Berne, 15-16 September 2017: The Materialities of American Culture – a report by Edward Wright, University of Bern
This two day workshop offered participants a chance to deepen their understanding of how the theorising of materiality might intersect with their own research interests. Professor Christian Emden of Rice University, whose own research concerns the modern intellectual history of Europe, opened with a keynote titled “Neoliberal Hyperobjects and Communist Biospheres: The Political Fallacies of Posthuman Materialism”. Professor Emden’s overarching point was that we pay attention to the political implications of the material turn in recent critical thought. The work of posthumanist thinkers such as Rosi Braidotti and Timothy Morton were appraised as somewhat deficient for the very reason that they seek to enfold too much into their theories, without having fully considered the role normativity plays in defining their objects of study. For the purpose of mounting this critique, a definition of normativity was elaborated, whereby the normative world is understood as “a historically emerged material space of possibilities”. Siding with another posthumanist voice, Jane Bennett, Professor Emden argued that the materiality of culture – which he understands as being akin to Donna Haraway’s coinage, natureculture – needs be taken seriously if we are to formulate an ethics that can account for the role normativity plays. The accusation levelled against posthumanist thought – albeit not at all posthumanist thinkers – is that in grounding their ethics on a form of ontological levelling they lose a sense of proportion and end up making ill-advised claims concerning the accountability of actors – in the sense of a Latourian network. Bennett, on the other hand, avoids the “diffusion of accountability” which sees moral wrongs of differing consequence being rendered equivalent, for her account pays heed to material context.
Topics raised by audience members during question time addressed whether posthumanist debates run the risk of over-theorisation (Straub); whether we should distinguish materiality from matter (Behluli); whether new materialism as a discipline can be effectively applied to the study of intangible spiritual traditions (Wassan); and whether the focus on materiality is in itself a very Western preoccupation, and thus constrained in its applicability (Heim).
After a typically satisfying lunch at Ali Baba, Professor Mark Seltzer (UCLA) delivered his keynote on the relevance of systems theory to the study of materiality. One of the starting points for this talk was Harold Morowitz’s proposition in his 1968 book Energy Flow in Biology, in which he states that “the energy that flows through a system acts to organize that system”. The study of systems, be they biological or social, figures large in the context of new materialism. Thus, among the texts provided as preparation for this workshop was a chapter outlining Niklas Luhmann’s appraisal of social systems. Professor Seltzer gave examples of how the premise that society, as a social system, consists solely of communication, manifests materially. That is to say, thoughts are embodied, and communication between subjects demonstrates the materiality of the social. Here Professor Seltzer referred to Sharon Cameron’s 1989 book Thinking in Henry James, which provides him with the argument that thinking takes place between persons. His main example, however, was the act of “radical exteriorisation” that is exercising. More specifically, the “self-stressed workout” – with emphasis on the work-like nature of exercise – is a form of self-realisation, or communication with oneself via the exterior. For especially in the context of a gym, one’s exercise routine is conducted amongst a public of exercising individuals, whose sighting of the “publicly worked body” makes the process socially meaningful. The significance of exteriority – we might say materiality – was also promoted by the example of the Jason Bourne films, in which the protagonist reads his interior state through the results of his own actions. The faulty connection of mind and body is offset by the flow of information through the material world. Thus the action hero becomes a Latourian actor-network hero, and a cultural object – in this case a film – can be read as an exploration of the “mood” of systems. The status of the workout as a form of work highlights the quasi-religious devotion to repetition endemic in modern society: A conversion has taken place, in which a Taylorised work ethic has replaced ethics per se.
Among the discussion points that were posed afterwards were, whether or not we can understand self-destructive acts as a form of self-realisation (Anders) and what role genre plays in the appreciation of systemic devices (Rippl).
On the second day attendees presented their “tough nuts to crack”; short summaries of their research projects followed by inputs and opinions from the plenum. What follows here is a summary of the projects. Roman Bischof’s work is on representations of mental illness in in twentieth century novels; Claudine Bollinger looks at altered cognition in science fiction; Joe Comer interrogates discourses of LGBTQ advocacy; Stella Castelli investigates aesthetic strategies used in presenting death in literature and film; Vidya Ravi has begun an enquiry into the depiction of rurality in South Asian fiction; Edward Wright is making the first steps towards an investigation of the metaphoric use of decay and compost imagery in contemporary literature; Zainabu Jallo is studying the spread of a diaspora consciousness through visual representation in Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion; and Rafique Wassan is examining Sufi cultural heritage in Pakistan.
In the afternoon most attendees went on a tour of the Stiftung Abegg near Riggisberg. The museum is based on a private collection of textiles such as garments and tapestries from all ages and all around the world, including some rare works from the middle east. The recent refurbishment is very well thought through, and brings the best out of the collection. A highlight was the burial garments for the Chinese nobility. Our guide explained how the textiles are handled, including some of the conservation methods being used, which served as a reminder of the materiality of visual communication. Although the tour was brief, the museum collection is rich and warrants a second visit.
Neuchâtel, 30 April 2017: Change in English Language and Literature – a report by Aleida Auld, University of Geneva
As a doctoral student, constraints of time and energy usually require staying devotedly focused on one’s historical period and subject matter. It is thus a particular pleasure to go further afield, to literary landscapes, foreign and fresh.
On Sunday, April 30, CUSO hosted a doctoral workshop in tandem with the biennial conference of the Swiss Association of University Teachers of English (SAUTE). The conference’s plenary speakers, now workshop participants – Professors Ewan Fernie, David Simpson, and Felipe Fernández-Armesto – guided us from G.W.F. Hegel’s Enlightenment to Walter Benjamin’s Modernism, to present-day research on the human animal and cultural production.
Along the way, we addressed critical trends, like the revived interest in character studies (drama), and in the relationship between the lyric speaker and the non-fictional poet (poetry). We discussed detailed questions on the texts, such as, what does Benjamin mean in ‘The Critique of Violence’ (1921) by the educative power [...] in its perfected form? But we also pondered and debated more elemental topics, among them, how cultural production is related to time, and the purpose of language.
In the afternoon three doctoral students gave work-in-progress papers. Vincent Laughery, based at the University of Lausanne and a recipient of the Swiss National Science Foundation Doc.CH scholarship, presented an overview of his project on metaphor and agency in Shakespeare’s tragedies. Kilian Schindler, from the University of Fribourg and another recipient of the Doc.CH, explored Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta (c. 1590) as a potential response to Machiavelli as an ethical thinker, particularly in the character Barabas’s ‘ethics of dissembling’. Representing the University of Geneva, I gave the third paper on ‘Canonical Change and the Material Text’, which offered a theoretical overview of my doctoral project and posited some tentative general arguments. Vincent, Kilian, and I received insightful feedback from the conference’s plenary speakers and the other workshop participants. Genuinely useful responses were also offered by post-doctoral researchers Emma Depledge and Alice Leonard, who went out of their way to attend the session.
On behalf of all the participants, I would like to warmly thank Ewan, David, and Felipe, as well as the organizers at the University of Neuchâtel, Professors Martin Hilpert, Margaret Tudeau-Clayton, and Patrick Vincent and, last but not least, doctoral assistant Anne-Claire Michoux.
Neuchâtel, 11 March 2017: PhD Day: Conferences and Publication – a report by Anne-Claire Michoux, University of Neuchâtel
This one-day workshop was one of the most relevant CUSO workshops I have attended so far and I would strongly recommend CUSO keep running these sessions annually as they are an invaluable opportunity for starting and ongoing PhD students to discuss seemingly simple yet essential elements of an academic career. As PhD candidates we are asked to give priority to our thesis, and it was indeed mentioned that “A good PhD is a finished PhD”, but we were also reminded of the other ‘boxes’ that need to be ticked during the course of a doctoral programme if we want to pursue a career in academia, namely conference attendance and participation and publications, both during the PhD and transforming the thesis into a monograph. The conveners and the speakers focused on the idea of balance, of finding ways to conciliate the different aspects of an academic career, to ensure that we would then stand in good stead for future applications. The event was truly geared towards current doctoral candidates. Speaking to other participants after the event (we were a mix of literature and linguistics students), we all agreed that we had greatly benefited from this event, which, though daunting at times, was a necessary and constructive seminar. Some participants were finishing MA students and they found it extremely helpful as well. Some of the tips are applicable to our future professional lives.
The day was divided between conference attendance and publications. We discussed why attend conferences (keeping up with current research, building a network, trialling out ideas and getting feedback, etc.), how many to attend and where, how to write an abstract (a particularly helpful exercise), how to write the dreaded ‘bio blurb’, how to best use powerpoint and other materials, and how to manage nerves. Dr Depledge advised us that conferences should “work for us” – while they are an important aspect of an academic career, they should be part of our doctoral research and should be chosen according to our research interests. We also addressed the issue of funding, where to apply for funding, and how to write a successful application. We then discussed publications, how many we should aim to submit, and what we should consider when submitting our work (how to find which journals are the best fit, what to expect once we submit an article). The final topic was how to transform the thesis into a monograph. Points like how much of thesis has already been published elsewhere were mentioned, which is not something that we necessarily think of during the course of our PhDs. Although few of us are currently at this stage in our career, it was still incredibly helpful to find out what aspects to consider when approaching publishers. It was an important reminder that, whilst research is our main focus, we should be thinking about our long-term professional goals.
One point I wish to stress was the genuinely supportive and encouraging atmosphere of the workshop. Dr Perry early on reminded us that one important aspect of an academic career is generosity, and the workshop was conducted in that spirit. Drs Depledge and Leonard very kindly circulated monograph proposals they submitted to academic presses, which was incredibly generous of them, especially when other academics are so reluctant to share thoughts or experiences. All speakers were incredibly friendly, welcomed any questions we had, and were very honest about their own experiences. We all left feeling that we are part of a community and with a few more tools to tackle our academic future.
Neuchâtel, 24-25 February 2017: 'Secret Politics of the Novel' – a report by Anne-Claire Michoux, University of Neuchâtel
Taking advantage of the presence of Professors John Mullan and Garrett Stewart in Neuchatel for a PhD viva, we wished to organise an event that would bring together people working on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and bridge the gap that often exists between the two periods. Our topic was that of the ‘Secret Politics of the Novel’, which aimed to discuss narrative more generally and thus appeal to academics working outside of these periods.
On Friday, Professor Mullan’s extremely entertaining lecture entitled ‘The Secrets of Jane Austen’, was followed by a workshop on Jane Austen’s Emma. The session focused on a close analysis of one of the chapters, which really challenged participants to think carefully about the mechanics of the text and how Austen’s prose works secretly on its readers. On Saturday morning Professor Stewart delivered a lecture entitled ‘The Open Secrets of Narrative Prose’, in which he discussed some of his recent research on style in the nineteenth century. During the workshop we tested out some of his ideas through a close reading of a chapter from Charles Dickens’s Dombey and Son.
