Twentieth Century and Contemporary Literature

Please contact the convenors at no later than 24 hours before each seminar to request a link.

Easter Term 2021

Tuesday, May 11th, 5pm - Alex Campbell (Glasgow)
'Sacrificed to flow': Waste, Water and Volumetric Power in Documentary Poetry

Abstract:Through a comparative examination of two documentary poetic collections, Muriel Rukeyser’s The Book of the Dead (1938) and Rebecca Dunham’s Cold Water Pastoral (2017), this talk examines the modes through which water is configured as both the ‘tap’ and ‘sink’ of extreme energy frontiers. Following Christian Parenti’s claim that the ‘capitalist state has always been an inherently environmental entity’ and a distinctly ‘territorial institution’, this paper extends his assertion that ‘the preexisting use values of nonhuman nature are essential to capitalist accumulation, and [that] these are found upon the surface of the earth’ (2016), to consider the submarine and subterranean spatialities of the hydro and petro frontiers. The verticality inherent in these modes of production necessitates that we expand from ‘surface’ to consider the role that depth – or what social geographers have termed, volumetrics – play in the ability of the State to secure and accumulate capital. If, as Parenti suggests, it is the ‘modern State’s territoriality that delivers nonhuman nature to capital accumulation by way of place-based property regimes, [the] production of infrastructure, and [the] scientific and intellectual practices that make nonhuman nature legible and thus accessible’ (Parenti, 166), how do the multidimensional conditions of volume and atmosphere complicate or disrupt these ‘flat’ conceptions of territory? Furthermore, where the infrastructural mechanisms of pipelines, tunnels, and dams work to filter both oil and water into states of ‘pure abstract flow’ (Blackmore and Gomez, 2021), I consider how the poetic attentions of Rukeyser and Dunham work to reassert to the material liveliness of liquids as substances that leak, overflow, seep, diffuse, and spill and thus supersede these logics of containment. By emphasising water’s material capacities to disrupt, resist and suspend the linear logics of neoliberal progress, this paper examines how poets align the turbulence of liquidity with social conditions of resistance and an outright refusal to ‘go with the flow’.

Bio: Dr Alexandra Campbell is a Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Glasgow specialising in Poetry and Environment. Her current research interests revolve around issues of waste, energy, water and marine justice in contemporary world literature. She is particularly interested in examining how poetic texts manifest asymmetries of power and conditions of unevenness that are shaped by contemporary water crises, oceanic and otherwise. Further to her work on water she is increasingly fascinated by the emergent fields of Infrastructure Studies and Critical Future studies and the ways in which the poetics of infrastructure shape, condition, promise or prohibit certain ideas of the future.

Tuesday, May 25th, 5 pm - Pelagia Goulimari (Oxford), Chloe (dis)liked Virginia: Toni Morrison's Critical Revision of Mrs Dalloway, Modernity and Modernism in Sula

Abstract: I have been preparing an edited collection entitled After Modernism: Women, Gender, Race. I will be presenting my piece for this collection: I compare the modernity of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and Toni Morrison’s Sula (1963), in memory of my paternal grandparents. The edited collection will be published in 2022, the centenary of the annus mirabilis of modernism, 1922, at least in an Anglo-American context. Year of publication of Joyce’s Ulysses and T.S. Elliot’s The Waste Land in London, 1922 is also the year when my grandparents became child refugees in Eastern Thrace, on the border between Europe and Asia.

Bio: Dr Pelagia Goulimari is Co-Director of the interdisciplinary Oxford M.St. in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She is Co-Director of the Intersectional Humanities programme at the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH). Her publications include the single-authored books, Toni Morrison (Routledge, 2009) and Literary Criticism and Theory: From Plato to Postcolonialism (Routledge, 2014); and the edited collections, Postmodernism: What Moment? (Manchester UP, 2007), Women Writing Across Cultures: Present, Past, Future (Routledge, 2017) and Love and Vulnerability: Thinking with Pamela Sue Anderson (Routledge, 2020). She is the Editor-in-Chief of Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities (Routledge). Her recent and forthcoming publications include: the article, “‘Where are you (really) from?’ Transgender Ethics, Ethics of Unknowing, and Transformative Adoption in Jackie Kay’s Trumpet and Toni Morrison’s Jazz” in the edited collection, Contemporary African American and Black British Women Writers: Narrative, Race, Ethics, ed. Jean Wyatt and Sheldon George (Routledge, 2020); The Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Literary Theory (Oxford UP, 2021), co-edited with John Frow et al, where she has contributed articles on “Genders” and “Feminist Theory”; and the edited collection, After Modernism: Women, Gender, Race (2022).

Tuesday, June 8th, 5pm - Benjamin Bateman (Edinburgh)
Desiring Distance: Andrew Holleran's Dancer From the Dance

Abstract: Andrew Holleran’s novel Dancer From the Dance (1978) is often cited as the epitome of and a hymn to the sexual excesses and experiments of New York City’s gay disco culture. Less acknowledged is the novel’s interest in imagining a queer protagonist, Malone, who cannot be had and whose ritual disappearance is the precondition of the artistic community that forms around him. Thinking with Giorgio Agamben’s reflections on acedia and melancholy, I argue that the novel offers some underappreciated lessons on the creative value of lockdowns and social distancing, making it a resource to the HIV/AIDS era that soon followed it and to the coronavirus pandemic that preoccupies us now.

Bio: Dr Benjamin Bateman is a lecturer in Post-1900 British Literature at the University of Edinburgh, having previously taught at the University of Virginia and served as the director of The Center for the Study of Genders and Sexualities at California State University, Los Angeles. Benjamin is currently the lead judge for The James Tait Black Memorial Prize in Fiction and the People and Equalities Director for the School of Literatures, Languages, and Cultures (LLC). Benjamin's primary research interests lie in modern and contemporary literature, queer theory, and the environmental humanities. His first book, The Modernist Art of Queer Survival (Oxford University Press, 2017) examines precarious and collaborative forms of survival in the fiction and autobiographical prose of Oscar Wilde, Henry James, E.M. Forster, and Willa Cather. In his newest work on 'queer disappearance,' Benjamin is bringing novels by Forster and Cather into conversation with more recent LGBT and climate change fiction to explore how queer communities' stubborn attachments to despair, discretion, deprecation, and disappearance offer a counterpoint to the ecologically destructive and self-inflationary hyperproductivity of contemporary biopolitics and neoliberalism. Early material from this project has recently appeared in ISLE and Contemporary Women's Writing, and the full manuscript – entitled Queer Disappearance in Modern and Contemporary Fiction – is under contract with Oxford University Press.