Turning Perpignan Green

In this Guest Blog for Transculture, CTTR postgraduate research student Stephen Greenfield reflects on his recent experiences at the International Conference on Ecopoetics at Perpignan:

IMG_8140Almost 53 years after Salvadore Dali referred to Perpignan as the ‘centre du monde’, the French/Catalan city nestled ‘twixt the Pyrenees and Mediterranean, hosted a gathering of 100 delegates representing 20 different nations at ‘Ecopoetics Perpignan: International Conference on Ecopoetics, 22-25 June 2016’.

I was privileged to join such international ecocritical luminaries as keynotes Prof Scott Slovic (University of Idaho, USA), Prof Joni Adamson (Arizona State University, USA) and Prof Wendy Harding (University of Toulouse, France), to present my own research in a paper entitled ‘The Trees of The Lord of the Rings.’

Couvent des Minimes

Couvent des Minimes, Perpignan

The Conference welcome and registration on Wednesday 22nd June, was located in the suitably grand location of the Couvent des Minimes where delegates gathered in expectation. Conference organiser Prof Benedicte Meillon was joined by the Head of Research of the host institution L’Université de Perpignan Via Domitia (UPVD), and by a representative of the city’s mayor. The latter noted that Perpignan was pleased to welcome its second major academic conference of the year, which like the first was being opened up to the public so that research can reach beyond the boundaries of academia.

Conference papers were presented across the spectrum of ecocritical positions, taking in deep ecology, marginalised cultures and indigenous non-Western perspectives, spiritual ecology, ecofeminism, environmental justice, rewilding, and living in the Anthropocene Age. Most of the speakers were international postdoctoral researchers and professors. The PhD students accepted to present represented institutions from Belgium, USA, Australia, Wales, Estonia, Switzerland, India, Germany, England and from across France. Papers were presented either in English or in French.

On Friday the conference moved from Couvent des Minimes to UPVD’s campus. It was here that I presented as a member of Panel 19 which was chaired by Joanne Clavel, Museum d’Histoire Naturelle. My fellow presenters were Anne Cirella-Urrutia, Adjunct Professor at the University of Huston-Tillitson, Austin, USA (“Places of Memory and Memory of Places in bande dessinée: Re-Enchanting (Sub)urban Spaces in Davodeau & F. Jacquet’s Jeanne de la zone (2014) and Guy Delisle’s Shenzen (2000).”) and Esther Laso y Leon, Professeure à l’Université d’Alcala, Madrid, Espagne (“ Quand les ogres et les princesses s’inquiètent de ce qu’ils mangent : détournement écologique des contes.”).

IMG_4839My contribution focused on Tolkien’s representation of trees in The Lord of the Rings to articulate the struggle between an enchanted ecological authenticity and the threat of a fallen world. Tolkien’s trees recycle mythology to represent ecology as a mythological and cosmologically iterative divine system. I argued that through his use of trees Tolkien underlines the deep ecological subtext of The Lord of the Rings that reaches beyond the shallow environmentalism of the Ring narrative. As a result the book conveys a profoundly ecological message of hope.

Following a break for lunch the conference reconvened with a sobering account of the Anthropocene in Professor Wendy Harding’s keynote. Wendy’s keynote included the shocking images of cyanide lakes in North America, as one of the largely ignored consequences of transformative human engagement with its environment. The seminar highlighted the importance of ecocriticism in the foregrounding of hidden ecological and environmental perspectives in literature.


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Public lecture: 24 May 2016, Owen Martell in Conversation

IntermissionTrilingual novelist and translator Owen Martell will be reading from his award-winning novels and discussing his work and the writer’s life with Dr Aidan Byrne. The discussion will take place on Tuesday, 24 May 2016, from 5:30 p.m. in  Room MA030, at City Campus, University of Wolverhampton. This event is free and open to the public.