The day concluded with two presentations from Mark Ittensohn (Zurich), ‘The trouble of christening amphibious productions: Galt, Irving, Scott and the short story cycle’, and Anne-Claire Michoux (Neuchatel), ‘“The beauty of truth and sincerity in all our dealings with each other’ (Emma): The Problem of Secrecy in Romantic Fiction’. The first paper was the presentation of the argument and development for an article that will be submitted after revisions, while the second was a research in progress paper, which aimed to clarify a specific research question for the doctoral thesis. The presentations were followed by generous feedback from the guest speakers and participants.
As both participant and organiser I am perhaps a little biased towards this event but the feedback that I received was positive. We all enjoyed the lectures and the workshops, delivered and conducted in very different styles. As a young academic it was a helpful reminder that there is not one perfect way of giving a lecture or leading a workshop, it is about finding one that suits who we are. Both lectures were extremely stimulating. I really enjoyed the fact that in both workshops we looked at novels in close detail.
I was very grateful to have the opportunity to give a presentation that was very much work in progress. I find CUSO workshops the ideal environment to properly try out ideas and be honest about the stage I am at. Because we are a relatively small group and have by now attended the same events, we know each other and I feel more comfortable and have a real sense of community and scientific exchange as opposed to conference settings which can sometimes be a little more intimidating and unpleasant.
Fribourg, 24 September 2016: ‘Memory, Perception, Projection: The Long History of Imagination in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Literature’– a report by Patrick Jones, University of Geneva
The third instalment of the Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Literature Travelling Seminar took place at the University of Fribourg.
We began the day with a ‘speed criticism’ exercise. Led by Professor Ros Ballaster and her trusty timer, the rules were simple: having read a selection of short passages prepared in advance (ranging from Dryden to Keats), each person in the group had one minute to offer an on-the-spot close reading in relation to the workshop theme. Despite some initial trepidation, this was an entertaining and productive way to start proceedings, limbering up our critical faculties and enabling us to map a working history of the imagination in eighteenth and nineteenth-century literature.
A delicious lunch in the autumn sun was followed by two work-in-progress papers. First up was Aleida Auld from the University of Geneva, who gave a fascinating talk entitled ‘Reimagining Shakespeare as Poet-Playwright in the Early Eighteenth Century’. Drawing on previously underexplored archival material, Aleida challenged the accepted account that Shakespeare’s poems were neglected during the early eighteenth century, and offered a more balanced view of his canonisation as poet-playwright during this time. Following this, Anne-Claire Michoux, from the University of Neuchâtel, offered a rich and thought-provoking meditation on the ways in which representations of the female body are intertwined with reflections on national identity in Frances Burney’s supposedly apolitical The Wanderer (1814).
Professor Ballaster rounded off the day with an illuminating lecture on ‘Metonymy, Mimicry, [and] Metaphor: the Fortune of Stage Satire in the Eighteenth Century’, sparking a number of conversations that continued well into the evening as we enjoyed a glass of wine at a local pub.
Many thanks to the speakers, and especially the workshop organisers Emma Depledge and Anne-Claire Michoux, for such a stimulating day!
Lausanne, November 25-26, 2016: “American Studies: Looking Backwards and Forward” – a report by Cécile Heim, University of Lausanne
As all good things should, this workshop started with food: a common lunch at the “Banane” in order to get to know each other and meet the speakers in a less formal setting. After this tasty opening, Cynthia Wu, Assistant Professor with the Transnational Studies Department at the State University of New York at Buffalo, opened the scholarly part of this workshop with a speech on the life of Senator Daniel Inouye and his exploitation of his disability in his political discourses, and on how the Asian-American success story on Hawai’i renders the colonialized condition of indigenous existence invisible. The following seminar which was connected to her speech and on an article by famous indigenous scholar Haunani-Kay Trask touched on key issues in Indigenous Studies, such as self-determination, as well as Asian-American studies, immigrant studies, and the relationship between land and capitalism, and the problematic nationalist discourse in Trask’s article. This first day then ended, as all good things should, with a fondue dinner (and steak or fish for others) in Ouchy.
Early on Saturday morning we met again to listen to the second keynote speaker, Dr. Tomasz Basiuk, director of the American Studies Center at the University of Warsaw, who led us into a different realm of American Studies. After a short introduction into Queer Theory, he introduced us to the rather unknown, yet weirdly fascinating figure of Charlotte Bach, which was followed by a discussion on the place of individual stories in larger fields of studies, and on the relation between Queer and American Studies.
After a coffee break, it was the PhD students’ turn to present their work. Starting us off, was Roxane Hughes from the University of Lausanne who presented her practically completed project on the practice of footbinding in Chinese American Literature, which she approaches as much from a historical as from a literary point of view. I then presented my own project on the cultural negotiation of the law and justice in Native American crime fiction with a special focus on sexual violence. After lunch, Sofie Behluli from the University of Bern, presented her project on Originals, Reproductions and Ekphrasis in Donna Tartt, before Audrey Loetscher, from the University of Lausanne, presented her project on the roots of American unsustainability. Both of these projects are still in the early stages and hopefully received a lot of interesting and useful feedback. Finally, James Dawson, also from the University of Lausanne, presented his research on David Foster Wallace’s connections between Materialism, the body and capital.
Although this workshop developed in a different way than announced and did not cover the history of the field of American Studies, it was very nice to meet and talk with the keynote speakers and, especially, PhD students in order to strengthen the bonds of our PhD community, and it certainly did show how far American Studies can stretch, as within one and a half days, the participants discussed topics as varied as Indigenous Studies, Asian-American Studies, Queer Theory, identity politics, postmodernism, American unsustainability, and Materialism.
So thank you very much to the keynote speakers Cynthia Wu and Tomasz Basiuk, as well as to the MA students and PhD candidates who attended, and, most of all, to the organizers Agnieszka Soltysik-Monnet and Joanne Chassot!
Lausanne, 2-3 September 2016: Big Data and Bad Data: Challenges of quantitative and qualitative research methods in linguistics – a report by Tobias Leonhardt, University of Bern
This workshop focused on the methodological obstacles that present themselves when working with the increasing amounts of available data in diachronic as well as synchronic linguistics and brought together a small contingent of historical linguists and dialectologists of English varieties. It was highlighted that, besides many crucial differences, there are also many overlaps between the two strands in linguistics, and that therefore, at least to some degree, the methods used in corpus linguistic research are not restricted to those strands. Over two days, ten presentations and three discussion sessions helped further our understanding of not just the work of researchers in the other strand but also that of our own.
In the first block, Susan Fitzmaurice (University of Sheffield), Daisy Smith (University of Edinburgh), Moragh Gordon (Utrecht University), and Yasushi Miyazaki (Kwansei Gakuin University) held their presentations. Among other things, they raised questions as to the definition of what is and what is not a token, whether corpus research requires for a key term to be explicitly mentioned or if it suffices for it to be described, circumscribed or implied. They all reminded us, in different ways, that our linguistic sources, our geographical sites and our more or less known authors and contributors all constitute complex linguistic realities, and they made it apparent that the human component can never be taken away completely but is always a requirement in some ways, regardless of there being more corpora or more sophisticated tools for our analysis. These and other issues were taken up in the open discussion where it was reinforced that our objects of interest (contemporary spoken varieties, written varieties in letters and manuscripts, etc.) must not be confused with the corpora that contain them. Furthermore, using tools for the analyses of corpora that contain our objects of interest requires a lot of sensitivity to all kinds of factors and issues, which renders corpus analysis slower than it might be assumed at first.
The second day was started with presentations by Alexander Bergs (University of Osnabrück), Sarah Grossenbacher (University of Bern), and Tino Oudesluijs (University of Lausanne). From these presentations there emerged a common theme, namely the necessity for human intervention when working with corpus analysis tools, which made for a perfect continuation of the previous day and fed nicely into the subsequent discussions: Search outputs must not be interpreted as representative of linguistic realities, and they must not be confused with results but need manual correction – which can only be undertaken adequately when there is a profound understanding of the structure of the corpora, its compilation methods, and a myriad of other historical and sociolinguistic aspects that contribute to the complex linguistic realities we ultimately (probably) aim to capture and describe.
The last block featured presentations by Daniel Schreier (University of Zurich), Nadine Chariatte (University of Bern), and a joint paper by Tobias Leonhardt, Sara Lynch and Dominique Bürki (University of Bern). It was, once again, demonstrated how a profound understanding of the corpora enables the right questions to be asked and the right methodologies to be chosen in an attempt to answer them. The best results are gained by not forgetting the speakers, communities and histories behind the data they provide, and by being sensitive to individual factors and by identifying the possibilities as well as limitations of our corpora accordingly. This holds true for contemporary speech that can be recorded today as well as the historical data in manuscripts and letters from various archives that survives from decades or even centuries past. The last discussion session, then, was concluded with a more or less open question: Is there bad data at all, or is there only bad scholarship?
Doubtlessly, this workshop has been fruitful and engaging. A big ‘Thank You’ goes out to the organisers, Tino Oudesluijs (University of Lausanne) and Moragh Gordon (Utrecht University), for creating this opportunity and for being wonderful hosts!
Bern, 6-7 June 2016: Beside Words: Rethinking Discourse/Text as Theory and Practice – a feedback by Joseph Comer, University of Bern
This workshop, led by Professor Susan Foster (University of California, Los Angeles, USA), Professor Rodney Jones (University of Reading, UK) and Professor Crispin Thurlow (University of Bern), was engaging and highly enjoyable. In discussing the various spatial, embodied, material and affective turns that the humanities and social sciences are undergoing, we were encouraged to think creatively, critically, and perhaps queerly about the limits of academic theory and practice. This was a great success of the workshop – the freedom all students had to rethink existing conventions and received practices. Throughout, we were made keenly aware of the limitations of creativity: we exposed the beguiling but misleading view that it functions through the complete unshackling of constraint. As Sisyphean as this may sound, our scholarly work is always creative and change-making – no matter how monolithic our institution/s, or how mammoth our task to describe the world, seems. In doing our work we (must) always inhabit the space beside those who’ve come before – we can never truly or simply move beyond.
