The soap dish homesick syndrome

by Rabia Kapoor, 2nd year English Literature and Language BA. Featured image via craftybua instagram.

I keep thinking about the soap dish. In Shoreditch, London, during this design festival that my mum took our entire parade to: people I’d met maybe twice in my life coming together for my week-long farewell non-party.

My parents had come to London with me to help me settle in before university started. It was a group of three that kept getting bigger as my parents pulled in all their friends in the vicinity to be a part of the goodbyes. Maybe it was a weird coping mechanism, I don’t know, I didn’t overthink it then. Continue reading The soap dish homesick syndrome

Put sand in the machines: Disobedient objects, protest, satire, resistance and jokes at the British Museum

by Clare PettittProfessor of Nineteenth Century Literature and Culture, Department of English

Dissent clearly varies in terms of seriousness”, says Ian Hislop, the guest curator of the British Museum’s new exhibition. It certainly does. I Object: Ian Hislop’s search for dissent throws together a peculiarly Hislopian blend of public school scatological gags and objects and images that record acts of resistance under totalitarian regimes that may have resulted in the torture and/or death of their makers. The stakes are vertiginously uneven, and as a result, the exhibition frequently runs into problems of tone.

As curator, we encounter a thoughtful and knowledgeable Hislop, respectful of other cultures and alert to injustice and cruelty in the world. But as presenter, we encounter more of a fnarr fnarr chortler: “Gillray knew what would sell a print – sex, the royal family and fashionable shoes”, he chuckles, or “Have workmen on building sites always been keen on sexual commentary?” It is an interesting problem. Amnesty International meets Finbarr Saunders meets the British Museum, and the result is often confusing, but never boring.

Continue reading Put sand in the machines: Disobedient objects, protest, satire, resistance and jokes at the British Museum

‘Human curiosity has a revolutionary power’: An interview with Paul Gilroy

by Rachel Bolle-Debessay and Paul Gilroy in conversation

Paul Gilroy, Professor of American and English Literature at King’s, was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in April 2018 – a prestigious recognition of his work as a cultural historian, critical race theorist and thinker who has shaped black diaspora studies.  Founded in 1780, the Academy has a stellar list of former members including Benjamin Franklin (1781), Charles Darwin (1874), Albert Einstein (1924) and Martin Luther King, Jr (1966). Here, Paul speaks to PhD researcher Rachel Bolle-Debessay about receiving this award.

Rachel Bolle-Debessay (RBD): Thanks so much for talking to us, Paul! Our trigger for this interview was your election as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. So could you begin at this point – what does this mean for you and the nature of the scholarship that you undertake?

Paul Gilroy (PG): I was humbled and amazed. I’d say that being taken seriously is the best feeling an academic can have. I worked in the US for some years and one of my responsibilities as a teacher and researcher lay in the field of African American Studies. As an outsider, I faced a significant amount of hostility especially when my work was perceived as interrupting the standard cultural nationalist approaches that have defined that enterprise.

So this award cheered me up. It made me feel that in spite of the antipathy I had endured, the work I’d done had acquired its own life and some people had found it useful. It’s absolutely fine if they use it as something to disagree with and sharpen their intellectual claws upon. It makes me feel that I haven’t wasted my time.

‘This award cheered me up. It made me feel that in spite of the antipathy I had endured, the work I’d done had acquired its own life and some people had found it useful.’ Paul Gilroy on being elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in April 2018. Photo © Paul Gilroy

Continue reading ‘Human curiosity has a revolutionary power’: An interview with Paul Gilroy

The long read: Founders of England? Tracing Anglo-Saxon Myths in Kent

by Fran Allfrey, working on a LAHP-funded PhD about the cultural history of Sutton Hoo, and Beth Whalley, English and Geography PhD funded by the Rick Trainor Scholarship and Canal & River Trust.

‘The medieval’ in the contemporary moment

‘A Spot Called Crayford’ is a Heritage Lottery Fund project led by Crayford Reminiscence and Youth (CRAY), all about making the earliest Anglo-Saxon histories of Kent more accessible to school children. As part of the project, King’s medievalists led workshops in two Crayford primary schools, and a day-long journey to five sites in Kent associated with Anglo-Saxons stories.

One site we visited provoked questions that link to a research interest important to both of us: how ‘the medieval’ exists in the contemporary moment. Addressing collisions of archaeological enquiry, folk-stories, and over 1,000 years of writing about this place tested the possibilities of fun but critical activities, and asked us to confront the role of emotional responses to histories and spaces.

