Special One-off Seminar: Professor Monika Fludernik

'Stylistic Issues in Dickens From a Cognitive Approach'

Professor Monika Fludernik
(University of Freiburg)

3-5pm, Monday 24 June
Room 246, Senate House, Bloomsbury 

Dickens is one of the foremost craftsmen of English style and uses a wide variety of techniques and devices in his novels. The lecture will look at Dickens' language from a stylistic and cognitive perspective, analysing Dickens'  style from the standpoint of its relevance to perception, cognition and cognitive processes. Among the aspects of Dickens'  language treated there will be metaphor, syntax and tense. Cognitive issues will be examined on the level of the narrator's discourse as well as on the level of characters' psyche.

Monika Fludernik is professor of English literature and culture at the Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg, Germany, and is renowned for her contribution to the field of literary theory, particularly that of narratology. Her Towards a ‘Natural’ Narratology (1996) was the co-winner of the Perkins Prize of the Society for the Study of Narrative. She won the Landesforschungspreis Baden-Württemberg (State Research Prize) in 2001 and has been a corresponding member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences since 2000 and of the Academia Europaea (London) since 2008. Besides narratology and the linguistic approach to literature, her interests include postcolonial issues, eighteenth-century aesthetics, law and literature, and medieval and Renaissance studies. She is currently working on a study of prison settings and prison narratives. A larger project deals with narrative structure in English literature between 1250 and 1750.

This special event will be the final Seminar of the year. All are welcome to attend.


Spring Term 2013: Session 5

Are Critical Theories Conspiracy Theories?

Dr Devorah Baum

6-8pm, Wednesday 20th March
Room 264, Senate House, Bloomsbury

This talk will trace certain of the strains and influences on the ‘suspicious hermeneutics’ of 20th Century critical thought – with reference to Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Foucault, Derrida, Sedgwick, Bloom, Žižek, &c – back to their origins in the Enlightenment (Cartesian) rationality to which these thinkers are normally counterposed, and forward on to our current era, described by journalist Jonathan Kay as the age of the conspiracy theory. In so doing, the talk will describe an ineluctable mirroring between conspiracism and rationality itself, making the case that claims to knowledge are, in a certain sense, bound to be paranoid. With examples from postwar literature (e.g. Saul Bellow) and with reference to Trutherism (a major contemporary conspiracy movement suspicious of the ‘official’ version of events on 9/11), it will be seen how the ‘radical doubt’ espoused by many critical theories and all conspiracy theories is very often a form of radical certainty predicated on parallel claims to have evaded worldly deceptions by means of the inoculating promise of self-knowledge. 

Dr Devorah Baum is Lecturer in English at the University of Southampton. Her interests include the return of religion, the influence of religion on contemporary literature and philosophy, the relationship between religion and violence and between religion and psychoanalysis, and Jewish literature and philosophy; as well as more generally hermeneutics, critical theory, Jacques Derrida, psychoanalysis, and post-war American literature. 

Dr Baum has recently begun working on a project exploring the affective and rhetorical roles of Knowledge. Be it social, political, economic or scientific, Knowledge is widely assumed to be an unquestionable good whose validity and durability persists irrespective of the motives, desires, fears, needs or ambitions of those who pursue it, and seen variously as empowering, beneficial, and at base context-independent: transferable without fundamental changes to what it is. 

The project considers some of the side-effects of the ‘Information Age’ and the ‘Knowledge Economy’ (including paranoia, conspiracy theories, information addiction, fundamentalism, managerialism, political correctness, &c) and examines the ways in which Knowledge is variously used as a defence, refuge and inoculation against the anxiety of uncertainty, not Knowing, or the inevitable but strangely unbearable thought of being (in the) wrong.

This is our final session of the Spring term. All are welcome to attend.


Spring Term 2013: Session 4

'Caring' for the Environment: Notes Towards a New Materialist Critique

Dr Adeline Johns-Putra

6-8pm, Wednesday 27th February
Room G35, Senate House, Bloomsbury

This talk offers a theorization of the ethic of care that is often invoked in the name of environmental sustainability and specifically eco-feminism: care for the nonhuman environment enfolded with a concern for our human descendants. I consider this environmentalist ethic of care through the ontological project of new materialism currently associated with the work of Karen Barad and Timothy Morton, among others. Attending to the new materialist tendency to discuss ontology as agency and to conceive of being in terms of becoming, I propose that care too has to be discerned as always becoming, that it is to be considered—to invoke Heidegger—not as ontic but as ontological. And yet, pace Heidegger, I suggest that, in an environmental ethics of care, care is more fruitfully thought of not as a condition for ontology (as in Heidegger’s Sorge or “worry”) but as itself deserving of ontological query. In other words, care is not the means by which agency and action occur; it is itself agential. Such a reconsideration of care has profound implications for current environmental care ethics and its representation in contemporary literature, in which the conceptualisation of care as static, grounded and stable often results in unproductive discussions about who cares more (men or women?) and what objects of care should be prioritized (human or nonhuman? future or current generations? charismatic or uncharismatic? mega or microfauna?).