Workshop participants in the UniS garden in Bern
Geneva, 27 May 2016: Critical Theory and "Life": Ethics, Religion, Ecology – a report by Rachel Nisbet, University of Lausanne
Our “Critical Theory and Life” workshop began with Professor Arthur Bradley leading a discussion on Foucault’s Biopower, the final paper in his lecture series “Society Must Be Defended” (1975-6). Professor Bradley’s insights helped us identify overlaps between Foucault’s notions of sovereign power and biopower. For Foucault, in the nineteenth century, the sovereign’s power to “take life or let live” transforms into biopower that makes live and lets die (241). He attributes this power shift to a change from body-centred power techniques that survey and drill individuals, to technologies applied to ‘man-as-species’ (242-3). This model, man-as-species, nevertheless has internal cleavages along race lines, and, in the nineteenth century, Foucault contends the ideology of cultivating a vigorous species gave rise to “colonizing genocide” (257). Thus, modern, and contemporary, murderous states elide the sovereign’s power to take life, with normative biopower technologies that manipulate the species (260). For instance, negative eugenics pre-emptively suppresses births amongst those with undesired traits. Foucault’s theory, accordingly, enables us to interpret contemporary events critically: in addition to discussing eugenic killing at a virtual level, we also considered how physical bodies become symbolic, as movements of resistance; and, how the earth is often conceptualised as a body by ecologists, who argue that it should be left to live, not managed. How life is accorded, and the relationship between life and agency, were other important considerations surfacing towards the end of our discussion.
After lunch, I presented my own PhD research on chapter 1.8 of Finnegans Wake. I read this as an ecoanarchist text that fosters individuals’ active role in furthering the collective flourishing of ‘life’ (Nisbet, 2016). Rather than a top-down biopolitic imposing behavioural shifts through “regulatory technology” – to make populations ‘fitter’ state resources – Joyce mobilises river-woman Anna Livia Plurabelle (ALP) to enact socio-environmental changes from the bottom-up (Foucault 249). ALP gifts specific, named Dubliners one from a series of ills, contraception, gout to quash greed, or a desire for insurrection. These gifts prompt members of Dublin’s urban community to recognise their unconscious drives, while impelling them to renegotiate their relationship with the Liffey’s environs (see also Nisbet, 2016).
Patrick Jones also presented his PhD research in this session, focusing on Henry James’ The Ambassadors (1903). His paper examined the destabilisation of the subject positions ‘he’ & ‘I’ in this text, pronouns that offer outside and inside vantage points respectively. Patrick drew on continental theorists including Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty to consider how free indirect style destabilises subject positions. The latter’s radio lecture, Man Seen From the Outside, was insightful in considering the place from where an individuated subject speaks. Merleau-Ponty observes that we recognise individuals from their defining bodily characteristics, including their looks, gesture, and speech. He adds we experience their emotions via the physical expressions of their bodies. Thus, emotions are enacted, and encountered in the space environing self and other. Selfhood is constructed in relation to the bodies that surround us. Merleau-Ponty’s observation that selfhood is defined in relational terms prompted Patrick to question how, then, does a voice claim itself?
Our “Theory and Life” workshop was subtitled “Ethics, Religion, Ecology.” If Professor Bradley’s session offered a clear ethical and theoretical frame for our discussions, then Professor Anne-Lise François’s contribution brought religion and ecology into the equation as well. She invited us to consider the process of sequestration, a term currently used to describe the long-term storage of carbon in old oil reserves. During her presentation this term, sequestration, was transposed as we considered how characters are sequestrated, buried in the ground, and made immanent in poems including Wordsworth’s “A Slumber did my Spirit Steal.” To enrich our close reading of these texts, Professor François introduced us to the work of contemporary French philosopher Frédéric Neyrat, who shares Foucault’s interest in biopolitics. Neyrat’s article “Intact” examines our fundamental urge to remain “untouched or unscathed,” impregnable to events (105). The desire to protect health and security is a fantasy in an environment of continual emergence, and bio-physical encounters. Yet Neyrat reminds us that for Freud there is a drive to remain untouched, in addition to the more familiar life affirming and death drives (109). Paradoxically, despite global calls to tighten boarders, immunize populations that seem to be motivated by this drive to remain untouched, we inhabit an earth that is no longer untouched, (111). Love is proposed by Neyrat as the antidote to this drive to remain untouched (ibid.).
I blundered into an example of loving sequestration on returning home after our workshop. Searching amongst my grandfather’s possessions, I looked for a letter. It was not in an old collection of postcards, so I opened a blue tin box with a butterfly on the lid. All the letters inside were dated February 1949. They were letters of condolence, written 67 years early. My great-grandparents had kept them; after they had passed on, my grandfather kept them; now they’ve come to me. As I read offerings of deepest sympathy, at the sudden death of my grandfather’s younger brother, I was shocked at their authenticity, their ability to make me feel the pain of a death. Loving memories seemed to offer partial immunity in response to the tragic death of a young man in a traffic accident, weeks after he returned home from serving in the armed forces in Singapore. Clara and Selwyn recalled, “the happy times we all had when Russell was at Blackpool.” However, those who touchingly remembered Russell, also acknowledged that their bodies were intact, alive, and therefore open to a fate like his. The letters were, of course, addressed to his parents offering comfort and friendship; this was the antidote they sequestered.
With many thanks to Professors Simon Swift and Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet, and Sangam MacDuff for organising such an excellent workshop!
Geneva, 21 May 2016: Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Literature Travelling Seminar: Sensing History Around 1816: Body and Sensation in the Long Eighteenth Century – Workshop Impressions
1816 – 1966 – 2016 – Sensing History Workshop Impressions
Prof. Vincent Barras (UNIL/ CHUV) describes the different "plateaux" of the body as it was imagined in 1816.
Dr Rowan Boyson (KCL) brings Coleridge and Wordsworth into dialogue with Foucault's Les Mots et Les Choses, another anniversary text ( first published 1966).
Swiss doctoral students discuss the conceptions of body and sensation operative in the different historical periods that their research engages.
Fribourg, 30 April 2016: Medieval and Early Modern Studies Travelling Seminar: “How to Write a Life in Early Modern England” – a report by Kader Hegedüs, University of Lausanne
April 30, 2016. I took the train to Fribourg in the morning and, upon my arrival at the station, walked to the University. My mood had first been dampened by a strenuous week, but it quickly lightened when I was greeted with the comfort of friendly faces and warm coffee. We then proceeded to the adjacent building, in which we spent the rest of the day in the most fruitful and enriching discussions...
How to write a life in early modern England? What genres and formats constituted life-writing? What aspects of one’s life were these accounts primarily interested in? It is with these introductory questions that Professor Alan Stewart (Columbia University) did us the honor of leading the morning workshop of this CUSO travelling seminar. Looking at very different examples of life-writing (Richard Rogers’ diary, Margaret Cavendish’s autobiography, and John Aubrey’s biographical entries on Ben Jonson and Shakespeare), the discussion addressed their context of production and some of the challenges they pose for literary critics. From considerations on authorship, circulation and intended audience, the discussion naturally extended to the question of authorial intentionality: did these texts explicitly pursue the objective of writing “a life”? Did biographers write themselves into the lives they were claiming to retell? And to what extent did autobiographers attempt to fashion themselves through their writings?
The two last questions were further explored, after a hearty lunch, in two presentations by Dr. Kirsten Stirling (UNIL) and Dr. Antoinina Bevan Zlatar (UZH). Kirsten Stirling, on the one hand, explored the interplays between images and texts, and demonstrated how biographers of John Donne (from Izaak Walton to modern scholars) have tended to adapt their ekphrasis of Donne’s portraits so that they would fit the rest of their particular biographical narrative. Antoinina Bevan Zlatar, on the other, looked at the political and religious components of Anne Clifford’s autobiographical writings, and in particular the discourses of dynasticism and providentialism she seemed to articulate in order to assert her own land claims.
After a short coffee break, Alan Stewart concluded the seminar with a plenary lecture on the case of Richard Stonley, and the way this government official tried to make sense of his daily life by the intriguing format of his diary: to some extent influenced by the structure of almanacs, it was consistently organized in separate sections addressing spiritual (systematic references to psalms), routinely (daily events and anecdotes) and financial matters. This was thus the perfect opportunity to round up the day and to address not only the blurring of genres between biographical narrative, record keeping and spiritual exercise, but also the compartmentalization of the pieces of one’s life between private and public, professional and personal, and religious and secular.
The seminar was then followed by an apero at Indira Ghose’s beautiful place, where we celebrated Dr. Derek Dunne’s monograph publication Shakespeare, Revenge Tragedy and Early Modern Law: Vindictive Justice (Palgrave, 2016).
After my return home, I went to my study diligently and wrote down the events of that day. I gave thanks to Alan Stewart, Kirsten Stirling and Antoinina Bevan Zlatar for their fascinating talks, as well as to Derek Dunne and Indira Ghose for organizing this fine event, and then went straight to bed.
Fribourg, 12 March 2016: Medieval and Early Modern Studies Travelling Seminar: Religion and Early Modern Literature – A report by Oliver Morgan, University of Geneva
The visit of Brian Cummings (Anniversary Professor at the University of York) provided an opportunity to think through the complex relationship between religion and early modern literature in the company of one of the leading scholars in the field. A workshop in the morning focused on Erasmus’ Enchiridion—new to many of the participants—and produced a wide-ranging discussion on dualism, metaphor, and biblical exegesis.
In the afternoon, Professor Cummings gave a lecture on a recently discovered English translation of the same text, thought to have been made by William Tyndale, showing how the problems encountered by the translator could be used to inflect some of the central debates of the Reformation. Sandwiched between these two slices of Erasmian bread was a fine paper from Kilian Schindler on heresy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The day ended, as is proper, in vinous mists and melted cheesiness.
Neuchâtel, 28 November 2015: CUSO Workshop on Tools for Digital Humanities: A Practical Workshop – A Report by Tobias Leonhardt, University of Bern
The goal formulated by Prof Elena Pierazzo (Université Stendhal Grenoble III) at the outset of this workshop sounded rather improbable at first: To teach the basics of XML in, and here I quote, “five minutes”. Sure enough, however, it is well within this time frame that she shows us a slide that says, in big letters, “That’s all folks. You have learned XML!”, we start to code away, and soon even succeed in computing some cooking recipes.
XML is an exciting language that was new to most of the workshop participants, but Prof Elena Pierazzo enabled us to see and learn a lot about it in only one day. She showed how a myriad of tasks that we do in our every-day lives are possible only because somewhere in the process XML is spoken: not only is this true for many computer programs we use on a regular basis such as Word, but also for cash transactions or refuelling a car. Besides enhancing our consumer vision, we adopted the developer perspective, learned about mark-ups, elements, attributes, syntax, et cetera, and thus acquired the skills to work with XML ourselves. The software we used is called Oxygen, which is, due to its nicely structured interface and its functionality, ideal for learners and experts alike. The tasks soon became more difficult, and instead of cooking recipes, old manuscripts had to be transcribed. How to treat main text and annotations, indentions and page breaks, deletions and missing or illegible parts? In trying to answer these questions, it became apparent what XML is capable of, how seemingly simple things require careful and very much conscious planning and coding, how the basics may indeed be conveyed in five minutes but that, like so often, mastery requires a lot of practice. These exercises and the insights they provided are transferable so that all participants, and not only those focusing on manuscripts in their academic career, have profited from the workshop. Tackling LaTeX or Macros, for instance, does not seem to be impossible anymore.
