2011 Late Summer Lectures

Lecture 1: ‘From Monster to Culture Hero: Zombies, Mass Culture, and the Horrors of Capitalism’

– Matthias Mösch

With more zombie movies released in the last decade than in the entire century before, ‘Zombie Survival Guides’ selling millions of copies, research societies modelling anticipated outbreaks, and every major city in North America and the UK featuring its own ‘Zombie Walk’ where hundreds to thousands of people roam moaning about the streets, the undead have become a fundamental fantasy of contemporary mass culture. This lecture will show why these creatures have become so pervasive and why we secretly like them. After providing an aetiology of the zombie myth, from its beginnings in Haiti to its xenophobic appropriations on the American silver screen, it will discuss the work of film director George A. Romero, who not only established the zombie film as a genre in its own right but also made the horror cinema a medium of overt protest and subversion.

 

Lecture 2: ‘Outlaws out West: The Shared Romance of Vikings and Cowboys’

– Richard Moss

This presentation will chart the links between themes of masculinity and the figure of the ‘outlaw’, drawing from Norse literature and the Western movie genre. By focusing on the concepts of pioneership, individualism and outlaw-hood in the Icelandic sagas (Egils saga), the paper will attempt to outline how these concepts transfer into the genre movies. It will be argued that the image of the lone hero put forward (mostly by Clint Eastwood) in the Western movie genre echoes the literature of the heroic age in films such as Hang ‘em High (1968), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). The goal of the presentation will be to show that the typical ‘frontier spirit’ posited by American culture is also present in other cultures and literary genres.

 

Lecture 3: ‘Modernism and the Metropolis: Lights, Camera, Consciousness’

– Avishek Parui

Modernism as an art movement exists in a complex relationship with the twentieth century metropolis. Modernism was most strongly marked by the emerging technologies that shaped its corresponding cultural conditions. New questions of time, space and consciousness began to emerge. Cinema was viewed as a massive commercial machine as well as an innovative art form that could offer new identities in time and space. Unsurprisingly, the twentieth-century metropolis with its architecture of human sensibilities offered itself as the most appropriate subject for cinema. In my paper, I seek to study how both early cinema and Modernist literature were influenced by the city, and attempt to study the perspectives in the representation of the metropolis in the cinematic and literary texts of Modernism, with their innovative treatments of time, space, and human identity.

 

Lecture 4: ‘Poetry and Prejudice: Justifying One’s Valuation of Pound’

– Jack Baker

Ezra Pound’s poetic reputation is still sullied by his distasteful politics. Pound’s eccentric economic theories led him into anti-Semitism, and into the delusion that fascism might be a panacea for Europe’s ills. These beliefs find repeated and troubling expression in his verse, creating a tension between art and politics that is most keenly manifest in the Pisan Cantos, for which Pound was controversially awarded the Bollingen prize in 1948. This sequence, composed while Pound was held in a military detention camp at Pisa, contains passages of striking lyric beauty, but it is also infused with examples of the poet’s lingering anti-Semitic and fascist sympathies. My lecture will consider the Pisan Cantos in relation to this enduring problem: can the aesthetic value of a work of art be reconciled with its repellent sentiments? Taking its cue from F. R. Leavis’s provoking essay ‘Justifying One’s Valuation of Blake’, this lecture will reconsider the relation of aesthetics to politics in Pound, and ask what moral considerations, if any, should attend the evaluation of poetry.

 

Lecture 5: ‘R18: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Traditional Folk and Fairy-Tales’

– Kaja Marczewska

The phenomenon of fairy-tales nowadays is almost synonymous with brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault; however, treating fairy-tales as literature for children could not be further from the truth. The familiar aesthetics of ‘once upon a time’ has, for the biggest part of its existence, enjoyed a rather dubious status and bore a stain of its folk origins, deeming the tales inferior, inappropriate, and often obscene. Dominated by scenes of incest, sexual innuendos and off-colour allusions, the tales were originally intended for adult audience only, functioning, as John Updike pointed out as the ‘television and pornography of […] preliterate peoples’. By considering the role of editorial process and revision in handling sexual content and aspects of violence and horror in traditional folk and fairy-tales, I will aim to discuss the changing societal norms as well as the shift from orality to literacy that gave rise to fairy-tale as a genre as we know it today.

