2nd Session (15 November)

The Prison-House of Agency:
Neoliberal Hegemony and Popular Aesthetics in Britain and the US

Dr Jane Elliott
(King's College London)

6-8pm, Tuesday 15th November
Stewart House, room ST271 (2nd floor)

Dr Jane Elliott is Senior Lecturer in late 20th and 21st Century Literary and Cultural Studies. She is also Humanities Editor for The Public Intellectual journal. Dr Elliott's research focuses on post-1945 fiction, contemporary theory and the novel during and after postmodernism. Her recent publications include Theory After 'Theory', co-edited with Professor Derek Attridge (London: Routledge, 2011) and the monograph Popular Feminist Fiction as American Allegory: Representing National Time (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2008).

Her current research explores the conjoined aesthetic and political developments that have emerged since the turn of the 21st-century and the waning of the postmodern moment. Dr Elliott is currently working on a monograph that explores the intersection of neoliberal microeconomics, popular aesthetics and the Left theorization of agency in a variety of American and British novels and films, from the novel and film Never Let Me Go to the horror franchise Saw to Hurricane Katrina documentaries.

Recommended Reading:

Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979, trans. Graham Burchell (New York: Palgrave, 2004). Chapter 11, "28 March 1979," pp. 267-289.

Nikolas Rose, Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). Chapter 2, "Freedom," pp. 61-97.

Laurent Berlant, ‘Cruel Optimism: On Marx, Loss and the Senses’, New Formations 63 (Winter 2007/2008): pp. 33-51.

All are welcome to attend.


1st Session (October 18th)

Seeing Socialism: The Aesthetics of the Plan and the Transparency of Politics

Dr. Alberto Toscano
(Goldsmiths, University of London)

6-8pm, Tuesday 18th October
Senate House, Room 264 (2nd Floor)

Dr. Alberto Toscano is Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, and is perhaps best know for his numerous translations of the work of Alain Badiou. A cultural critic and a philosopher, Dr. Toscano has published books on the philosophical problem of individuation -Theatre of Production: Philosophy and Individuation between Kant and Deleuze (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2006)- and on the different readings and misreadings of the concept of fanaticism -Fanaticism: The Uses of an Idea (New York: Verso, 2010)-, as well as authoring articles on a diverse number of topics.

His recent work, from which this talk stems, is on the contemporary status of what Fredric Jameson refers to as 'cognitive mapping.' The project, which is soon to be published as a co-authored book entitled Cartographies of the Absolute (Zero Books), considers contemporary representations of capitalism in film and the visual arts. He is currently working on the relationship between art, political aesthetics and socialist planning, both in the revolutionary art of the 20s and 30s and in later critical debates about communism and 'transparency.'

Recommended reading:

Clark, TJ, Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), Chapter 3.

Stites, Richard, Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), Chapters 7 and 8.

Michelson, Annette (Ed.), Kino-Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov (London: Pluto Press, 1984), Dziga Vertov's film manifestos.

All are welcome to attend.


Session 2: Excrementality (Tuesday 7th June)

‘Excrementality’ in the movies: Can Hollywood be ‘incoherent’?

Dr. Dan Varndell (Southampton and Winchester)

6-8pm, Tuesday 7th June
Senate House, room G37 (ground floor)

Every Hollywood movie, asserts Andrew Britton, in whatever genre, “must at least allow for a conservative reading" (1991:201). However, since Robin Wood coined the term "excremental city" to describe so-called "incoherent" texts (like Taxi Driver) that refuse any meaning (conservative or otherwise), Film Theory has been guilty of ignoring certain "excremental" readings of popular cinema. “Postmodernity", write George Ritzer and Douglas Goodman, “is "in" the modern in another sense altogether. It is something like the food of the modern, but that part of the food that is indigestible, which cannot be easily incorporated into the system of modernity" (2002:151n). After well over a century of forms, perhaps cinema is no longer the modern machinery through which our postmodern desires are indulged.