On behalf of all the participants, I wish to thank Prof Elena Pierazzo for equipping us with this XML toolkit (and cooking recipes), and Erzsi Kukorelly (University of Geneva), Lucy Perry (University of Lausanne) and Patrick Vincent (University of Neuchatel) for the organization of this workshop. It was enjoyable and fruitful to delve into a new topic, to interact with others during coffee and lunch breaks, or even to go on a short walk at Lake Neuchatel in the autumn sun.
Geneva, 4-6 June 2015: CUSO Co-funded Conference on Approaching Posthumanism and the Posthuman - A Report by Seline Reinhardt, Institut für Religionswissenschaft, Universität Bern
Preliminary note: To give an accurate and all-embracing account of the plethora of information and encounters of a rich conference such as the Approaching Posthumanism and the Posthuman conference held in Geneva, Switzerland, in early June 2015, is evidently an impossible task. Accordingly, what follows is a subjective and partial report of my personal experience.
With my PhD project, provisionally entitled Apocaphilia Now?, I pursue pressing research questions at the intersection of religion and climate change discourse. Both religiosity and climate change touch on posthumanism and the posthuman, insofar as they negotiate and call into question the position and role of the anthropos — particularly in the present epoch we refer to as “the Anthropocene.” Prior to the conference, my knowledge of the topic was superficial, based on a few central articles I had read in this emergent discourse. Thus, my conference participation committed me to deepen my engagement with posthumanism and perspectives on the posthuman condition — a first benefit. This immersion was facilitated by the well-chosen preparatory readings for the PhD workshops as well as the fact that the abstracts of all the papers were made available in advance of the event. The preceding information as well as the regular announcement on the website and facebook page of the conference really spurred my interest in getting to know the different researchers in this field — particularly my PhD peers. Evidently, the high-profile keynote speakers and senior researchers that the organizers were able to enlist also stimulated my anticipation. Not least of all, I cherished the opportunity to get away from my desk and from working in isolation. The conference allowed me to put myself and my work-in-progress out there by presenting my paper in front of an informed and critical international audience, and to breathe some fresh air, so to speak — to receive feedback, exchange ideas, in short: to be inspired.
My expectations were met by the terrific organization team, particularly by the local peers Kimberly Frohreich and Bryn Skibo-Birney, who went to great lengths to host a memorable event: They had secured a wonderful and central venue, splendid food, a lovely conference dinner, and were very engaged hosts (even staying on and helping to retrieve locked-up luggage, for example) throughout the conference. But their greatest achievement, of course, was the rich and intensive programme with so many interesting and diverse contributions, far beyond the scope of English Literature and truly interdisciplinary. To name but a few contributions that left a lasting impression on me: Luther Cobbey’s (University of Textas at Arlington) endeavour to conceptualize a “Posthumane Ethics” strongly resonated with me; Mica Hilson’s (Francis Marion University) critical reading of the figure of the family tree in his paper on “Mom and Dad Can Be Posthuman Too: Remembering Babylon, Social Dawkinsism, and the Politics of the Family Tree,” and its mechanisms of in- and exclusion opened my eyes with regard to a certain familial biopolitics at work in specific metaphors and figurations; Sean McCorry’s (University of Sheffield) contribution, entitled “Taxonomic Violence, Finite Bodies: The Species Problem and the Ethics of Killing in Conservationist Biopolitics,” reminded me of the tensions surrounding pre- and conservationism and added new perspectives on them; Viola Marchi’s (University of Bern) contemplation on “Impersonal Existence” almost blew my mind with its strong case for “Rethinking Agency and Responsibility Beyond the Person”, as the subtitle put it; finally, Hannah Stark’s (University of Tasmania) genre examination of “Neohumanism in the Anthropocene” intrigued me by casting the Anthropocene as genre-generating and really made me want to watch Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive.
Unfortunately, as always with parallel panels, one cannot attend all the papers that sound promising. That there were ample opportunities to get into conversation by allotting enough time for coffee and lunch breaks, made up for that to a certain extent though. Also, not having met my co-panelists Fani Cettel (Central European University Budapest) & Maris Sormus (Talinn University) prior to our panel on Environmental (Post)humanities, I was surprised how much common ground we had and how well our papers fitted together around animism as the red thread — another indication of the care with which the conference was organized and the papers grouped. I greatly enjoyed delivering my paper on Gaia as a posthuman figure of contemporary ecology and received valuable feedback regarding the pitfalls of remaining within a ‘Western’ framework when negotiating both humanism and posthumanism as well as the curious resurgent importance of parental figures such as Mother Earth.
Another source of great inspiration were the four keynote lectures, to me, as a posthumanism-rookie, in particular Stefan Herbrechter’s inquiry into “Posthumanist Literature?” that provided a thorough overview of the field since its beginning some 30 years ago. It made the very valuable and important distinction between “the posthuman” as a literary and cultural figure and “posthumanist” as a theoretical approach that is precisely critical of the tendency in popular culture to imagine “the posthuman” as almost inclusively in technology-determined ways as a cyborg (part human, part machine).
The lecture of the eminent posthumanist scholar Cary Wolfe created an awareness of the very important contribution of artists to posthumanist discourse and to the political and ethical implications on a local and global scale of working through the negative legacy and positive potential of humanism.
Jeffrey Cohen’s performance was impressive not least because in his very poetic deliverance, he enacted a style of thinking and speaking about our posthuman past, present and future that signals how posthumanism also changes the pedagogy within the humanities. Not least of all, Margrit Shildrick’s presentation demonstrated that the natural sciences, especially biology, and nonhuman lives are rich sources of metaphors and paradigms to be enlisted for feminist and queer practices in philosophy/theory, cultural production and social theory.
It was a wonderful privilege to have these keynote speakers hold workshops for us PhD students on the last day of the conference. These workshops were particularly valuable as they provided an opportunity for all the doctoral candidates to come and work together. Thus, for example, we were able to discuss academic work on posthumanism in a more general sense with Jeffrey Cohen, who (in a true posthumanist vein) strongly suggested collaborative work and enlightened us with regard to its highs and lows. Also Stefan Herbrechter’s workshop on posthumanist literature was very practical, enticing us to try and read as and for posthuman(ist)s.
The common work enabled by these workshops facilitated a deeper meeting of PhD minds with senior ones. I found it especially rewarding to thereby get to know not only international students, but also other Swiss doctoral candidates, particularly across the ‘Röstigraben.’
Offering the opportunity to network in these multiple ways, the conference opened up perspectives beyond the event itself — of personal exchange, of exchange via the facebook group, and of publishing, as many of the present senior researchers are also editors in the field: Karen Raber (University of Mississipi), suggested the publication of conference proceedings within her new book series with Routledge entitled Perspectives on the Non-Human in Literature and Culture. Moreover, I was personally encouraged to submit my manuscript for consideration with the Brill monograph series Critical Posthumanisms, edited by guest professor Stefan Herbrechter (with Ivan Callus), who is also my second PhD supervisor, and with conference organizer Manuela Rossini as an editorial board member of the series.
All in all, it was a thoroughly pleasant and intellectually rewarding experience to have been able to participate in such an inspiring gathering dedicated to discussion about the vibrant field of posthumanism, which can be perceived as a new paradigm that is not ‘only’ restricted to Science Fiction or technological-progressive transhumanism, but that opens up new possibilities for thought on a high number of relevant and pressing issues, such as the current ecological crisis — a true chance for the humanities to contribute to the scientific and social ‘grand challenges’ of today’s brave new world.
Schloss Münchenwiler, 27-29 March 2015: CUSO Workshop on Conducting Sociolinguistic Research on Englishes Near and Far – A Report by Tino Oudesluijs, University of Lausanne
Sociolinguistic and dialectological fieldwork can be a time-consuming and exhausting enterprise. It can nevertheless also be immensely rewarding, since it usually allows the researcher to collect previously unrecorded data, the analyses of which can result in new linguistic hypotheses. To date, it is, however, an underexposed part of the research process in the sociolinguistic literature. For this reason, Prof. Dr. David Britain, together with Dr. Susan Fox, Tobias Leonhardt and Dominique Bürki (all from the University of Bern), organised a workshop to introduce the participants to this fundamental aspect of sociolinguistic research. Prof. Kazuko Matsumoto (University of Tokyo), Prof. Daniel Schreier (University of Zürich), Dr. Andrea Sudbury (University of London) and PhD student Nicole Eberle (University of Zürich) were invited to come to Schloss Münchenwiler and share some of their first-hand experience with the participants.
The workshop lasted three days, starting on Friday at 13:00 and finishing on Sunday at lunchtime. This enabled the invited speakers not only to present their research and experience during lectures but also to lead interactive seminars in which everyone was encouraged to discuss the different aspects of sociolinguistic research. Finally, all participants were asked to present their own research, which gave everyone the possibility to obtain feedback from both the other participants as well as the experienced researchers.
On Friday, after a short introduction by Prof. David Britain, Dr. Andrea Sudbury, who went to the Falkland Islands, and Prof. Kazuko Matsumoto, who went to Micronesia, were the first to discuss the many difficulties researchers face when doing sociolinguistic fieldwork. Both revealed that whereas certain problems that researchers face are often of a similar origin, the approaches to such problems can differ greatly depending on the cultural and sometimes even climatic differences. At the end of the afternoon, five of the doctoral participants presented their own research, most of which was still in its early stages. As one of the participants, I found this a most profitable endeavour since all of the experts were able to give useful feedback and tips, and most of the doctoral students were introduced to different topics and approaches in the field.
On Saturday morning, Dr. Andrea Sudbury led an interactive workshop in which she asked all participants to think about and subsequently discuss the different topics discussed on Friday, stressing the practical aspect of getting to know the people you intend to interview for your research as well as their culture. As was the case the day before, everyone could have done with much more time to discuss every possible aspect of the field, and, unsurprisingly, both the coffee and lunch breaks were used well to continue many discussions.
Prof. Daniel Schreier from the University of Zürich, who presented other possible solutions to many earlier discussed problems, concluded the morning session, and after the lunch break, the remaining doctoral students presented their research. The day was concluded with a guided tour through the lovely city of Murten, and, as was the case on Friday, a most delicious dinner was offered back at the Schloss in Münchenwiler.
Sunday morning consisted of another interactive seminar, which was hosted by Prof. Kazuko Matsumoto, and a talk by Nicole Eberle from the University of Zürich. Both speakers offered, once again, some new insights into the practical aspects of sociolinguistic research.
The speakers at the workshop successfully managed to present, highlight, question and discuss the many different practical aspects of carrying out sociolinguistic fieldwork. Many relevant insights and methodologies were offered to all the doctoral students who participated, notably also to students who work in different research fields.
On behalf of all the participants, I wish to thank the organisers once again for such an interesting and, most of all, extremely useful workshop.
