BCLA Announces Glyn Hambrook Postgraduate Research Award

The Glyn Hambrook Postgraduate Research Award (deadline Friday 31 July 2020) offers postgraduate students assistance in the present situation caused by COVID-19 and its repercussions. The award is worth £250.00, to be used for any costs incurred in research activities (registration fees for online conferences or seminars, enrolment for relevant training courses, purchase and download of software, or costs of books, journals, and stationery). Applicants should be members of the BCLA (see Homepage or Membership page) and be students registered for a postgraduate degree (MA, MRes, MPhil or PhD) in the field of comparative literature, defined here as the interaction of at least two bodies of literature (writers, genres, etc), usually across languages. No applications can be accepted after this date. The application form is on the BCLA’s Funding page: please download, complete the form electronically and send it as an attachment to bclawebeditor@gmail.com.

This award has been made possible through the generosity of Dr Glyn Hambrook, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Wolverhampton, Honorary Lecturer in the English Department, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, former member of the BCLA Executive Committee, and organiser of the 2016 BCLA Triennial Conference, “Salvage”.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Research Seminar, 24 March 2020: Emily Garside on Kushner’s ‘Angels in America’

Dr Emily Garside (Independent Scholar) will be presenting her paper, ‘British-American Angels: How Angels in America flew into Britain’s National Theatre’, at 3.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 24 March 2020. The event will take place in the University of Wolverhampton’s Mary Seacole Building, MH 002.

Abstract
Tony Kushner’s 1994 play Angels in America is a landmark work of American and LGBTQ drama, a key response to the AIDS crisis, and a landmark production for
Britain’s National Theatre. The play, and Kushner’s relationship with the National beyond it, are integral to both the playwright, play and theatre’s history. This talk will cover productions of Angels in America with particular emphasis on the ‘bookends’ of
the original 1993 National Theatre production and the 2017 revival (including the 2018 Broadway transfer). The previously unexplored connection between Angels and Britain’s National Theatre allows for a unique angle of analysis framing Kushner’s text in respect to the first and most recent productions at the National.

Emily Garside is a playwright, dramaturg, and academic specialising in the role of theatre as a social tool, particularly in response to the AIDS epidemic. She is a leading authority on Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, and was academic advisor to the 2016 National Theatre production of the play. Her other academic interests include activism and performance, audience research, and Fan Studies. She has published across a range of interests/disciplines including Iain Banks, Sherlock Holmes, Location and TV, and Punchdrunk. As a playwright, Emily’s work has been performed across the UK.

Posted in Research Seminars | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ishiguro Weekend 31 January – 2 February

TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY PERSPECTIVES ON KAZUO ISHIGURO

An international festival celebrating the work of Kazuo Ishiguro
Keynote: CYNTHIA WONG (University of Colorado, Denver, USA)

Saturday 1 February 2020
10am – 6pm Chancellor’s Hall

University of Wolverhampton
Wulfruna Street
Wolverhampton
WV1 1LY

Kazuo Ishiguro remains one of the finest writers of our times, yet, as the twenty-first  century world is changing, how do we see these new, turbulent times reflected in his body of work? The early twentieth-century presents us with a host of pressing contexts and
challenges, from concerns about climate change and technological innovation to diversity issues and shifts in geopolitical power. To what extent does Ishiguro’s writing anticipate and comment on the early twenty-first century Zeitgeist? Surely, The Remains of the Day anticipates Brexit, Never Let Me Go argues against posthumanism, whilst The Buried Giant comments on our distracted, amnesic times.

You can also join our other, free Ishiguro events that are part of the Wolverhampton Literature Festival.

On Friday 31 January, Japanese critics will give their culturally specific perspective on Ishiguro in the Wolverhampton Art Gallery (5.15-6.15pm).

On Sunday 2 February, Professor Sebastian Groes and three PhD students will stage a Masterclass on Never Let Me Go in the Wolverhampton Art Gallery (12-1.30pm).

For more information, see http:/www.wolvesliteraturefestival.co.uk or contact Prof. Groes: s.groes@wlv.ac.uk.