This seminar seeks to explore cinema as a model for cultural repression using the metaphor of the flushing toilet, and investigates Hollywood "incoherence" as its excremental remainder, provoking several questions for discussion: Can Hollywood films be incoherent, or must they always allow for a conservative meaning? Can Wood's cinematic excrescences be considered the postmodern "bones" stuck in the throat of the modern itself? This provocation encourages an open and fluid discussion of excremental Hollywood, inviting cinematic examples from big-budget Blockbusters to Vietnam War films to engage fully the question of where our cultural waste really goes in the movies.

Recommended reading:

- Corrigan, Timothy, 1991. "The Incoherent Text", in A Cinema without Walls: Movies and Culture After Vietnam (New Brunswick & New Jersey: Rutgers University Press), Chapter 2 - "Illegible Films: Texts Without Secrets," pp. 51-79.

- Wood, Robin, 1986. "Illegible Films: Texts without Secrets", in Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan (New York, Chichester & West Sussex: Columbia University Press), Chapter 4 - "The Incoherent Text: Narrative in the 70s," pp. 46-55.

All welcome, any discipline.

N.B. Those of a mild disposition should note that toilet humour is probable.


Session 1: Interculturalism (Wednesday 25th May)


Wednesday 25th May, 6-8pm

Senate House, room 104 (first floor)


"Interculturalism and performance is perhaps the most talked about and controversial cultural practice of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, characterising at best a sharing and mutual borrowing of the manifestation of one theatre practice by another. At worst it features the annihilation of indigenous pre-modern practices by a rapacious ‘First World’ capitalism." - Brian Singleton, 2003.

"[P]rocesses of exchange between cultures have been going on at least since the onset of modernity and, as a result, cultures permanently undergo change and transition. This situation renders any attempt to draw a clear line between ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’ futile. Yet, this is not to say that differences between cultures do not exist. The differences are simply not fixed and given once and for all; they are permanently generated anew.
" - Erika Fischer-Lichte, 2009.

A heated controversy around intercultural performance has dogged theatre scholarship since the 1970s. Recently, however, there has been an attempt to move away from the term ‘intercultural’ and all it connotes. But what exactly is interculturalism and why has it been so contentious?

This session will begin with a presentation by Emer O’Toole (RHUL). Engaging with contemporary examples of theatre practice, she will ask whether intercultural tensions are truly dissolving or if they are being swept conveniently under the carpet. Emer is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Drama and Theatre at Royal Holloway. Using postcolonial theory, her thesis tackles the intercultural debate by suggesting that there is a relationship between rights of representation, the socio-political effects of a performance, and collaborators’ agency.

Recommended Reading

Schechner, Richard, "A Reply to Rustom Bharucha," Asian Theatre Journal, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Autumn, 1984), pp. 245-253.

Bharucha, Rustom, "A Reply to Richard Schechner," Asian Theatre Journal, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Autumn, 1984), pp. 254-260.

Supplementary Reading

Fischer-Lichte, Erika, "Interweaving Cultures in Performance: Different States of Being In-Between," New Theatre Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4 (November 2009), pp. 391-401.

All are welcome to attend.


Uncertainty Symposium: Saturday 11th June 2011

Uncertainty: Theory in the 21st Century

A Postgraduate Symposium

Saturday 11th June 2011

Centre for Creative Collaboration, 16 Acton Street, London, WC1X 9NG

Keynote speakers: Professor Martin McQuillan (Kingston) and Professor Mark Currie (QMUL)

'Symbol of Uncertainty', John Gilbert

‘The most harrowing contemporary fears are born of existential uncertainty’
– Zygmunt Bauman

We enter the second decade of the 21st Century less certain than ever about who ‘we’ are, where we are heading, or what kind of a society we want to be. This interdisciplinary symposium aims to interrogate the role of theory – literary, political, philosophical and sociological – in an uncertain time. In doing so, it hopes to render the very concept of uncertainty uncertain: that is, to place it under examination in a way that might help us think our way into a more ethically responsible future.