Owen writes novels and short stories in English and in Welsh, and translates philosophy/anthropology from French into Welsh and English. He has won the Welsh Book of the Year in 2001 and is a recipient of a Creative Wales award in 2008/09. His work has been translated into multiple languages, and his first English-language jazz novel, Intermission (Heinemann 2013), won the Irish Times Book of the Year. He also played harp and computers on the 2005 album Cywmp y dŵr ar gaol dydd by Rhodri Davies and Traw.


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Public lecture: 17 May 2016: Francis O’Gorman on Worrying

Professor Francis O’Gorman (University of Leeds) will be presenting a public lecture on the subject of his recent book, Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History. His talk will take place on Tuesday, 17 May 2016, from 6:00 pm, in Room MK045, City Campus, University of Wolverhampton. This event is free and open to the public.


41EQ6BJtO8L__SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Why do we worry? Where did it come from? Why is the word itself only known to us in its current meaning from the middle of the nineteenth century? This lecture will discuss the short history of worrying as a product of the busy, individual-centred world that modern capitalism has created. And it will also discuss the long history that sees worry as a result simply of being human and of having the ability to choose. Ranging across disciplines and historical periods, the lecture will affirm worrying as the peculiarly moth-eaten sign of being a modern human being.

About the Speaker:

Francis-OGorman-400x387Francis O’Gorman is Professor of Victorian Literature at the University of Leeds. His principal research and writing interests are in English literature including John Ruskin and Algernon Charles Swinburne; Edward Thomas and Samuel Taylor Coleridge; nineteenth and twentieth-century poetry; conceptions of literary ‘life’; Venice; textual editing; biography; manuscripts; the visual arts;  poetry of all periods. He also has a career as a writer of creative non-fiction.

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Women Travel Writers, 1780-1840: Communities of Authorship


CTTR is pleased to announce the commencement of a British Academy funded research project, Women Travel Writers, 1780-1840: Communities of Authorship. Led by Dr Benjamin Colbert in collaboration with database designer Chris Veness of Moveable Type Ltd., the project aims to restore visibility to 139 women who published travel books as authors, co-authors, contributors, letterpress writers, editors, and translators during a period in which women’s travel writing became established in Britain and Ireland. Original biographical research on these authors will contribute to our knowledge of the conditions of publishing, networking, and support that helped women become
transformative presences in a male-dominated genre.

Maria Graham, Journal of a Residence in Chile (1824)

Maria Graham, Journal of a Residence in Chile (1824). Public Domain.

The research builds upon and augments the Database of Women’s Travel Writing, launched at Chawton House Library in July 2014, which aims to provide accurate
bibliographical entries for all books of travel by women published in Britain and
Ireland during this period. This final phase of the project will produce a biographical dictionary of women travel writers, expand the database to include new categories of collaborative authorship, and enhance the user interface to maximise open access to the research.

The eighteen-month project finishes in January 2018. Look out for bi-monthly progress
reports and featured author profiles, part of the News & Update pages soon to be launched on the database (and to be reblogged here).

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Public Lecture: 5 May 2016, Tracey Hill on Immigrants in Early Modern London

Dr Tracey Hill (Bath Spa University) will be presenting a CTTR Public Lecture, ‘Strangers and aliens: immigrants in early modern London’, on Thursday 5 May 2016 in MK045 at 6:00 p.m. (City Campus, University of Wolverhampton). The event is free and open to the public.


ImmigrantsLondon was a fast-expanding metropolis in the early modern period, largely fuelled by migration, domestic as well as from overseas. Certain areas of the City were home to well-established ‘stranger’ communities, and these locales were sometimes the focus of xenophobic hostility. In most instances, however, strangers made an active contribution to the economic and cultural life of the City. Strangers, or ‘aliens’, in the terminology of the time, were therefore a reality on the streets as well as being figures available for cultural representation. My talk will explore the cultural significance of strangers in the seventeenth-century London, focusing on civic pageantry. These civic triumphs presented strangers in complex ways: as industrious, quasi-naturalised citizens, as grateful refugees, and as foreign exotics. Such representations were sensitive to state policy, and my talk will also address the portrayal of Protestant migrants from the Low Countries compared to that of Catholic nations such as Spain.