Please join us for this exciting conference. Book your tickets here.

Posted in Conferences, Events | Tagged | Leave a comment

Research Seminar, 19 December 2019: Esther Asprey on Black Country Dialect

Dr Esther Asprey (Birmingham City University) will be presenting her paper, ‘Black Coutry dialect literature and what it can tell us about Black Country dialect’, at 2.00 p.m. on Thursday, 19 December 2019. The event will take place in the University of Wolverhampton’s Millennium City Building, MC 226.

Abstract
This talk tracks spelling representations across time and region to add to what is known about patterns of linguistic change within one of the UK’s most socially stigmatised dialects. The area in which Black Country dialect is spoken centres on the town of Dudley and has been changed demographically since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 1750s. 12 Waves of migrant workers from Wales, Shropshire, and the wider north (Lancashire, Yorkshire, Scotland), as well as Ireland, came during the 18th and 19th centuries, and are now succeeded by migration from former UK colonies (India, Pakistan, the Caribbean). Such migration has been mooted as a source of change in the region. Added to this is the complexity of the Black Country linguistic system. It has a system of modal verbs which negate by ablaut, a phonological system which is at its most local end of the continuum between less and more localised, extremely different to RP, and retains many older Midlands morphemes lost in other dialects including [ɜ:] er for the third person singular female subject pronoun, and -n suffixing for the present tense verbal infinitive. It is, then, a rich dialect which has been seen to be moving from a more Northern system to a Southern system over the past 100 years. Examination of the two Black Country texts in the Salamanca corpus, together with selected dialect poems and monologues collected from local interest newspapers, novels and poetry collections and spanning 1850 to the present day, will tell us more about the nature of these changes.

Esther Asprey is a sociolinguist and dialectologist whose specialist area of research is linguistic variation in the West Midlands. She gained her first degree in English Language and German at the University of Edinburgh before going on to complete a Masters. She gained her PhD from the University of Leeds in 2007, writing on Black Country English and Black Country Identity. Esther went on to teach at the University of Birmingham and then at Aston University, where she was Research Assistant for three years on a series of funded projects looking at performances of identity using Birmingham and Black Country dialects.

Posted in Research Seminars | Tagged | Leave a comment

Being Human Festival – Wolverhampton Unscene

Last week CTTR colleagues organised three highly successful events for the Being Human Festival. Proust in Transylvania, Warhol in Wolverhampton, and The Secret Life of Suffragettes saw over 200 people engage with research in the School of Humanities, with the help of colleagues in other departments.

This week we’ll have three more events:

Tonight between 6-8 p.m., Candi Miller and Rob Francis present Dementia Dialogues, a creative writing workshop that will explore writing as a therapeutic means to deal with the trauma that can emerge when people care for loved ones suffering from dementia.

On Wednesday, 20 November, Meena Dhanda’s Overlooked Overlockers will explore memories of the regional textile industry in the Georgian Room at the Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

On Saturday, 24 November, we are undertaking a multi-sensory, interactive walk of the Black Country, starting in Wolverhampton, and ending with a spectacular finale at the Black Country Living Museum. You can dip in and out of the events part of Making Sense of the Black Country, or commit yourself for the duration of the events. A coach will provide transport for people less mobile.

Follow the links for more information.

 

 

Posted in Events | Tagged | Leave a comment

Research Seminar, 13 November 2019: Caroline Tagg on Mobile Messaging

Dr Caroline Tagg (Open University) will be presenting her paper, ‘Mobile messaging by migrant micro-entrepreneurs in UK city contexts’, at 2.00 p.m. on Wednesday, 13 November 2019. The event will take place in the University of Wolverhampton’s Millennium City Building, MC 331.

Abstract
This talk explores an aspect of contemporary social life that is only now coming to the attention of social media or business communication researchers, that of the use of mobile phones by small business owners, including those who have migrated to the country where they now work. Drawing on data from a large multi-sited blended linguistic ethnography, the talk draws attention, firstly, to the use of mobile messaging apps by migrant micro-entrepreneurs in establishing ethnically and linguistically homogeneous social support networks; and, secondly, to the way in which their virtual interactions are grounded in their everyday social lives and business transactions. Importantly, the chapter documents how migrants draw resourcefully on their mobile phones as a tool for getting things done and maintaining relationships in contemporary multicultural city spaces.