Neuchâtel, 7 March 2015: CUSO Travelling Seminar in Medieval and Early Modern English Literature: Poetics – A Report by Azamat Rakhimov, University of Geneva
What’s in the form? A wide range of questions concerning the construction of early modern texts was at the core of the workshop that took place at the University of Neuchâtel on 7 March. As spring was about to change the beautiful shores of the Lake of Neuchâtel, professors and doctoral students from Geneva, Lausanne, Fribourg, Neuchâtel, and Berne gathered together in the brightly illuminated room to discuss the intricacies of the formal transformations of sonnets in the Jacobean and Elizabethan period. As it is often the case, heated discussions went beyond the announced topic and covered a wider field.
The workshop was divided into three parts, each devoted to a specific subject. Professor Russ McDonald from Goldsmiths College, University of London, gave start to the debates with his insightful seminar on a selection of texts from George Puttenham and George Gascoigne, which provided a framework for approaching the sonnets by Edmund Spenser, Michael Drayton, Philip Sidney, and William Shakespeare. Together with Professor McDonald, we attempted to explore carefully constructed layers of meanings hidden under the apparent and deceitful simplicity of patterns employed by the poets. It may seem that sonnets, either consisting of an octave and a sestet (Italian) or of three quatrains and a couplet (English), do not offer much variation because of the rigidity of form. However, as the seminar progressed, the participants discovered how early modern poets played with the form, exposed it, and used it for transmitting unconventional meanings.
Discussions were paused for a lunch break only to start again with vigour in the beginning of the afternoon. Alice Leonard, doctoral assistant at the University of Neuchâtel, gave a presentation entitled “Metaphor: Error or Poetry”. The topic was inspired by her doctoral dissertation which investigates the use of metaphors in Shakespeare, their power to clarify matters or, on the contrary, create ambiguities and cause confusions. Oliver Morgan, doctoral assistant from Geneva, was the one to take Alice’s place and lead our seminar towards the realm of Anthony and Cleopatra. His presentation dealt with the play of line and turn. Oliver focused on the matters of transition and turn-taking, its timing and formal representation that could contain metrically loaded signification.
After a short break, Professor McDonald invited us to enlarge our understanding of Shakespeare as Elizabethan stylist. Historical background and illustrious examples from the architecture of the period showed that the striving for formal organization permeated all forms of early modern art (and life): pleasure was found in the linear and harmonious organization of buildings, gardens, and, of course, poetry. The very structure of a sonnet, Professor McDonald argued, provided delight to the reader, and Shakespeare mastered the form. Rhythm was a vehicle for the delivery of the ideas and at the same time made speech harmonious. That cultural sensibility valued different patterns of language constructions, but it is virtually impossible to cover all of them in a short report. There is little doubt that you have Shakespeare’s sonnets at hand, hence, you may start enjoying their harmonies right now.
An informal apéro rounded off the day-long workshop devoted to form.
Neuchâtel, 6 December 2014: CUSO PhD Day – A Report by Aleida Auld-Demartin, University of Geneva
How might job and funding applications differ? How much of a potential future monograph should you try to publish while writing the thesis? What do Swiss organizations in particular look for when funding research projects? What are the advantages and disadvantages of co-supervision? And what should you not do in a job interview? These are just a handful of the questions that were addressed at the most recent CUSO PhD Day which took place on December 6, 2014 at the University of Neuchâtel. In attendance were 19 doctoral students of English literature and linguistics from the universities of Geneva, Fribourg, Lausanne, Berne, and Neuchâtel.
The workshop was divided into two sessions, each with its own panel. In the morning, the experience of writing a PhD was discussed by six recent graduates: doctors Joanne Chassot (UNIL), Emma Depledge (UNIGE/FR), Markus Iseli (UNINE), Rahel Orgis (UNINE), and Juliette Vuille (UNIL).
The afternoon session focused on searching for jobs and applying for funding. A number of workshop participants had responded to mock job advertisements by contributing cover letters and CVs. After reviewing these documents in small groups, the participants reconvened for the panel discussion. Lending their expertise were literature and linguistics professors Margaret Tudeau-Clayton (UNINE), David Britain (UNIBE), and Martin Hilpert (UNINE), along with doctors Mary Flannery (UNIL) and Emma Depledge (UNIFR).
One of the great strengths of the workshop was its ability to offer practical information and tools to a diverse group of students. I asked three of my colleagues, each of whom are at different places in their degrees and work on distinct periods, what they took away. Kilian Schindler (1st year UNIFR), who responded to the mock advertisement, said he appreciated discussing “concrete examples of CVs and cover letters with other people,” which gave him an idea of “how they might be perceived from different perspectives,” including those of professors and PhD students. Bryn Skibo-Birney (2nd year UNIGE), who also responded to the ad, said the feedback on her CV and cover letter made her “feel more confident in representing [her]self and [her] work to outside parties.” Finally Sangam Macduff (4th year UNIGE) found “the practical advice on applying for jobs extremely useful.”
Like Kilian, I am in the first year of my doctorate in early modern literature. From the PhD day I retained various suggestions, such as highlighting mobility in applications for Swiss funding, and networking with other doctoral students prior to a conference so that there are some “familiar faces” at the event itself. I also realized how important it is to find and develop my own voice in any application.
In closing and on behalf of the participants, I wish to thank Dr. Emma Depledge (UNIFR) and Professor Margaret Tudeau-Clayton (UNINE) for organizing such an enjoyable and useful workshop, and the panel members for giving their time and sharing their experience.
Geneva, April 5, 2014: PhD Skills Day - A report by Amy Brown, University of Geneva
On the 5th of April an intrepid band – mostly doctoral students, with a scattering of guest MA students to liven the mix – gathered in a computer lab at UniGe. Undeterred by mysterious technical hitches, we set ourselves up for a day of skills-acquisition. One of the day’s biggest strengths was that all four speakers worked methodically through their material, making each step clear – which is excellent, but makes for a very short report. In brief, then;
We began with research skills:
· Hélène Vincent, English librarian extraordinaire, gave us an overview of different kinds of electronic research tools (databases, journal hosting, bibliographies, and so on) and walked us through selected tools for literary research.
· Sam McDuff, chief Zotero fan for the department, demonstrated his own use of the bibliography-building and note-storing tool, including pulling citation data from online resources and integrating Zotero with your word processor of choice. For those with laptops, Sam spent some time helping set up and troubleshoot Zotero installation, and we all went home with a handy set of instructions for optimising Zotero on home and work computers.
Moving on to writing and drafting skills:
· Prof. Deborah Madsen spent some time pulling apart and critiquing the structure of an article in her field, with particular emphasis on topic sentences and transitions between sections of argument. Having identified the structural strengths and weaknesses in this text, we talked about ways the structure could be improved to better convey the argument, and Deborah suggested strategies for improving our chances of seeing those weaknesses and opportunities in our own work. She highlighted ‘Reverse Outlining’ as a way of figuring out what one has written in order to figure out how to get to what one wants to have written.
· Nicholas Weeks sat us down with Microsoft Word and talked us through the process of building custom templates and styles to reduce the work of thesis-formatting. He also demonstrated the use of image-to-text scanning technology to facilitate keyword searching a scanned archive of research material (which one might store in Zotero, as it happens!).
The day was long – and broken up by a longer-than-usual (but delicious) lunch – but extremely practical and informative. There was definitely more to be said, or practiced, for each skillset, and I at least will definitely sign up for further workshops in this vein when I get the chance.
Rapport du Workshop sur le Post-féminisme avec prof. Angela McRobbie (Goldsmiths) et prof. Rosalind Gill (City University London) - Par Isis Giraldo, Université de Lausanne
Le workshop sur le post-féminisme organisé avec le soutien de la CUSO en études genre et la CUSO en anglais a eu lieu à l’Université de Lausanne le 20 et 21 mars 2014. Pour l’évènement deux figures importantes dans les cultural studies britanniques travaillant sur le post-féminisme ont été invitées en tant que guest speakers et discutantes.
Les conférences, ouvertes au publique, ont eu lieu le matin. Pendant l’après-midi les doctorant.e.s inscrit.e.s pour la présentation ont présenté leur travail devant les participants et les intervenantes invitées. Chaque doctorant.e a eu 30 minutes pour sa présentation suivi d’une discussion. Nous avons eu six présentations au total, trois lors de chaque après-midi. Le jeudi, tant McRobbie que Gill ont offert des commentaires constructifs aux participant.e.s. Le vendredi, McRobbie ayant du partir, la tâche a été entièrement assumée par Gill.
Le retour des tous/toutes les participant.e.s a été très positif. Ils/elles ont trouvé que la qualité des interventions des invitées a été excellente et que le retour s’est fait de manière affable mais professionnelle. De manière générale les participant.e.s ont trouvé que la relation qualité et informalité a été bonne. Finalement, l’internationalité des deux intervenantes a été signalée comme l’un des points le plus fort du workshop.
McRobbie comme Gill ont trouvé l’atmosphère agréable, se sont montrées enthousiastes, et ont apprécié la variété des projets des doctorant.e.s.
Geneva, November 25-16, 2013: The Media of Literature in the Digital Age - A report by Amy Brown, University of Geneva
The CUSO workshop on ‘The Media of Literature in the Digital Age’ began on Friday with the big questions – what are the Digital Humanities, and what are they for? – and ended on Saturday afternoon with practical warnings to never trust a magnetic storage device to preserve your data. Over the course of the weekend, it seemed to me that there were two conceptual threads running through the various workshops and papers: on the one hand, digital media as efficiency tools, to help us do more efficiently or more collaboratively that which our discipline already does; and on the other, digital media providing opportunities to engage with and experience our source texts quite differently. The third concept which arose again and again was that of the communication divide between humanities and technology specialists, and I will comment briefly on that before moving on to the conceptual issues.
The conference was opened by the Dean of Letters, Nicholas Zufferey, who began by announcing that he did not know what the digital humanities were. Digital media, he reminded us, are increasingly important in all fields – the humanities are not alone in that. Reflecting on the shift in English terminology from ‘Humanities Computing’ to ‘Digital Humanities’, he concluded that, whatever the digital humanities might encompass at the moment, we should strive to ensure that they remain the digital humanities, focused on the disciplinary needs and interests of the humanities first and foremost.
That sounded all well and good, until we started getting into the nitty-gritty details of describing the parameters of our texts in terms which are compatible with computers and computer programming. How many of us were discomfited by the description, in Peter Stokes’ (King’s College London) workshop on project modelling for textual databases, of a text as a ‘series of characters arranged into words, each word consisting of characters bounded by a space or punctuation’? As a medievalist, I spent my time working against the habitual assumption that a text must be interacted with in written form! In the same vein, we heard a gasp of betrayal from the Early Modernists upon being told that a line break does not constitute part of a text. Was this not a travesty against literature, reducing the text to data?