9.00: Registration and welcome

9:50: Opening remarks

10.00: Keynote 1: 'Priority Subjects', Professor Martin McQuillan (Kingston)

11.00: Break

11.15: Panel 1: Rethinking Criticism: Theoretical Uncertainty

  • ‘Uncertainty and Alan Kirby’s digimodernism’, Joe Barton (Newcastle)
  • ‘Theory Without Words: The Invisible Influence of Practical Criticism’, Angus Brown (Oxford)
  • ‘In the key of K: identifying states of knowing and not-knowing in relation to aphoristic and disconnected writing styles’, Naomi Wynter-Vincent (Sussex)
12.30: Lunch (own arrangements)

13.30: Panel 2: Representation and Uncertainty

  • ‘The Ethical Space of Mourning, Post-Terror’, Allan Rae (Stirling)
  • ‘Millennium Approaches: Apocalyptic Representations of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic’, Chisomo Kalinga (KCL)
  • ‘Fear of the Unstageable’, Karen Quigley (KCL)
14.45: Break

15.00: Keynote 2: 'Theoretical Approaches to the Unforeseeable', Professor Mark Currie (Queen Mary, University of London)

16.00: Break

16.15: Panel 3: Beyond Endings: Embracing Uncertainty

  • ‘Environment and humanity: a path towards an uncertain relationship’, Marco Bernardini (Reading)
  • ‘Pataphysics and the Integral Reality of String Theory’, Marc Özses, (Sussex)
  • ‘Towards the End of Now: Obsolescence and Futurity in Literary Study’, Aaron Hanlon, (Oxford)
17.30: Closing remarks and wine reception.

Registration for this event is now closed.


Session 5: Animals (Tuesday 29th March)

'Breathing the Same Air: Posthuman and Preanimal'

Dr. Steven Morrison
(Independent Scholar)

Tuesday 29th March, 6-8pm, Senate House, Room 102

"There is no scientific evidence whatever to support such a view [that somehow man is the ultimate triumph of evolution] and no reason to suppose that our stay here will be any more permanent than that of the dinosaur. . . . But although denying that we have a special position in the natural world might seem becomingly modest in the eye of eternity, it might also be used as an excuse for evading our responsibilities. The fact is that no species has ever had such wholesale control over everything on earth, living or dead, as we now have" (David Attenborough)

If posthuman and posthistorical man is an animal like any other, need this animal worry about the preposthuman and preposthistorical mess? Steven Morrison, independent scholar and Homo sapiens, will be worrying out loud about the sustainability of distinctions between human and animal with reference to extracts from the following:

Giorgio Agamben, The Open: Man and Animal, trans. Kevin Attell (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004).

John Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals (London: Granta Books, 2003).

All are welcome to attend.


Session 4: Speaker: Professor Robert Eaglestone (Monday 14th March)

'Discourses of Biopolitics, the Human and Mass Murder'

Professor Robert Eaglestone
(Royal Holloway)

Monday 14th March, 6-8pm, Senate House, Room G32

Robert Eaglestone is Professor of Contemporary Literature and Thought at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is Deputy Director (formerly Director) of the Royal Holloway Holocaust Research Centre, and is the series editor of Routledge Critical Thinkers. He works on contemporary literature and literary theory, contemporary philosophy and on Holocaust and Genocide studies. Robert is particularly interested in issues of ethics, aesthetics and the philosophy of history, and has spent some years working through a series of questions about the legacy of the Holocaust and the Second Word War in these fields. His publications include Ethical Criticism: Reading After Levinas (Edinburgh University Press, 1997), Doing English (Routledge, 1999; third edition 2009), and The Holocaust and the Postmodern (Oxford University Press, 2004). He has also recently co-edited, with Simon Glendinning, Legacies of Derrida: Literature and Philosophy (Routledge, 2008) and, with Elleke Boehmer and Katy Iddiols, J.M. Coetzee in Context and Theory (Continuum, 2009). He is currently completing a manuscript on the Holocaust and genocide in contemporary literature and culture, as well as a volume of the Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Literary and Cultural Theory (Volume 2: 1966 to Present Day).

All are welcome to attend.


Session 3: Violence (Monday 28th February)

"It is no doubt possible to create conditions under which men are dehumanized ... and, under such conditions, not rage and violence but their conspicuous absence is the clearest sign of dehumanization."
- Hannah Arendt


6-8pm, Monday 28th February
Senate House, room 103 (1st floor)

Is violence endemic to the human condition? What role does it play in the contemporary world? Can it ever be justified? And what ethical concerns does it raise for literature, the arts and critical theory?