About the Speaker:

HillDr Tracey Hill is Associate Professor of Early Modern Literature & Culture at Bath Spa University. She specialises in the cultural history of early modern London, especially civic pageantry. Her publications include two books – Pageantry and Power: a cultural history of the early modern Lord Mayor’s Show, 1585-1639 (Manchester University Press 2010) and Anthony Munday and Civic Culture (Manchester University Press 2004) – and a number of articles in journals and edited collections. She is currently working on a book-length study of modes of spectatorship in Jacobean London.

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From Czech Republic to Czechia

Made%20in%20CzechiaThe Czech Republic has just announced that it plans to change its name to Czechia. Presciently, CTTR linguist Dr Tom Dickins wrote a long article a few years ago entitled ‘The Czech-speaking lands, their peoples and contact communities: titles, names and ethnonyms’, published in The Slavonic and East European Review, 89 (3), 2011, pp. 401–54, which is generating new interest in the light of current events. In the article, Dr Dickens writes:

“The degree of acceptance of short forms for the Czech Republic in foreign languages varies significantly. Some languages have largely embraced a new descriptor; for instance, French Tchéquie, German Tschechien and Spanish Chequía. Others have proven more resistant. Neither Czechia in English nor Cechia in Italian (which is perhaps too close to cieca [blind woman]) have become so well established, despite their endorsement in 1993 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, and their appearance in official geographical lists.105

There can be few precedents of a small state attempting to impose usage of this type on the speakers of major foreign languages, so it is difficult to predict the likely degree of acceptance of the promoted forms. For what it is worth, a poll conducted in 2006 found that ordinary Czechs overwhelmingly prefer the adjectival form Czech (used as an odd-sounding substantive in English) to Czechia, Czechlands and Czecho.106 Amongst native English speakers, Czecho, the misnomer Czechoslovakia (cf. continued references to ‘Yugoslavia’), the Czech-speaking lands and the Czechland(s), all appear to be more common than Czechia, for which there is only one citation in the Bank of English corpus.107 It is striking that even English-speaking Bohemicists are reluctant to adopt Czechia, and in some cases oppose it on the not altogether rational grounds of euphony.

To some extent, the Czechs recognize the anomaly of the situation, as exemplified in the variety of terms which they use to promote themselves abroad, including Czech/CZ made (which invites the unfortunate pun šmejd [junk]), Made in Czechia, Made in (the) Czech Republic, Made in Czech R./Rep./CR/CZ, Czech (Team) or Czech Republic (on sports kit), Czech beer or Brewed in Bohemia/the Czech Republic/in Plzeň, Czech (on the Prazdroj bottle) and Moravian wine.”


105 Pavel Boháč, Geografické názvoslovné seznamy OSN – ČR: Jména států a jejich územních částí, Prague, 1993.

106 ‘Které anglické označení České republiky se vám líbí nejvíce?’, iDNES.CZ, 2 March 2006 <http://zpravy.idnes.cz/ankety.asp?id=BKTERANG&gt; [accessed 22 November 2010]. The preferences expressed were Czech – 13,340, Czechia – 4,412, Czechlands – 1,113, and Czecho – 366.

107 The Bank of English comprised 450 million words in 2007. See <http://www.titania.bham.ac.uk/&gt;.

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Public Lecture: 19 April 2016, Adam Thorpe on ‘Writing Out of the Past’

Adam Thorpe, HoddAdam Thorpe, PerspectiveAdam Thorpe, translator, author of novels including Ulverton, Still, and Hodd, of six volumes of poetry, two volumes of short stories and several radio dramas visits the City Campus of the University of Wolverhampton to give a public lecture on “Writing Out of the Past”, on 19 April, from 6-7:30 p.m. in room MK045. Drawing on and reading from his novels The Rules of Perspective and Hodd, Thorpe addresses the question of writing historical fiction and bridging the gap between the deep past and the imaginative present.