Perhaps so. However, in his lecture, Peter Stokes cautioned us against thinking of a digital edition, and especially not a digital facsimile, as ‘an online manuscript’. ‘This is not a book,’ he titled his lecture: it is a tool; an edition which is useful for some purposes and not others; a facsimile. It is not, and should not be, the same thing as a book or text. Getting that product into accessible form requires thinking carefully about which features of your text need to be represented, and which do not, as well as about how you will later use the digital product. In this respect, I experienced an unexpected case of déja vu: in a past life I once held a job which, in part, involved assisting specialist staff from various divisions to distil their IT wish-lists and turn them into concrete deliverables. Let me tell you, it is not much easier for your average government policy section to describe what they want out of a collaborative wiki than it is for a gaggle of literary scholars to describe a ‘book’ as a ‘series of images with associated plain-text rendering of the words depicted’.
The question of what ‘is’ the text was central again in Daniel Ferrer’s (ITEM Paris) talk on digital tools for genetic studies. Ferrer’s institute works not on finished texts, but on drafts, notes, and the process of writing – the ‘genesis’ of the literary work. In this field, he explained, digital editions and online facsimiles allow the scholarly – and sometimes the general – audience to engage with the author’s drafts in ways which are simply impossible in hard copy publishing. Unless one has access to all the available manuscripts, it is only with a database of images and transcriptions that one can read a draft and simultaneously appreciate the connections between body text, marginalia, previous drafts, later drafts, and earlier and later episodes of the same narrative. Ferrer stressed that the digital editor does still make editorial decisions, for instance, by indicating which marginal text was written first – but the digital editor can offer reading choices (writing order or narrative order?) which a hard copy facsimile or edition cannot.
Other examples of digital resources providing new modes of engagement or even driving research questions were raised throughout the conference: Rachel Nisbet presented on her experience audio-blogging the full text of Finnegan’s Wake, and how the act of reading aloud pushed her into making certain interpretive decisions; her recorded readings are now guiding her close-reading processes for her research.
Digital tools as efficiency tools, extending our ability to do the work we already do – and increasing capacity to do this work from far-flung corners of the globe (or indeed, from bed, although no one admitted to doing digital analysis in their pyjamas) were a recurring feature of the conference. We began the conference with a lecture from Gabriel Egan (De Montfort University Leicester) on early modern print variants, and the exciting process of figuring out where, how and why small changes occurred during a single print run of an early modern text. Here, digital images can reproduce effects which previously required specialised machines – flicking from one .jpg to another to make the changed type ‘move’, for instance.
We also heard from two doctoral students using textual databases for linguistic research – Matthias Heim on ‘peculiar’ words in Shakespeare’s plays, and Richard Zimmerman on grammatical changes in early Middle English. Here, digital resources allow greater breadth, replicability and reliability than manual options. We also saw here some problems related to modelling: the availability of reliable editions in a suitable format, for instance, could very easily determine the scope of a study.
Finally, the weekend ended with a round table for asking questions of and seeking advice from our guest speakers – during which we learned that Gabriel Egan doesn’t like hard copy books, Peter Stokes advised us to get used to task management software, and questions as to whether we have to invest time or academic effort into digital projects were met with the judgement of ‘only if it suits the direction your project is going to take’.
In keeping with the digital mode, Dr Radu Suciu of the University of Fribourg compiled a ‘Storify’ report of the conference tweetstream. Those who wish to recap the conference backwards may do so here. storify.com
Lausanne, February 14-15, 2013: “Gothic/Fantasy Figures of Race, Nation or Postcolonialism” - a report by Kimberly Frohreich, University of Geneva
The “Gothic/Fantasy” conference and doctoral workshop offered a day and a half of stimulating and diverse lectures and discussions that ranged from the 18th century to the contemporary gothic, from British to African-American and Afro-Caribbean gothic writers, and to the gothic in American television. In addition, workshop participants were able to reflect and receive advice not only on their individual projects, but also regarding the PhD writing process as a whole. The conference took place in Anthropole 5071 at the University of Lausanne which was ideal for both the lectures and roundtable discussions. Our group of professors and students moved easily from coffee in the cafeteria downstairs, to lunch at the campus restaurant and dinner in town, where we enjoyed being able to continue to ask questions and expand on the ideas evoked in the classroom.
The conference started with a plenary lecture given by Dr. Linnie Blake, entitled “All Hell Breaks Loose: Supernatural, Gothic, Neoliberalism and the American Self.” Dr. Blake argues that the contemporary understanding of “nation” is constructed through an attempt to collectively heal from a traumatic event, but then reproduces trauma through nation-building discourses that exclude, isolate, and silence those that are not considered as part of the collective and national identity. Using the example of the television series, Supernatural, she demonstrated how American television adopts the gothic genre in order to expose the fracturing capacities of neoliberalism and corporate America through the series' depiction of characters with unstable, fluid, multiplicitous, and heterogenous identities and bodies. Her talk provoked a profound discussion regarding popular culture in relation to the gothic and their potentially subversive versus normative tendencies. The second day began with Prof. Gina Wisker's plenary lecture: “'Read it in the spirit of breaking the rules': African American and postcolonial Gothic/fantasy – Toni Morrison's Beloved and Nalo Hopkinson's Skin Folk stories.” Professor Wisker started by encouraging us to think about how the gothic/fantasy is the medium par excellence in which hegemony can be questioned, confronted, and destabilized. She then discussed Morrison's and Hopkinson's use of the gothic and science fiction to point to racism, silenced (hi)stories, and repressive identity categories. Prof. Wisker then led a workshop, “Conceptual threshold crossings, learning leaps and achieving the doctorate: insights from research and practice,” based on another area of her research regarding strategies and tools for writing a successful dissertation. She asked each of us to think about and discuss the moments when we felt that we'd crossed a “threshold”, what this meant for the project and what the environmental factors were that contributed to the breakthrough.
The conference ended with the presentation and discussion of five doctoral projects. Students were then able to receive valuable feedback from the two visiting scholars. François Tine discussed his progress in defining the theoretical framework of his thesis on the gothic and trauma in Toni Morrison's fiction by focusing on the trope of the absent mother. Joanne Chassot, in the final stages of her thesis on the figure of the ghost in African American and Afro-Caribbean contemporary novels, talked with the guests about issues and elements that should be included in her introduction. For my project on allegories of race and race relations in modern and contemporary fantasy literature and media, I chose to share some of the questions and concerns I am currently confronting in dealing with popular culture and racial representation. Marie Waltz then presented her project on the intertextual relationships between Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene and Angela Carter's The Blood Chamber and Other Stories in order to consider the ways in which each text can illuminate the reading of the other. And Sean Reynolds presented a chapter of his thesis in which he discusses the figure of the ghost, the voice of the deceased Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, that appears in Jack Spicer's translation of his work, After Lorca. Dr. Blake and Prof. Wisker not only provided us all with valuable comments and thought-provoking questions, but they also very kindly agreed to stay an hour or so longer than was planned in order to give each of us enough time to present and discuss our work! All in all, the “Gothic/Fantasy” conference and workshop was extremely rewarding in two respects: for thinking about the development of the gothic genre through time, across mediums and cultures, and the way it relates to the questioning and destabilization of identity and nation; and for pinpointing strategies that will continually assist each of the participants in the research and writing of their dissertations. A big thank you to the organizers: Agnieszka Soltysik and Joanne Chassot!
Brienz, September 7–9, 2012: CUSO Workshop “New Aesthetic Paradigms”
A report by Christian Hänggi, University of Basel
The spectacular surroundings of Brienz in the Bernese Oberland provided an ideal backdrop for three days of intensive discussions about aesthetics. The towering peaks of the Bernese Alps would have brought to mind Kant’s and Adorno’s writings even if they hadn’t been on the reading list. Though seemingly naturally and harmoniously aligned along the horizon for our delectation, the mountains are also a looming threat as Brienz experienced in 2005, when over night streams turned into torrents and crushed buildings, cars, and people.
In his workshop seminar, Stewart Martin talked about art and the subsumption of life in Adorno. Drawing on Marx, he opened by stating that life has been subsumed by capital and has thus lost its autonomy, but that the aspiration for something which cannot be subsumed still prevails. Labor, in this view, would be a means to serve life as an end. If beauty is self-affection that makes us feel alive, it is thus to be sought in the realm of life. Steven Shaviro introduced us to the thoughts of Speculative Realism and its diverse proponents (Meillasoux, Brassier, Grant, Harman) whose main point of contact seems to be a critique of Kant’s “correlationism,” a newly coined term which stands for the idea that we cannot make statements about the world without taking into account that we are apprehending it. Shaviro also drew on Whitehead who he felt had a lot of answers to this pre-Kantian turn that would allow for an aesthetics as something ontological and not necessarily human. In his response, Thomas Claviez voiced some of the concerns he had with Stewart Martin’s and Steven Shaviro’s presentations, in particular concerning the sublime, the beautiful, and the question of purpose. He felt that purpose – namely that the sublime has no purpose – was not adequately addressed and that it remained open what would happen if the overcoming or the resolution of the sublime by reason did not take place.
In between those stimulating presentations, the PhD students were given the opportunity to present their work in progress. Ridvan Askin introduced us to his concept of differential narratology, making Deleuze fertile for a reading of contemporary literature. Andreas Hägler – to whose organizational talent and considerable effort the success of the workshop can be credited (along with Ridvan Askin and Philipp Schweighauser’s) – investigates through Adorno’s spectacles the status of contemporary literature and experimental writing aiming to come to a more differentiated notion than what is provided in much of today’s polemic discourse on the topic. Christian Hänggi presented some preliminary thoughts on his dissertation on how Thomas Pynchon deals with sound, music, noise, and silence. Samira Lütscher turned to the poetry of Edward Sapir, Ruth Fulton Benedict, and Margaret Mead, which, as her preliminary thesis has it, explores notions that were relevant to their anthropological work. Rachel Nisbet looked at modern river narratives to examine the relationship between the river and environmental consciousness. Constanze Schellow noted that the current discourse on modern dance centres around ideas of negativity and absence and wants to shed light on the interaction between the aesthetic and theoretical praxis in choreography and dance studies. Sean Reynolds presented his project on homophonic translations, which he studies with recourse to translation theory (esp. Walter Benjamin) and trauma discourse.
Even though the workshop was far too short to probe in full depth all the preparatory readings, there was more than enough skillfully prepared food for thought on aesthetics, encompassing not only literature but also poetry, sound art, and dance. The resulting discussions and feedbacks should prove to be highly generative for everyone who had the good luck to attend.
Crêt-Bérard, March 22-23, 2012: “Aesthetics and Politics; Or, What’s Entitled to be Beautiful Today?” A report by Ola Madhour, University of Fribourg.