Caroline Tagg is Senior Lecturer at the Open University. Her research into language and digital technologies rests on the understanding that digital communication practices are deeply embedded into individuals’ wider social, economic and political lives. Caroline has expertise in a range of research methods from corpus linguistics to linguistic ethnography, and in various analytical concepts including Appraisal theory, audience design, everyday creativity, heteroglossia and translanguaging.

Posted in Events, Research Seminars, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Professor Meena Dhanda on Dr Ambedkar, Religion, and Morality

Lord Harries of Pentregarth, the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dalits and The Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations UK invited Professor Meena Dhanda of CTTR as a guest speaker at the 128th birth commemoration of Dr Ambedkar at the House of Lords on Tuesday 7 May 2019. The following is the text of the speech delivered by Professor Dhanda.

 

Professor Dhanda (2nd from right) addressing All-Party Parliamentary Group

Dr Ambedkar on Religion and Morality

Honourable Chair, Reverend Lord Richard Harries, distinguished guests and fellow admirers of an exemplary human being: Dr B.R. Ambedkar, a superb jurist, an untiring champion of social justice, an uncompromising seeker of truth, a kind soul who taught us to follow the great Buddha in acknowledging the various causes of suffering and dedicate our lives to uprooting them. We are here to remember Dr Ambedkar’s contributions and it is my task today to share the essence of his thoughts on religion and morality.

Babasaheb extolled moral uprightness. As he writes in The Buddha and his Dhamma, Dhamma is first and foremost morality. Religion on the other hand, especially when ritualistically followed, he took to task for the hypocrisies it generated and the inertia it induced. He challenged the supposedly unchanging and supposedly infallible command of Religion with a capital R. He wrote: ‘Every religion preaches morality but morality is not the root of religion. It is a wagon attached to it. It is attached and detached as the occasion arises’ (Ambedkar 1957, p.322). In contrast ‘Morality is Dhamma and Dhamma is Morality’. Dhamma is social, essentially so. In Dhamma the need for morality does not arise from the ‘sanction of God’ but directly from the need for man to love man. ‘The purpose of Religion is to explain the origin of the world. The purpose of Dhamma is to reconstruct the world’ (Ibid.).

Rather than the rituals and sacrifices embedded in Religions, Ambedkar considers morality itself as ‘sacred’. The reason he gives for making morality itself ‘sacred’ is that there is a social need to protect what he calls “the best”. The best, however, he does not equate with the fittest. The best may actually be the weak, the ones who are in need of protection. Therefore, Morality as Dhamma, must impose restraints on the fittest to stop them from infringing on the rights of the weak.

Continue reading

Posted in Events, Public Lectures | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Ian James Kidd on Pathophobia

Guest blogger, Dr  Ian James Kidd, will deliver a CTTR-sponsored Faculty of Arts Public Lecture, ‘Pathophobia, Illness, and Vices’, on Wednesday, 10 April, 4-6 p.m., MK405 George Wallis Building.

Pathophobia as the social oppression of ill persons

Everyone knows that being chronically ill is awful – the pain, loss of functions, and the trials of treatment and recovery are hugely physically, psychologically, and emotionally difficult. A less obvious source of the awfulness of illness is the awful treatment to which chronically ill persons are typically subjected. If one read through the testimonies and narrative written by ill person, one finds constant descriptions of morally awful treatment – of hostile stares and glares, of intrusive questions, of thoughtless remarks, of insensitive comments, of a horrible lack of care and concern. The American feminist, Audre Lorde, summarised this very nicely in her Cancer Journals, written during her experience of breast cancer as a woman of colour. Their main theme is what she called her ‘fury at the outside world’s viciousness, the stupid, brutal lack of consciousness or concern that passes for the way things are’.

Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals (1980)

What Lorde is describing are experiences of what I’ve labelled pathophobia – the variety of morally objectionable forms of treatment to which somatically ill persons are subjected. Pathophobia can involve ways of thinking and talking about illness and ways of interacting with ill persons that either cause them harms, or express various failings or vices. Subjection to pathophobia can harm chronically ill persons in all sorts of ways. It can cause anger, bitterness, frustration, and resentment, of the sort described by Lorde, and worsen feelings of low self-esteem, social alienation, and loss of agency. Such bad consequences are especially bad since they come on top of the various bad effects of illness, such as pain and diminished mobility. But pathophobia can also express certain failings, such as what Lorde described at a ‘stupid, brutal lack of consciousness or concern’.

The ultimate value of the concept of pathophobia is that it might help us to reduce the incidence and severity of the offending sorts of behaviour. By naming these behaviours, we take a first step towards understanding their sources and wrongness, which in turn helps us to do something about them. (Compare it with the concept of sexual harassment, which was developed in the Sixties by women as a means of identifying and describing the variety of discriminatory behaviours to which they were subjected.) We already have concepts like ableism and sanism, of course, but these relate to morally awful treatment of persons with disabilities and mental health conditions. Although they overlap with pathophobia, they are not specific to chronic somatic illness, while the sociological concept of ‘stigma’ describes a source of pathophobia, rather than the wider phenomenon itself.

In my talk at Wolverhampton, I’ll introduce the concept of pathophobia and give you a set of examples from some influential pathographies, such as Kathlyn Conway’s Ordinary Life and Porochista Khakpour’s recent memoir, Sick. Such first-persons narratives offer lucid descriptions of the everyday experiences of pathophobia that scar the lived experiences of people with chronic somatic illnesses. I also suggest we can make sense of the moral wrongs of pathophobia by thinking in terms of clusters of pathophobic vices – negative character traits and dispositions such as banality, coldness, callousness, negligence, selfishness, and cold-heartedness. Such vices are a pervasive feature of narrative accounts of pathophobia, in the form of cruel actions, insensitive questioning, and tactless comments.

Hopefully, the concept of pathophobia can help us to mitigate such morally awful treatment of somatically ill persons.

Dr Ian James Kidd is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy, University of Nottingham. His research interests range from, in his own words ‘epistemic virtue and and vice in education, moral and spiritual exemplarity in ancient Indian and Chinese philosophy, and the philosophical significance of illness’. For more information, see: https://www.ianjameskidd.weebly.com

Posted in Guest Blogs, Public Lectures | Tagged | Leave a comment

Karina van Dalen-Oskam on Computers and Literature

Guest blogger, Professor Karina van Dalen-Oskam, will deliver a CTTR-sponsored Faculty of Arts Public Lecture, ‘The Riddle of Literary Quality’, on Wednesday, 13 March, 6-7 p.m., MK405 George Wallis Building – further information here.

Can computers and literature work together?  Yes, they can!

To many it seems scary: algorithms that do things we thought only humans could do. Agreed, some things can be done better by machines than by humans. Calculating business profits in a split second, performing repetitive actions for days on end, for instance.  When strict rules and regulations apply, a machine will perform flawlessly, whereas a human may easily be distracted and occasionally make a mistake or change her mind the next day although dealing with a similar case as the day before. But surely humans can not be beaten when things are more complicated and difficult to describe in executable and simple steps. Making ethical decisions, for instance. Or discussing the aesthetic pleasure an art object yields. Aren’t they?

Sir Kazuo, winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature

Well, I am finalizing a research project that started in 2012 and that has such a scary new approach to literature: The Riddle of Literary Quality. The aim of the project is to see whether we can measure all kinds of stylistic features of contemporary novels and find out which features help the novel to be perceived as highly literary and which features will diminish an author’s chances for the Nobel Prize. Does the amount of direct speech in a novel influence the reader’s perception of literariness? And what about the use of cliché expressions, or the length and complexity of sentences, to mention only some of the issues that Andreas van Cranenburgh has dealt with in his dissertation.