The event is free and open to the Public.  For details contact Dr Aidan Byrne a.byrne2@wlv.ac.uk

Karl Ove Knausgaard: “My favourite… English novel is by Adam Thorpe called Ulverton… a brilliant, very, very good and very unBritish novel… It’s magic, a magic book”.

Hilary Mantel: “There is no contemporary I admire more than Adam Thorpe, whose novel Ulverton is a late twentieth century masterpiece.”

The Guardian: “Thorpe is one of the most underrated writers on the planet.”

Winner of the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize 1992.

Shortlisted for the Forward Prize, BBC National Short Story Award, South Bank Show Award and the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. He has also been a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.

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Research Seminar: Anglo-Saxonism in Migration Debates

Sita Balani (King’s College London) and Kathryn Maude (KCL/University of Swansea) will be speaking on ‘Narratives of Anglo-Saxonism in Contemporary Migration Debates’ on Thursday, 17 March 2016, at 2.00 p.m. in the LATTE room MC229.

About the Speakers:

Sita Balani is an activist and academic living in London. Her PhD research at King’s College London explores neoliberalism and national identity in contemporary British fiction. She is involved in migrant and feminist activism and is also editing an anthology entitled ‘Queers Talk Lesbian Notions’.

Kathryn Maude is  a PhD student in the English Department at King’s College London and Tutor in Medieval Literature at the University of Swansea. Her PhD thesis examines texts addressed to women from 960 to 1160, including anchoritic writing, sermons, and saints’ lives.

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Public Event: Novelists Catherine O’Flynn and James Hannah in conversation

Monday 14 March 2016, 6 – 7.30pm
Wolverhampton Art Gallery – Georgian Room

NovelistsNovelists Catherine O’Flynn (Costa Book Award winner, Booker and Orange Prize nominee, Galaxy Book Award winner) and James Hannah (The A to Z of You and Me, shortlisted for the Desmond Prize 2015) will give readings and discuss their lives and work in conversation with Dr Paul McDonald. Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 6.00 p.m. The bar/café will be open. The even is free and open to the public. For more information contact Dr Aidan Byrne.



About the speakers:

Catherine O’Flynn is the author of three novels and the editor of a short story collection. Her debut, What Was Lost, won the 2008 Costa First Novel Award and she was named Waterstone’s Newcomer of the Year at the British Book Awards. She is a regular reviewer for The Guardian and guest on Radio 4’s Saturday Review. Her short stories and articles have appeared in Granta, Good Housekeeping, The Independent and on BBC Radio. Catherine has been described as ‘the JG Ballard of Birmingham…finding poetry and meaning where others see merely boredom and dereliction”.

James Hannah’s debut novel The A-Z of You And Me was published by Doubleday in 2015 to widespread critical acclaim (The Times: ‘absolutely bloody heartbreaking’) and was nominated for several literary prizes, including the Desmond Prize 2015.

Dr Paul McDonald is course leader for Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Wolverhampton. His research interests include humour, West Midlands Writing, and American fiction. He has published widely in these areas, including three novels and two collections of poetry.


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Transnational Reflections

In the first of a series of occasional posts, Transnational Reflections, novelist and Professor of Creative Writing Niall Griffiths considers the politics of translation in the lead up to the Arab Spring.

Now this should be interesting . . .

I was in Cairo a few years ago, at the book fair, shortly before Mohamed Bouazizi set himself, and much of the Arab world, alight, and when Tamarod was just beginning to form; I remember looking out over downtown Cairo from the top floor of my publishers’ offices, and also from most of the way up the Great Pyramid, and feeling the crackle of discontent, the thickening air of anger rising up out of the vast and chaotic city. Something big was about to happen – that was undeniable, a fact felt at the base of the skull.