“Simplify, simplify.” The picturesque and rustic Crêt-Bérard—from which the railroad was barely visible—offered an ideal setting for examining the relationship between art and socio-political life and considering the myriad ways in which the aesthetic and political draw from each other: a critical subject matter that event organizers Prof. Thomas Austenfeld (University of Fribourg) and Prof. Boris Vejdovsky (University of Lausanne) brought to our attention through a workshop that promised to maintain our spirit of discovery and enrich our experience. The wealth of the material explored during the two days was striking, especially as regards the various fields of research presented by both our guest speakers and PhD candidates, including of course the enlightening discussions which took place subsequently. The conference began with a thought-provoking presentation by Prof. John Antonakis (University of Lausanne). Antonakis identified the art of leadership in particular through the lens of social influence and offered illustrations of charismatic leadership tactics. Prof. Mounira Soliman (University of Cairo) spoke boldly of the significant presence of American discourse during the 2011-2012 Egyptian Revolution, highlighting both its reception through different modes of artistic representations (songs, graffiti, etc.) as well as discussing the shifting power blocks and the implications of the conflicted behavior of the representatives of U.S. foreign policy during the revolution. Prof. Sharon Holland (Duke University) provided a searching and meditative talk associating the notions of “Blackness,” “Human,” and “Animal.” Referring back to vast philosophical concepts including by Heidegger, Levinas and Derrida, she evoked central and complex questions about the identification of beauty, the definition of racism, the nature of the self’s relationship with the other as well as the link between politics and mastery. Prof. Paul Lauter (Trinity College) concluded our workshop with a compound presentation on the notion of immigration viewed from a specific theoretical perspective, drawing from a paradigm shift provoked by the passage from multiculturalism to immigration, and inviting us to ponder issues such of globalization, unsettlement, identity and citizenship.
In-between these inspiring talks, seven PhD candidates had the opportunity to present their ongoing projects, encompassing a wide range of research fields: Irmtraud Huber explores a specific, more pragmatic use of the fantastic, mostly in selected American texts; Isis Giraldo investigates configurations of female identity in contemporary Colombian popular culture through various modes of representation and especially by focusing on discourse analysis; Joanne Chassot examines the figure of the ghost in particular as a deconstructionist trope and a trope for the past in selected African American and Afro-Caribbean texts; Martin Moling turns to rock music in American fiction and explores the ways in which rock may reconcile with or simultaneously oppose postmodern simulation; François Dassise investigates magical realism and aspects of the gothic in selected novels by Toni Morrison; Kimberly Gaydon investigates contemporary fantasy literature and media and the way “sub-human” or “non-human” characters are used to explore several sensitive issues (racism, multiculturalism, etc.) while arguing that legal and medical discourse has retained the fantasy of race; finally, I introduced a comparative study between Elizabeth Bishop and poets of the Beat Generation, intending to redefine Bishop’s place in American literary history though the use of Beat philosophy. Dynamic discussions and reflections followed every presentation as renowned scholars, PhD candidates and future PhD candidates offered feedback and suggestions that were often prolonged over meal times. Indeed the conference was a success, and despite the occasional mystification due to the complexity of the material explored, my fellow students and I left with a challenged creative thinking and an increased knowledge, gaining new interests and ideas for future research and reading.
Geneva, 5 November, 2011: "PhD Professionalization Workshop" - a report by Arnaud Barras, University of Geneva
The PhD Professionalization workshop took place in Geneva on 5 November 2011. The venue was the bright and spacious building of UniMail. No other building would have been suited to the task of enlightening PhD and MA students about the intricate and sometime obscure process of the doctoral thesis and its outcome. The workshop was a success: around thirty students were present to listen to the three invited speakers, Dr Helen Lawrence and Steve Hutchinson both from Hutchinson Training & Development Ltd, and Sarah Stanton, editor at the Cambridge University Press. The workshop was divided into two distinct parts: with their brilliant communication skills and their experience as former PhD students, Dr Lawrence and Hutchinson discussed the doctoral process, from its genesis to its defense; with her experience as an editor for the prestigious CUP, Sarah Stanton explained how a doctoral dissertation can be turned into a publishable monograph. In the morning, Helen and Steve attempted to make us conscious of the reasons for writing a doctoral thesis. Using all their pedagogical skills, they made us form groups and discuss the various reasons that had led each one of us onto the long and difficult path of the doctorate. One of the ways was to make us choose a postcard among a bunch that was disposed on a table. The image on the postcard was supposed to reflect our attitude towards the PhD. Mine was a close shot of the face of a monkey; the monkey was staring right through the lens of the camera, giving the impression that it was scrutinizing my interiority. It is how I feel about the PhD thesis. To me, it is an exposition of my research, of my thoughts that will take place in a segment of my life that spans about five years. At the end, the thesis will look at me and reveal to me what I have been during this long and tedious, yet thrilling process. For others, the doctorate was a thrilling unknown, represented by a skier jumping. The postcard showed the skier from behind, advancing towards the emptiness of a clear sky. Another postcard represented a doe, but the doe had tusks that looked more like fangs. It is also what the doctoral dissertation can be, a defamiliarizing representation of a seemingly ordinary topic.
Helen and Steve used their communication skills to tell us about time management and the relationship with our supervisor. The gist of the latter being that frequent and regular meetings associated with open honesty with your supervisor will yield the best results. As for time management, efficiency depends on one's way of working: some might work at a slow but regular pace, while others will write a hundred pages in a few weeks. In the end, it is important to know one's way of working so that one will avoid unnecessary panic attacks. The beginning of the afternoon was devoted to the process of orally defending one's dissertation. Helen and Steve gave us some tips as to how to answer certain questions and how to prepare for a detailed criticism of one's work. It was followed by Sarah Stanton's presentation on her work as an editor for the Cambridge University Press. Sarah explained the process of contacting editors and of submitting a project for a monograph. She gave us interesting pieces of advice as to how to write the best proposal to a publisher. The main points were to justify one's project and inscribe it into the literature of the field, to identify very precisely the potential readership and market, to have a title that accurately and shortly describes the content of the book, to describe the scope, content and structure of the book, and also to provide a date for the submission of the final manuscript. The PhD Professionalization workshop was closed by a general yet motivational speech given by Helen and Steve concerning the pros of having a doctorate in our contemporary world. Finally, Emma Depledge played an important part in the success of the workshop. Thanks to her wonderful organization and joyful character, we all learned a lot about the final steps of the doctorate.
Geneva, 2-3 December, 2011: "Designing the Body: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Fashion" - a report by Sarah Brazil, University of Geneva
With interdisciplinarity as the key aim of this event, Professors Guillemette Bolens (Medieval Literature) and Deborah Madsen (American literature) of the University of Geneva organised a CUSO conference with quite an amenable topic to this: Designing the Body: Interdisciplinary approaches to Fashion. Taking place in Geneva on December 2&3, the stimulating aspect of this conference came from the vastly different perspectives being offered, with invited speakers Prof. Gale Owen-Crocker from the University of Manchester providing an archaeological reading of Anglo-Saxon clothing, while Prof. Elizabeth Wilson from the London School of Fashion presented a more theoretical position on the history of fashion.
Professor Owen-Crocker got things started on Friday morning with a lecture on the momentous achievement that she and a few colleagues have recently achieved: “Compiling the Encyclopaedia of Medieval Textiles of the British Isles: Sources and their Limitations”. Firstly discussing the problems involved with getting such a work published, finding the right scholars to do the job, and the obstacles that historical sources provide, Prof. Owen-Crocker gave us the inside on the forthcoming encyclopaedia which premises interdisciplinary approaches to clothing as a vital aspect of its compilation. We then moved on to the workshop led by Prof. Owen Crocker, “Dressing the Dead: Reconstructing Clothing from Grave-Goods” in which we discussed the grave finds of Anglo Saxons, and queried if it was possible to know how people dressed in their everyday life when we only have evidence from how they were dressed in death.
Three papers followed in the afternoon, with myself and Petya Ivanova continuing on in a medieval vein. I spoke about how to identify a knight in literary texts, noting the difficulty often deliberately provided by clothing and armour. Petya spoke on how fashioned ‘nude’ body of lady Bertilak is used in the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to test the hero’s courtesy, and explored this through a kinaesthetic perspective. Anna Iatsenko then bridged the gap between medieval and modern with ease, speaking about the omnipresence of clothing in Toni Morrison’s novels as well as the significance of nudity as a means of conveying loss in works such as Jazz, Beloved and Love.
With a foot firmly in the modern, we began Saturday morning with a lecture from Prof. Wilson entitled “Fashion Theory Since the 1970s”, sketching out the beginnings of a long-neglected discipline, and the role that her own polemic Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity played in inciting debate between theoretical approaches and the costume historians who work with the materials themselves. Interesting conversations ensued, and we explored the reasons why fashion was so slow to emerge as a discipline in its own right, as well as the ways in which fashion is and has been often used as a scapegoat for societal ills, once again bridging the past and present.
Three more papers were delivered in the afternoon, with Arnaud Barras outlining the differing uses of clothing in Rudy Wiebe’s A Discovery of Strangers as being either sociocultural markers or homeostatic tools, and proffered that there was a reconciliation achieved between these two opposing uses and ideologies of clothing by English explorers and native Tetsot’ine hunter-gatherers in the Artic coast of modern day Canada. Michael Röösli’s paper ventured a reading of Chuck Palahniuk's novel Invisible Monsters through the lens of Foucault's notion of "technologies of the self" in order to investigate a contradiction between two dominant discourses in consumer society: on the one hand, there is a glorification of the self and its difference from the masses, and on the other hand, the very goal of being fashionable is to belong to a community, which is paradoxically to be achieved through mass-produced commodities. Kimberly Gaydon then finished proceedings with a genealogy of vampire fangs and their uses in British and American literature and cinema, arguing that it is the fangs of the vampire which define both the body of the vampire, and vampirism itself.
Discussion then had to be resumed over dinner, and our reflections on the past two days were greatly aided by good food and copious wine, continuing long into the night.
Zurich, June 17-19, 2011: “The Violence of Aesthetics - The Aesthetics of Violence” – a report by Michael Röösli, University of Geneva
Prof. Elisabeth Bronfen (University of Zurich) and Prof. Margaret Tudeau-Clayton (University of Neuchâtel) co-organised the most recent conference of the CUSO doctoral programme for English language and literature. An unusually large number of students attended, and the lively exchanges as well as the buoyant atmosphereclearly indicated that the event was a great success.
The lecture by Prof. John Drakakis (University of Stirling) inaugurated the proceedings on Friday afternoon, confronting the group with a multitude of manifestations of violence. The presentation traced issues such as enjoyment, theatricality, and Dionysian creativity across Renaissance plays (such as The Revenger's Tragedy and King Lear) but also in non-fictional texts. An animated discussion ensued, which showed to what extent the talk had resonated with a great variety of research fields. The debate also spilled over into our contemporary mediascape, setting the early modern texts alongside cinema, wrestling and other cultural practices.
