Category Archives: Contemporary

Ideologies of Integration and Exclusion in the Neoliberal University: An interview with Dr. Christine Okoth

By Harriet Thompson and Christine Okoth in conversation

Dr. Christine Okoth

Christine received her PhD from King’s in November 2018 and is now a Research Fellow in the English Department at the University of Warwick. Christine’s supervisors at King’s College London were Jane Elliott and John Howard. Her PhD was examined by Nicole King (Goldsmiths) and Celeste-Marie Bernier (Edinburgh).  As part of the Leverhulme funded project ‘World Literature and Commodity Frontiers: The Ecology of the ‘long’ 20th Century’ run by Mike Niblett (Warwick) and Chris Campbell (Exeter), Christine is writing a monograph tentatively entitled The Novel of Extraction.

Harriet is a PhD student in the English department and co-editor of the King’s English blog.

Harriet Thompson (HT): I wanted to start by congratulating you on completing your PhD last year. The catalyst for our conversation was the news that you’ve recently been awarded one of only six Elsevier Outstanding PhD Thesis Prizes granted at King’s in January 2019, and the only award granted to a thesis in the Faculty of the Arts and Humanities. I know your thesis explores the integration of African immigrant literature into the economic, political, and cultural fabric of the United States. I wonder if you could talk about how your research relates to ongoing debates about the value of migration and particularly the issue of which migrant persons are deemed valuable or disposable?

Christine Okoth (OK): Thank you so much – I’m still quite shocked that I even have a PhD let alone that my examiners thought it was good enough for a prize! In what is probably a familiar tale, I had no idea what my thesis would eventually become when I started at King’s in 2014. It all started with Lisa Lowe’s Immigrant Acts, a book that I encountered during my masters and that remains my favourite academic monograph. In it, Lowe develops a theory of Asian American political and cultural production as a kind of antithesis to the American national project. The history of Asian exclusion, which, by the way, isn’t taught nearly widely enough in UK universities, serves as the backdrop to Lowe’s argument. The idea that immigration legislation relates closely to the position that cultural production by immigrants holds within the U.S. nation-state stayed with me. I wanted to ask more questions about how the sudden popularity of African migrant literature – Adichie’s Americanah and Teju Cole’s Open City for example – related to shifts in U.S. immigration legislation. These novels weren’t exactly narratives of exclusion but are instead emergent genres of integration that take place against the backdrop of a changing political discourse around immigration.

Continue reading Ideologies of Integration and Exclusion in the Neoliberal University: An interview with Dr. Christine Okoth

In troubling times, it’s best to turn to your inner poet

by Ruth Padel, Professor of Poetry. Emerald, published by Chatto & Windus, is her 11th poetry collection.

“Never be afraid of saying you like poetry,” Jeremy Corbyn told thousands of people at Glastonbury in 2017, after reciting the end of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘The Masque of Anarchy‘:

“Rise like lions after slumber … / Shake your chains to earth like dew … / Ye are many, they are few”.

Shelley wrote that poem – an apocalyptic vision of Britain’s destructive, corrupt, hypocritical rulers – after the Peterloo massacre in 1819, when the cavalry charged a peaceful crowd listening to speeches on parliamentary reform. Fifteen people died. “I met Murder on the way/ He had a mask like Castlereagh/ Very smooth he looked, yet grim;/ Seven blood-hounds followed him”.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1819, by Alfred Clint, via Wikipedia.

In the following stanzas, the foreign secretary, prime minister and lord chancellor of the day accompany Lord Castlereagh, the leader of the House of Commons, through the groaning land, along with Anarchy, Shelley’s name for capitalism. The procession is stopped by a young woman called Hope (who “looked more like Despair”), who lay down in front of the horses.

I learned about Corbyn’s endorsement of poetry in discussion with Shami Chakrabarti in a “poetry and human rights” event at King’s College London, part of a series that highlights poetry’s conversation with all aspects of life, public or private, political or scientific. Continue reading In troubling times, it’s best to turn to your inner poet

Pop Enlightenments

by Emrys Jones, Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture, and host of Pop Enlightenments Listen on Soundcloud and iTunes.

Earlier this year, I received what might be my favourite ever comment from an anonymous peer reviewer. It was regarding an article I had written for Literature Compass surveying recent scholarship on the eighteenth-century poet, Alexander Pope. I had offhandedly remarked in the essay that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the 2004 film written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry, was Pope’s moment of greatest visibility in modern popular culture.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, poster c. Focus Films via Wikimedia Commons.