My team and I make use of digital texts and of software that can deal with the intricacies of language on a huge scale. The computer can read many more novels than we could ever do in a lifetime of continuous reading, and it can find patterns that are too massive and complex for human eyes. It can, for example, measure the mean sentence length and the number of verbs in thousands of novels, and visualize the distribution of the results in helpful graphs. The kind of patterns that then become visible have never been interesting to us before. But when we see, for example, how a simple and perhaps boring thing such as sentence length tends to be longer in novels that are marketed as literary fiction than in novels labelled Suspense or Chicklit, this may change our ideas about how literary value is attributed and how literary and other texts may be analyzed in the future – or even how they will be written.

So why is this approach so interesting? First of all: the scale. Until now, we were happy to close-read a couple of novels again and again and develop an interpretation based on this very small corpus. At the end of the day, however, we always had to admit: further research will have to be done to find out whether this observation or pattern is uniquely found in this text, this oeuvre, this genre, this time period, this… whatever. And here is what will change with the advent of the digital age. We can still develop a hypothesis when we are close-reading one or more novels. But now we actually have the opportunity to check many of these hypotheses. By writing and applying software that will read and analyze  on a large scale.

And the fun is: We are in charge. We choose what to select for analysis, how to model our questions, and how to evaluate the results and come to certain interpretations and conclusions. And we will have to be open to surprises: we will regularly meet with outcomes that we did not expect, and which will set us off in totally new directions for follow-up research. Results may suggest different routes towards places we didn’t even know existed. That’s quite adventurous!

So can we measure literary quality? Yes, we can – partly. I will show how in my lecture on 13 March.

Prof. dr Karina van Dalen-Oskam is Head of the Department of Literary Studies of Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands and Professor in Computational Literary Studies at the University of Amsterdam. For more information, see: https://www.wlv.ac.uk/about-us/news-and-events/calendar/?view=fulltext&id=d.en.3834442

Posted in Guest Blogs, Public Lectures, Research | Tagged | Leave a comment

James Machin on Weird Fiction

Weird fiction is a slippery term for a slippery category of writing. It is most closely associated with H. P. Lovecraft, and Weird Tales magazine during its 1920s/30s heyday. The delirious mixture of Gothic horror, science fiction, and fantasy to be found within the cheaply-manufactured pages of Weird Tales gave the term traction as a catch-all for writing that belonged to any of those genres, slipped between them, or bodged them together into strange new combinations. This version of weird fiction—as a marker for genre hybridity or impurity—was the one subsequently redeployed at the turn of the millennium as ‘New Weird’ and applied to the restless genre-bending experimentalism of writers like M. John Harrison and China Miéville.

With his ‘old weird’, Lovecraft certainly paved the way for this ‘New Weird’: as a convinced atheist, he had no time for ghosts, werewolves, and vampires; spooks which, regardless of the thrills provided along the way, ultimately only confirm a reassuring Judeo-Christian worldview of the ultimate conquest of evil by divine beneficence. In his most celebrated stories, Lovecraft dispensed with the supernatural altogether and replaced it with science-fictional antagonists: alien lifeforms that are utterly incomprehensible and as indifferent to the futile narcissism of the human species as the cold vacuum of the sidereal space.

However, this understanding of weird fiction does not really reflect Lovecraft’s own application of the term. In his canon-forming 1927 essay Supernatural Horror in Literature, Lovecraft clearly conceives of the weird as a mode, rather than a genre. It is a register of writing that engages primarily with the horrific, but rather than a horror inspired by gore or violence (revulsion), it is a horror precipitated by existential crisis; it manifests itself in an “atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread” and the revelation of “outer, unknown forces” pressing at the threshold of the quotidian. The Welsh writer Arthur Machen, a key influence on Lovecraft, complained that in his own work he “translated awe, or awfulness, into evil”, but this belies the potency of his writing’s weird ambiguity: weird fiction, as Miéville has argued, can be seen as just such a “radicalized sublime backwash”. According to this version of weird fiction, it primarily concerns itself with destabilizing revelations of the adumbral numinous.

Regardless of its specific meaning (if it has one) and various applications, why does the term weird fiction continue to have such traction? Well, for one thing, it is useful. Continue reading

Posted in Research | Tagged , , | Leave a comment