, poet Louis Macneice and the actress Sybil Thorndike, the rather pompously named Committee for Verse and Prose Recitation arranged readings in pubs across the UK. The ‘V and P’ weren’t the only ones bringing the arts into the pub. From the 1930s to the 1960s pubgoers could experience poetry, plays, exhibitions and classical concerts all while they supped their pints. The Architectural Review ran a competition to design the ‘public house of to-morrow’; modernist and Art Deco pubs began to appear; and there was a revival in artist-painted inn signs. Drawing on brewing periodicals and archives, this talk will introduce the ‘Art and the Public House’ movement, exploring how brewers used the arts to make pubs respectable. It’s a story about class, gender, and taste, about gentrification and artwashing. I’ll also shine a light on the many women who designed inn signs, including the playwright, poet and artist Violet Rutter, whose papers are held at the University of Cambridge library.