I didn’t think this would prove too controversial. The film takes a line from Pope’s Eloisa to Abelard (1717) as its title, and has one of its characters quote that line as part of a larger extract from the same poem. But the peer reviewer—amiably, it must be said—disagreed. Had I considered the Elvis song, ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’, with its assertion, cribbed from Pope but attributed to generic “wise men”, that “fools rush in”? Had I watched the 1997 film—a Friends-era Matthew Perry vehicle—that took its title from that same line of poetry (Essay on Criticism, 1711, l.625)? I was sorely tempted to rewrite the whole article at this stage, to turn it into a lengthy dissertation on Pope’s importance for the romantic comedy genre. Hope Springs, anyone? But instead I stuck to my guns, politely insisted on Eternal Sunshine’s pre-eminence, and resubmitted the essay. Continue reading Pop Enlightenments

Radical transparency: how to build political agency for digital users

by Clare Birchall, Reader in Contemporary Culture, Department of English

It’s not often, as a theorist, that I have the opportunity to watch my ideas come to life. When the King’s Digital Lab offered to fund a workshop to explore how its designers and engineers might help me to build a digital tool that can enact what I call ‘radical transparency’, I naturally jumped at the chance. In contrast to weak forms of transparency implemented by some public and private bodies that offer the public access to certain data in lieu of political commitment as well as responsibility without power, I envisage radical transparency as processes that would offer meaningful, political and contextualised information and data that promote experiences of political agency for digital users.

As well as the team at King’s Digital Lab, I wanted to draw together artists, computer scientists and other digital theorists to think through the ethical protocols as well as practical possibilities of any form radical transparency might take.

Burak Arikan’s network map of concept tags in Japanese, prepared for Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art . Photo © https://burak-arikan.com/

Continue reading Radical transparency: how to build political agency for digital users

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

‘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 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

close: letter #1

By Ellie Jones (AHRC PhD researcher, Tate and English Department) and Bryony White (AHRC/ LAHP PhD researcher, English Department), co-editors of close. close is a monthly tinyletter (article sent to your inbox) exploring intimacy, intimate lives, and objects, supported by the London Arts and Humanities Partnership.

For some time, we have wanted to try and find a way to talk across our research in bodies, queer lives and intimacy. Both situated in the English Department at King’s and with desks next to one another in a small communal postgraduate research room, we have been speaking about how intimacy, its pleasures and its discontents, has long preoccupied the work of writers and artists.

In Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, for example, intimacy is a locus of change, growth and transformation: ‘there had risen up a lovely tree in the brisk sea-salted air of their intimacy (for in some ways no one understood him, felt with him, as Clarissa did)—their exquisite intimacy’. Through intimacy, Woolf radically connects feeling to knowledge and self-understanding. However, intimacy here is also elusive. For the two former lovers, it is part of the air, atmospheric and ineffable. Continue reading close: letter #1

Trumping Transparency: The Need for Government Data to be more Empowering

by Clare Birchall, Department of English

The words “Trump” and “transparency” don’t often appear together. Administrative transparency isn’t something Trump promised during his campaign, and it hasn’t been on the agenda in the last year. Yet the term has begun to turn up recently in communications from the Trump camp.

In July, referring to the Commission on Election Integrity, Trump claimed that the “voter fraud panel”, as he called it, would be a “very transparent process . . . very open for everybody to see.” The American Civil Liberties Union begs to differ. It has lodged a legal complaint stating that the commission has violated “the non-discretionary transparency and public access requirements” of the Federal Advisory Committee Act by holding “its first meeting without public notice; without making that meeting open to the public; and without timely notice in the Federal Register.” Trump also used the word “transparent” to describe his eldest son’s response to accusations that he had failed to disclose meetings with Russians during the presidential campaign.

On July 12, 2017, @RealDonaldTrump tweeted: “My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”

These examples suggest that Trump hasn’t fully understood – or has wilfully misunderstood – the meaning of transparency and what it would take, in practice, to achieve it.

Continue reading Trumping Transparency: The Need for Government Data to be more Empowering

Configurations of Empire

by Trisha Remetir (UNC) and James Rakoczi (KCL). though this could not have been written without the contributions of Christine Okoth (KCL), Jennifer Ho (UNC) and Rafael Lubner (KCL), Dr Jane Elliot (KCL), Dr Seb Franklin (KCL).

In August 2017, six students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill travelled to London to take part in the inaugural UNC-KCL graduate student conference: ‘Configurations of Empire’. The two-day conference allowed each participant to present a work-in-progress paper that explored critical-theoretical engagements with conditions of life, labour and belonging under contemporary formations of Empire. Empire, with a capital E, is a term coined by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri to conceptualise the globalised—and totalised—political-economic relations that characterise the present.

Topics from the North American side of the Atlantic included twentieth-century African American literature, feminist music studies, queer studies, online streaming services’ television shows and contemporary representations of labo(u)r and migration. On the London side, topics included an experimental electronic musician’s transcendentalist critique of the post-human, the psycho-geographies of mental health service user movements in London and the insidious dynamics of the logic of recycling. The conference culminated in a keynote by Seb Franklin on the coding and forms of disposal.

The conference, then, was an event, a research output, a moment, and the satisfying culmination of a year of hard work. This blog post could be about that conference, but instead we want it to tell a different story, one about the networks of working & reading & collaboration & arguments which led to the “event” and continue to develop after…

Continue reading Configurations of Empire