Arabic translationAnyway; I signed over the translation rights to my novel Runt, while I was in Cairo, did my readings and panel discussions, and went off to Alexandria to fulfil my duties in that city. Whilst there, I was presented with a few pages of translation, and told how the language of my novel had been transliterated, and how courageous it was, in that culture and at that time, to use a vernacular Arabic, full of neologisms and oaths; I found this fascinating, and was eager to say so during the radio interview scheduled for early the following morning.

The translated pages were posted online overnight and I woke into an uproar. Arabic cannot be used in that way, I was told. It is a pure, unmalleable language, its beauties rigid and functional; to twist it in the ways I had done, and to sully it with swearing, was profoundly offensive to serious scholarship. My objection concerned the fact that no-one had been forced to translate my work and in fact I had nothing at all to do with that translation; I knew not one word of Arabic, and the written form of it resembled, to me, merely squiggles. Obviously I’d be intrigued to be told of its structures and rules and the like but no, no – I’d betrayed it, somehow. I’d set myself up as its enemy, an accusation a little aggrieving to hear.

My defence was, thankfully, leapt to; one of the translators was present at the interview, as was the publisher, both young, and it quickly became apparent that this was a generational clash, between reactionary forces on one side and iconoclastic forces on the other; the argument – no, the row – swiftly became hot and moved away from me and my work and into a more general confrontation (conducted in Arabic) about power, and oppression, and liberatory linguistic politics. It spread to cyberspace, and it flamed across the telephone lines.

Constantine P. Cavafy street sign in his city Alexandria, 24 January 2014. Photo By: Ahmed Hamed

Constantine P. Cavafy street sign in his city Alexandria, 24 January 2014. Photo By: Ahmed Hamed

After leaving the studio I was taken to one of Alexandria’s secret bars in order to relax and de-pressurise. The beer was lovely and the conversation was gripping and the anchovies were suitably salty but they kept me awake and on the toilet all night. In the morning, ill and hungover, I decided that I could not leave Alexandria without at least a quick visit to Cavafy’s café, the place where beauty walked among the coffee cups and spoons. I ordered a coffee the strength of a class A drug and a brandy and knocked them both back and then promptly brought them back up again, loudly, and with great force. A symbol in that, some might say; and I knew who, too.

This was some years ago. Shortly after my return, Cairo, and Egypt, and many of the surrounding countries blew up (some of them are still exploding); I heard, unsurprisingly, nothing about the Runt translation, until very recently when I received, through a third party, an invitation to the book fair in Abu Dhabi, to discuss the Arabic version of my novel Runt; apparently it had been published, surreptitiously, and sold through discreet and secretive channels, samizdat-style, and has taken on the flavour of contraband, of illegality.

Somewhat wary of accepting the invitation – I had, after all, accepted an invite to the university of Marrakesh, to speak to the modern British literature students about my novel Sheepshagger, only to receive death threats, so I didn’t go (call me old-fashioned) – I made some enquiries; what would I be required to do over there? Why was my physical (and softly susceptible) presence desired? Well, I was told, the book is very divisive; on one side, there are those who strongly believe that Arabic has been polluted by the book, and opposing them are those who think that the book has enriched the language (yes, I’d heard this before). No different, in many ways, to the critical reception of my work in Britain, except that here, such debates are conducted over the cafetiere in the conservatory, and over there, well, let’s just say that I haven’t been back to Egypt. And I was told by one of the Abu Dhabi organisers to doctor my promotional CV a little; to omit, say, the titles of certain of my books and articles. But will they know?, I asked; will they be familiar enough with the nuances of British culture to be aware of what, for example, a ‘sheepshagger’ is? I was told that one of the UAE-based organisers is half-Welsh. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, contextually, I don’t yet know. Don’t worry, I was told; it’ll be a trip.

‘A trip’. . . now where have I heard that before? Oh yes; it’s what Keith Richards said The Rolling Stones concert at Altamont was going to be. I’ve accepted the invitation. So watch this space. To be – hopefully and Inshallah – continued.

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