Kit’s Coty House and the White Horse Stone. Images via Wikimedia Commons.

The site, or rather two sites, known as Kit’s Coty House and the White Horse Stone, are part of a scattered collection of Neolithic standing stones and barrows known as the ‘Medway Megaliths’. We had been asked by CRAY to lead activities for children aged 8-14 that engaged with these sites and their association with Horsa and Categern, two mythological fifth-century figures integral to the story of the adventus anglorum, the coming of the Angles.

Continue reading The long read: Founders of England? Tracing Anglo-Saxon Myths in Kent

John Donne and the Jacobean Fake Media

by Melanie Marshall (Lincoln College, Oxford) and Daniel Starza Smith (English Department, King’s College London)

Every regime seeks to control the media. In the quest to dominate the official story, a repressive state might own the press outright (North Korea sits bottom of the 2018 World Press Freedom Index). It might sit tight with those who do (any British Prime Ministerial hopeful must bend the knee to Rupert Murdoch). It might restrict it (Google is making a limited search engine for China). Or it might simply undermine it: a racist tweet from Donald Trump is an effective distraction from ongoing scandals. Meanwhile, the American media’s ability to hold him to account is steadily eroded by accusations of fakery, disloyalty and partisanship.

Such tyrannical controls are hardly new, and early modern England faced its own media restrictions. Queen Elizabeth I famously claimed to want “no windows into men’s souls,” but with their reading material she proved less liberal. Throughout the last decade of her reign, her power waned and censorship tightened, until in 1599 the so-called Bishops’ Ban made the printing of satire a crime. Yet satire thrives on subversion, and the inflammatory material of the 1590s circulated away from the eyes of the state’s press-licensers. Handwritten copies of mischievous material passed from sympathiser to sympathiser, engendering more copies as they went.

Just such a privately circulated manuscript emerged in December 2016. Working through a tin trunk of scraps at Westminster Abbey, Matthew Payne, Keeper of the Muniments, uncovered a small booklet written in an early seventeenth-century hand, containing a work by the poet John Donne (1572–1631). It proved to be a copy of Donne’s Catalogus Librorum Satyricus, known in English as The Courtier’s Library, a satirical list of fake books whose composition we can now date securely to 1603 or early 1604.

Continue reading John Donne and the Jacobean Fake Media

Figuring Gender Difference in Phyllida Lloyd’s Shakespeare Trilogy

by Hailey Bachrach, PhD candidate researching gender in early modern history plays in collaboration with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, @hbachrach.

If you’ve heard of director Phyllida Lloyd’s Shakespeare Trilogy, which debuted at the Donmar Warehouse from 2012 to 2016 and was released in full on BBC iPlayer on 17 June,  you’ve probably heard of its premise: it is performed by a company made up entirely of women, and framed as plays put on by a group of female prisoners. The three plays—Julius Caesar, Henry IV (the two parts combined into one), and The Tempest—are all intimately concerned with questions of masculinity and male relationships—fathers, brothers, sons—and are all notoriously light on female characters.

The prison framing device means, however, that they are not devoid of a female presence. There is no attempt at prosthetics or illusion in the production’s costumes. The actors wear prison-issue grey sweatpants and t-shirts, with accessories to designate changes of character. When Henry IV opened in 2014, Harriet Walter, who stars in all three productions, wrote that  ‘our neuter prison garb … helps the audience put aside any questions of “Are they men playing women or women playing men?”… I would argue that when the cast are all women, we can look beyond gender to our common humanity’.

Continue reading Figuring Gender Difference in Phyllida Lloyd’s Shakespeare Trilogy

Women are being excluded from the stage. It’s time for quotas.

by Julia Pascal, Research Fellow, Department of English, King’s College London

It’s a century after some British women were allowed to vote, and a statue of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett has been unveiled in Parliament Square, so why is women’s presence on the English stage still unequal to men’s?

In a recent survey, the Sphinx theatre found that just a fifth of English theatres were led by women, who between them control just 13% of the total Arts Council England (ACE) theatre budget.

The feminist campaigning organisation the Fawcett Society has called for quotas to get more women into key positions, after its Sex and Power Index revealed startling gender disparities in the public arena. The situation in theatre, where I have worked all my life, is a startling gauge of the marginalisation of women.

The Conference of Women Theatre Directors and Administrators began auditing the number of females on stage in the 1980s. That we are nowhere near equality, almost 40 years later, was only too evident at the Olivier awards this year, when the prizes for best director and best new play went to men. When women do not have equal representation in theatre, it is impossible for them to have an equal chance of winning prizes. The Equal Representation for Actresses campaign group is among those pushing for change, but the male ruling elite refuses to share power.