Our third session this term will be introduced with a 10-minute 'provocation' by Dr Eva Aldea (Westminster and Goldsmiths). Eva's current research focuses on beheadings, including videos of terrorist beheadings. It argues that such violence can be understood as a system of signs, and asks if this is what makes it uniquely human.

The readings are extracts from the following:

  • Adriana Cavarero, Horrorism: Naming Contemporary Violence, Trans. William McCuaig (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009).
  • Slavoj Žižek, Violence: Six Sideways Reflections (London: Profile, 2009).

All are welcome to attend.


Session 2: Speaker: Professor Derek Attridge (Monday 14th February)

'What Does it Make You Feel?: Responding Affectively to Literature'

Professor Derek Attridge

(University of York)

Monday 14th February, 3-5pm Senate House, room 103 (1st floor)

Derek Attridge has published many influential books on literature and theory, most recently
The Singularity of Literature (Routledge, 2004), How to Read Joyce (Granta Books, 2007), and Reading and Responsibility: Deconstruction's Traces (Edinburgh University Press, 2010), as well as the forthcoming co-edited volume Theory After 'Theory' (with Jane Elliot, Routledge, 2010). His interests centre on the language of literature, but radiate in many different directions. Much of his work reflects his long association with the philosopher Jacques Derrida, a selection of whose work he has edited. In The Singularity of Literature, he raises the question of the distinctiveness of literature as a linguistic and social practice, and argues that a crucial element is the response to otherness that characterises both the writing of an inventive literary work and the reading of it as literature. This book is also informed by recent developments in ethics arising from the writings of Emmanuel Levinas. In September 2006 he won an ESSE Book Award for this work.

This session should appeal broadly to students of literature, as well as those from other disciplines with an interest in critical theory.

All are welcome to attend. We hope to see you there!


Spring Term, Session 1: Posthumanism (Monday 31st January)

Where does the 'human' end and the 'non-human' begin? Have we entered a 'posthuman' age, or were we ever really 'human' in the first place? What implications can a questioning of the 'human' have for gender, race, age, disability and ethics?

The general theme for this term's Literary and Critical Theory Seminars is 'The Idea of the Human', and our first session will be on the topic of 'posthumanism'. It will take place from 6-8pm on Monday 31st January in Senate House, room 103 (1st Floor). The readings are as follows:

  • Donna Haraway - 'A Cyborg Manifesto', in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp.149-181.
  • N. Katherine Hayles - 'Unfinished Work: From Cyborg to Cognisphere', in Theory, Culture & Society, 2006 vol. 23: 159-166.

The session will begin with a paper by
Louise LePage (PhD candidate and Visiting Lecturer in Drama at Royal Holloway, University of London). Louise's project aims to critically explore the identity and form of ‘the human’ in its representations as dramatic characters via an interrogation of its traditional borders with animals, machines, and the nonphysical (mind, ghosts, etc.). Her study adopts Donna Haraway’s cyborg as a trope to open up a posthumanist way of seeing and approaching identity, which re-constitutes the self as composed of multiple parts - natural and cultural - that extend beyond the borders of the skin to formulate an inherently provisional and protean identity and entity.

All are welcome to attend.


'Derrida' DVD Screening (Monday 10th January)

The Literary and Critical Theory Seminar is beginning the Spring term with a DVD screening of Derrida (2002, directors: Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman).

The screening will take place on Monday 10th January in Senate House, room G34, from 6-8pm. All are welcome to come along!

Here are some details on the film:

"This award-winning documentary gives an intimate portrait of the brilliant, controversial philosopher and intellectual French icon Jacques Derrida, whose theory of deconstruction has deeply influenced the studies of literature, philosophy, ethics, architecture and law, indelibly marking the intellectual landscape of the 20th and 21st centuries.

"Combining extremely rare private footage of Derrida with his reflections on violence, love and death, the film also investigates the concept of biography, exploring the relationship between the public and the private. Provocative, potent and entertaining,
Derrida marks an inspired collaboration between philosophy scholar Amy Ziering Kofman and filmmaker Kirby Dick, the director of Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist. The mesmerising score is courtesy of Ryuchi Sakamoto (Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, Gohatto)."

Hope to see you there!