 

Lecture 6: ‘The Gentle Art of Advertising: Ulysses and the Material of Modernity’

– Matthew Hayward

This lecture will discuss the ‘everyday’ content of Ulysses, focusing particularly upon the advertisements that recur within the narrative. With visual examples of the contemporary advertisements upon which Joyce drew, I demonstrate the historical accuracy of Joyce’s representation of the consumer culture that surrounded him. Yet, as I go on to argue, Joyce’s project involves more than a merely automatic recording of his material surroundings. In the second half of this lecture, I position Joyce’s advertisements within the broader narrative of Ulysses, and illustrate the complexity  aesthetic, symbolic and psychological of his representation of consumerism. I argue that the careful reading of Ulysses allows us to see consumerism as the fundamental continuity between Joyce’s world and ours. In its anatomy of the consumer culture within which we still live, I argue for the continued relevance of Ulysses to twenty-first-century readers.

 

Lecture 7: ‘In Memoriam: The Death of the Elegy?’

– Naomi Banks-Marklew

‘All great literature is about sex and death’, according to Woody Allen.  Sex has been a popular topic for readers during recent decades and has ceased to be a taboo, whilst death, which was perhaps the most popular topic for poetry in the Victorian age, is now something we’d rather not think or read about.  What does this mean for the elegy, the genre of poetry devoted to memorialising the dead? In fact, poetry itself has become increasingly ‘specialist’, with a dwindling readership, especially outside academia. Is there still a place within contemporary literature for poetry that deals with the painful subject of death?  Could we imagine a poem of mourning becoming a best-seller in our time, as Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam’ did in the mid-nineteenth century? This lecture will provide some answers to these questions by giving an overview of the genre of elegy. It will seek to suggest ways in which poetry might help to overcome some of the silence that can surround the twenty-first-century experience of grief.

 

Lecture 8: ‘The Knight and the Witch: Powers of Disguise in the Medieval World’

A joint presentation, comprised of two shorter lectures:

(1) ‘Who are you again?: Disguise and Dressing-Up in Medieval Romance’

– Jamie McKinstry

Disguise is a distinctive feature of medieval chivalric romances and characters often operate under false identities as they journey through the narrative landscapes. The lecture will examine some of the more unusual disguises used in romances, such as beggars, hunters, wolves, children, and swans, to emphasise the inherent entertainment created from such temporary ‘transformation’. It will be suggested that the various uses of disguise greatly increase the creative possibilities of a romance and functioned as an expectation in the genre: the hilarious Dame Sirith, a late thirteenth-century romance pastiche, employs disguise very much in this way as a vehicle for narrative development, audience engagement, and the impish, childish delight that occurs when all is not quite as it first appears.

(2) ‘Handbags and Gladrags: Cross-dressing for Power and Profit in Old Norse Myth and Legend’

– David Varley

This lecture will explore the concept of cross-dressing in Old Norse mythology and saga literature.  In the society of Medieval Iceland, cross-dressing (or to be accused of such) was a profoundly shameful act: not only was it grounds for divorce, but prolonged feuds could blow up over it, sometimes leading to the wholesale massacre of entire families. There is, however, another social aspect to the literary representation of cross-dressing: it is ambiguously related to the practice of seiðr, a notionally feminine type of powerful magic. This paper will initially examine the connection between seiðr, gender, power and clothing , and will draw upon literary and archaeological sources to provide a sketch of how cross-dressing was received and perceived in the ‘real’ world. Having established the great extent to which this debate is integrated into the everyday working of normal society, the focus will shift to the divine world, focusing on the way Odin, Thor and Loki, the three most prominent deities of the Old Norse pantheon, negotiate with the concepts of gender and power in their own cross-dressing escapades.

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