Suggested preparatory reading

Karen Barad, 'Posthumanist Performativity: Towards an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter', Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2003, 28.3, 801-831, available

Dr Adeline Johns-Putra is Reader in English Literature and English Subject Leader at the University of Surrey. She is author of Heroes and Housewives: Women’s Epic Poetry and Domestic Ideology in the Romantic Age (Peter Lang, 2001) and The History of the Epic (Palgrave, 2006). Her current research takes her Romanticist interests in another direction, that of landscape and the environment, both in the nineteenth century and in contemporary literature. She was co-investigator, with geographer Professor Catherine Brace, on the AHRC-funded network, ‘Understanding Landscape through Creative Auto-ethnographies’. With Professor Brace, Adeline has co-edited an interdisciplinary volume of essays entitled Process: Landscape and Text (Rodopi, 2010). She is now part of a major interdisciplinary project, funded by the European Social Fund. Called ‘From Climate to Landscape: Imagining the Future’, the project involves ecologists, geographers and literary scholars in comparative analyses of scientific, social and cultural imaginings of climate change. Adeline is currently co-writing a monograph, with Dr. Adam Trexler, on contemporary literary representations of climate change.

All are welcome to attend.


Spring Term 2013: Session 3

5 Bruno Latours

In collaboration with the Contemporary Fiction Seminar

5 short papers exploring different aspects of Latour’s thought

6-8 PM, Wednesday 6th February
Council Chamber, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Charles Clore House, 17 Russell Square    

Mark Blacklock
Hallvard Haug
Daniel Rourke
Tony Venezia
Andy Weir

All are welcome to attend.


Spring Term 2013: Session 2

'Problems with Trauma Theory'

Professor Tim Armstrong 
(Royal Holloway, University of London)

6-8pm, Wednesday 30th January
Room G35, Senate House, Bloomsbury

Tim Armstrong is Professor of Modern English and American Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London. His main research areas are Modernism, American literature, literature and technology, the body (including such areas as sexology, bodily reform, cinema, and sound); and the poetry of Thomas Hardy. He is author of Modernism, Technology and the Body: A Cultural Study (1998), Haunted Hardy: Poetry, History, Memory (2000), Modernism: A Cultural History (2005), and, most recently, a book on slavery as cultural metaphor, The Logic of Slavery: Debt, Technology and Pain in American Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012) and is now writing a study of modernist localism. He also has a long-term project on the literature and culture of risk and disaster from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. He co-edits the Edinburgh University Press series Topics in Modernism and co-organizes the London Modernism Seminar. |
All are welcome to attend.


Spring Term 2013: Session 1

'Enduring Consolations'

Dr David James
(Queen Mary, University of London)

6-8pm, Wednesday 23rd January
Senate House, Room G35 (Ground Floor)

In a now often-quoted NYRB essay contrasting Joseph O’Neill with Tom McCarthy, Zadie Smith raised a number of concerns about the prevalence of what she termed ‘lyrical realism’ in the novel today, a mode that she herself had previously adopted (in On Beauty) but which nowadays she regards with some suspicion for its susceptibility to nostalgia and for its propensity to comfort readers. This tendency for lyrical realism to offer forms of solace is doubly damaging when the writer in question is dealing with matters of terrorism, war and trauma – as O’Neill does in Netherland. And Smith therefore concluded that while she ‘has written in this tradition and cautiously hope[s] for its survival’, she maintained that ‘if it’s to survive, lyrical realists will have to push a little harder on their subject’. But what does pushing harder entail? Smith seems to suggest that it means refusing what Iris Murdoch famously saw as the false consolations of form – the smoothing away of difficult issues by means of a highly wrought, consciously artistic language. 

This paper returns to Murdoch’s contention, originally set out in ‘Against Dryness’ (1961) in order to call into question those reservations about consolation that appear to unite Murdoch and Smith across time. In re-evaluating both the pertinence and pitfalls of Murdoch’s notoriously schematic distinction between ‘journalistic’ and ‘crystalline’ registers of modern fiction, the talk traces the re-emergence – or what could be described as a ‘renaissance’ – of the latter mode, bringing together writers as different as Paul Harding, Colum McCann, Ian McEwan, and O’Neill himself. Charting their respective renovations of crystalline narration, the paper delineates a shared impulse to synchronize the consolatory force of form with a more interrogative, reflexive, and dynamic sense of fiction’s capacity to stage ethical scenarios and invite politically responsive readings. 

Suggested preparatory reading

Iris Murdoch,  ‘Against Dryness: A Polemical Sketch’ (1961), repr. in The Novel Today, ed. Bradbury (London: Fontana, 1977), 23–31. (Available online here.)

Zadie Smith, ‘Two Directions for the Novel’, in Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2009), 71–96. (Available online here.)

David James teaches modern and contemporary literature in the Department of English at Queen Mary, University of London. He is author of Contemporary British Fiction and the Artistry of Space (2008), and, most recently, of Modernist Futures (Cambridge University Press, 2012). He has edited a volume of essays The Legacies of Modernism (Cambridge University Press, 2011), and guest-edited a special issue of Contemporary Literature on ‘Post-Millennial Commitments’ (due out in February). With Matthew Hart and Rebecca L. Walkowitz, he edits the book series Literature Now for Columbia University Press. He is currently editing The Cambridge Companion to British Fiction since 1945

All are welcome to attend.