Continue reading Women are being excluded from the stage. It’s time for quotas.

The Cosmo Davenport-Hines Poetry Prize: 2018 winners

 by Caitríona O’Reilly, lecturer in Creative Writing and Cosmo Davenport-Hines poetry prize judge

The theme for this year’s Cosmo Davenport-Hines poetry prize was ‘Reconciliation’; a prompt which promised to be both relevant and timely. Nevertheless, among the 96 entries there were – perhaps surprisingly – few on the subject of politics. Or perhaps it is not so surprising that lyric writing should focus on the preoccupations of the self?

Most entries interpreted reconciliation in the light of personal relationships, whether with significant others, siblings, or parents. Other interpretations were more abstract: politics (yes, occasionally), but also the attempt to reconcile different parts of the personality; different cultures with their conflicting claims on the self; or present realities with the imperatives of memory.

My fellow judges and I had our own small work of reconciliation to carry out, of course: deciding which among these competing and widely differing voices would eventually emerge victorious. Thankfully – and I know judges of literary prizes almost always say this, but this time it happens to be true— a harmonious consensus was achieved with minimum discussion. Many of the poems on our personal shortlists overlapped, and the standout contenders declared themselves at an early stage in the judging. As in past years, we had the luxury of awarding not just a First Prize, but also a Second, Third, and three further Commendations, which kept all of us happy.

If the successful poems have anything in common, it is the qualities shared by all good poetry: an eye at an unexpected angle to reality; a strong sense of line; a way with metaphor; a convincing and consistent tone carrying through the poem from beginning to end; and most importantly, that quickening in language that is unmistakeable.

Continue reading The Cosmo Davenport-Hines Poetry Prize: 2018 winners

‘Gender blind’ casting, who and what goes unseen?

by Hailey Bachrach, PhD candidate researching gender in early modern history plays in collaboration with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, @hbachrach.

 

The Globe Theatre’s opening two shows of the 2018 season (and opening shows of the tenure of new artistic director Michelle Terry) are ‘gender blind’. It’s a phrase that’s deployed freely now in discussions about casting, usually referring to women being cast in male roles, usually in plays by Shakespeare and other canonical writers. But it’s not used with much consistency: Terry and her company use it to describe their approach to casting, in which both men and women are cast in roles that do not match their own gender, but play them as written. It has also been used to describe casting women in male roles that are then played as women.

The attention paid to gender in all of these productions seems to undermine what the phrase ‘gender blind’ clearly suggests: that the actor’s gender will go unseen.

What’s less clear is whether this lack of sight is meant to apply to the artists or the audience. It’s worth noting this term has been critiqued as ableist, but as it remains a phrase used by the production and criticism industries, we should explore the implications of its suggestion that we do not simply ignore, but literally do not see gender in these productions. Continue reading ‘Gender blind’ casting, who and what goes unseen?

On the Anthropocene, and debts of gratitude and solidarity: reflections on a lecture

by Dr Adelene Buckland, Senior Lecturer in English Literature

On 21 March 2018, I gave a talk for the London Arts and Humanities Partnership (LAHP) ‘Arts and Society’ series at Senate House. As I spoke, students in the building performed a banner drop in support of the lecturers’ strike over pensions, and had the fire exits drilled shut on them by those who did not support their protest. It was an odd moment in my career, to be speaking on Darwin while unaware of political events unfolding elsewhere in the building, and it caused me some reflections on my paper.

The work was drawn from an essay forthcoming in Philological Quarterly in a special issue on ‘earth writing’, the outcome of a symposium I attended in Düsseldorf in April 2016, when I was five weeks pregnant with my third daughter and unable to drink much of the wine (and unable to tell anybody why). The essay is also poignant for me because it marks (I hope) the culmination of what I guess might be called the ‘early career’ phase of my research, on Victorian literature and geology.

‘The Holocene Extinction’, Image © http://bytesdaily.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/the-holocene-extinction.html.

Reviews and citations of my book, Novel Science, have sometimes surprised me in coming from an ecological perspective: in all the years I worked on the book, I hadn’t really thought about it in these terms at all. Since then, I have often been asked questions about the new geological Epoch in which we are now said to be living, the Anthropocene, and its relationship to my historical research. I wasn’t happy with any of my answers.

Continue reading On the Anthropocene, and debts of gratitude and solidarity: reflections on a lecture

From the Department of English at King's College London