On Saturday, Prof. Andreas Höfele (University of Munich) examined the power relationships between people and sovereigns in the early modern period, paying particular attention to the issues of violence in representation and the public/private distinction in cases of executions. In the afternoon, Prof. Garrett Stewart (University of Iowa) initiated the contemporary part of the conference by taking a closer look at conceptual and epistemological violence. With a rich slide show of 'book sculptures' and their ways of questioning media boundaries or fetishisation of the book, he set out a framework which he then used for a close reading of Toni Morrison's novel Jazz and its negotiations between the textual space of the novel and the 'spatial text' that its reader occupies. In his workshop, Garrett Stewart used extracts from recent American war films, which confront the increasingly 'framed' and recorded (e.g. by mobile phones) experience of violence with an emergent digital cinematic paradigm. On Sunday morning, Dr. Bran Nicol (University of Portsmouth) looked at the genre of crime fiction as a form of seduction (borrowing this term in its not necessarily erotic definition from Baudrillard). Violence here emerged as a matter of an open aesthetic of a text (its productivity as opposed to its mere consumption) but also in terms of the contexts of a reading (what exactly distinguishes a lover from a stalker?).
Even the bad weather could do not dampen the relaxed atmosphere and exchanges among the workshop participants - be it during the discussions, over the wonderful meals, a night cap, or after a Hitchcock screening. The workshops themselves were also full of great moments and performances - for instance Prof. Höfele's meditation on what he declared the 'tea-cup style' of holding guns in earlier westerns (shooting from the hip), and the subsequent transformations of this cinematic code…. I also remember Saturday morning when Matthias and I were discussing on the tram to the English Department how we use violence in our own respective projects, when we suddenly realised the dead silence on the tram, and the somewhat strange stares of the other passengers. But I'm sure that not only the population of Zurich, but all doctoral students who attended the conference will remember the great event, their impressions and new ideas for a long time to come!
Crêt-Bérard, March 4-5, 2011: “Literature and Altered States” – a report by Joanne Chassot & Juliette Vuille, University of Lausanne
Profs Agnieszka Soltysik (American Literature) and Denis Renevey (Medieval English Lit.) undertook the bold project to organise a doctoral workshop that would bridge the temporal, cultural and conceptual gap between their respective fields. This workshop, entitled "Literature and Altered States of Consciousness" succeeded in unexpected and stimulating ways. The papers, workshops and meal-time discussions revealed several concepts which could be used to think about "Altered States" in any time period, such as "mimesis," "altered state and creativity," "questions of authorship and altered state," "repetition inducing trance in medieval liturgy and contemporary poetry."
What quickly struck most of the participants was the interdisciplinary nature of the workshop, both in terms of the speakers’ diverse fields of research and in terms of the discussions that took place. The keynote speakers, coming respectively from neuroscience, theology and literature, offered three very different but complementary definitions of the notion of “altered states of consciousness.” Dr. Christian Lüscher (University of Geneva) presented his research on the neuro-chemistry of addiction and memory, and invited us to discuss if and how drugs of abuse (i.e. non-medically prescribed drugs) enhance creativity. Prof. Amy Hollywood (Harvard Divinity School) argued that in the medieval period, the Benedictine rule, which rendered every action a ritual action, was vital for the development of Christian mysticism, so that the constant repetition of psalms and prayers - someone else's words - could paradoxically lead one to reach a very individualized "altered state" of communion with the divine. Prof. Marcus Boon (York University) offered a wide overview of the relationship between drugs and literature (which he, as the very last speaker, adapted to better echo and build on the previous discussions), which he completed with a more detailed look at the Beats. While most of the other speakers came from the field of literature, their papers and the discussions that followed also repeatedly took us into the not-so-distant territories of theory, philosophy, history and psychology.
The great variety in the subjects presented in the other papers (half of which were offered by doctoral students), showed that the topic lends itself to rich and varied theoretical, historical and artistic treatments and can stimulate fruitful reflections about literature. These included discussions of the notion of mania in the theatre (Nidesh Lawtoo; Roelof Overmeer, Sarah-Jane Moloney and Michael Gröneberg), a mapping of Thomas De Quincey’s opium-induced “mental landscape” (Markus Iseli), and two critical discussions of modern readings of medieval instances of altered states (namely the “ecstasy” and superhuman force of the Berserker warriors in Viking Sagas [Roberto Biolzi] and the “madness” of female mystics [Juliette Vuille]) that echoed each other nicely. The three workshops were the occasion for making more connections. The first one, which followed Dr. Lüscher’s talk, was the opportunity for the literature people to eagerly ask all kinds of science-related questions, many of which the neuroscientist admitted he could not answer because they were way out of his field, permitting the attendants to realise the difference in outlook and method between literary and scientific scholars. The workshops with Amy Hollywood and Marcus Boon were restricted to doctoral and enthusiastic MA students which allowed for an informal and probably slightly less intimidating discussion. Prof. Hollywood's workshop, in particular, enabled students to draw enlightening parallels between practices of "altered states" in the medieval period and in contemporary poets, such as the comparable "collage" of psalms in Bernard of Clairvaux' Sermon on the Song of Songs and the literal "collage" of archival records of Susan Howe, and how these practices signify differently in the context of medieval and contemporary authorship. Prof. Boon's workshop, on the other hand, compared and contrasted two contemporary poems and the discussion yielded interesting conclusions in the ways that the poems reflected two different outlooks on "altered states" and drug use which corresponded to two different moments of the Beat movement. It was a nice opportunity to read and try to make sense together of some difficult texts.
In his closing remarks, Prof. Renevey said that the two days had “altered” him, and that conferences are maybe the way for scholars to reach other states of consciousness that can stimulate their creativity. I (Joanne Chassot) often find myself frustrated and confused at the end of conferences and doctoral workshops, especially those that seem to me to be far from my own research interests. I approached this one as a tourist, with little expectation and no pressure to learn anything useful for my PhD project. I left with new interests and ideas for future reading, teaching and research. For my part (Juliette Vuille), this doctoral workshop gave me the opportunity to present a paper on an aspect of medieval mysticism that had always fascinated me, but which lay outside of my thesis' purview. The guest speakers were outstanding academics, and the fact that this was a doctoral workshop permitted much more interaction and fruitful discussions than would have happened in a conference environment. Finally, I learned a lot from the papers and workshops on contemporary American poetic movements, a subject on which I was utterly ignorant in the past, and the topical focus of the conference provided for very dynamic discussions and reflections.
Geneva, October 1-2, 2010: "Material Texts: Means and Conditions of Publication and Reception" - a report by Arnaud Barras (pictures: Michael Röösli)
What role does the physical object of the book play in the construction of meaning? What is the future of the physical book, of reading and of research since the advent of electronic media? These are the questions that the English Language and Literature Doctoral School of the Conférence Universitaire de Suisse
Occidentale tackled during the first weekend of October 2010
Those whose primary subject of interest is not the material text may wonder why to attend such a conference. Taking a look a the prestigious keynote speakers might have decided me to rush there: Professors Peter McDonald and Kathryn Sutherland are both from the University of Oxford and Professor David McKitterick is from the University of Cambridge. No question here, the materiality of texts is a fashionable topic of research! However, to me, it is not the craze about material texts that comes to mind while answering the question ‘How did I end up in this conference?’ Rather, the answer becomes clear as soon as one understands that the material text is at least as important as the linguistic text in creating meaning; it therefore cannot be overlooked, but it should rather be taken as another perspective with which one can make sense of literary texts. It is a question of admitting that the text was produced, distributed and read in a certain media, and that this media is crucial in the transmission of meaning. The type of paper and ink, the format, the presupposed and aimed at audience, the publisher, the seller; from production to reception, the very materiality of the text is undeniable. How then should scholars integrate this materiality in their analyses of texts? I think that for literary scholars, the historical aspect of the materiality of texts in itself is not what matters the most. What is interesting, however is to link the material text to the analysis of the written text. As scholars relate the form of the discourse to the topic treated, why not relate the materiality of the text to its content and textual form? Moreover, materiality allows the scholar to speak of the contexts of production and reception of the text, something impossible if one considers the text as purely linguistic. In that sense, materiality is the bridge that connects author, text and reader. If one is aware of that, one’s analysis will only get richer. The other question raised by the conference was ‘What is the future of texts, research and reading?’ To me, the topic is not closed, and I must admit that the conference did not fully satisfy my need for answers. Indeed, predictions are always sketchy, and questions remain where answers should be. For instance, will the electronic media completely overcome the material book? Will non-digitized texts fall into the penumbra of literary and popular reading? What will happen to texts in case of our digital world collapsing? Fear and anxiety were expressed, especially by those to whom the material text is the basis of literary analysis. For me, on the contrary (is it because I was born and raised in the digital era?), questioning the future of books is not tainted with anxious pessimism, but rather with overt excitement: I would love to see the institutions that throve on restricting access to texts be overthrown by the digital media. In a sense, it is the power of the internet to enable universal access; yet it is also its main flaw. How is one supposed to make sense of such a flow of information? Are extremist discourses not revived by the chaos that reigns on the web? Or more optimistically, does the internet presuppose one’s responsibility in producing and receiving texts; and if it does not, does it create responsibility? These questions are worth asking, and can be asked only if one considers the text in its whole, that is as much materially as linguistically.
Saturday afternoon, after the conference and before the visit to the Fondation Bodmer As can be seen, the conference really made me receptive to the importance of materiality; it also made me think about issues of preservation of our cultural patrimony. This would not have been possible without the superb organizational work of Dr. Erzsi Kukorelly. Not only did the conference provide interesting talks by experts on the materiality of texts, but the workshops were also heated and passionate. This conviviality, which was reinforced during coffee and lunch breaks, was crucial in order for us to talk freely about controversial topics such as the primacy of literary text over material text, or the taking over of electronic media. Moreover, the conference offered a visit to the Fondation Bodmer, whose fantastic collection reveals the majesty and almost supernatural essence of material books. A conference on the materiality of texts could not have skipped the contemplation of one of the best collection of rare books in the world. The CUSO conference on the material text was therefore an interesting introduction to the importance of materiality in literary studies; it also inspired all of the participants to think more about what books are, and how new electronic media might change our way of reading and doing research.
We walked back from the Fondation Bodmer. Geneva was at its best!
Kandersteg, September 9-11, 2010: "Literature and the Other Arts" - a report by Michael Röösli, University of Geneva (pictures: Clark Hulse & Massimo Bacigalupo) The CUSO module on "Literature and the Other Arts" immediately attracted my attention, since my own PhD thesis focuses to a large extent on how we read visual and verbal texts. Two days in wonderful Kandersteg, offering a variety of perspectives on what I had so far struggled with in my own way seemed like a great opportunity. However, while my own concern with the topic was very immediate, I was curious about how it might contribute to the work and research of my fellow-students.
Three seminars approached literature and its relationship to other arts. Prof. David Spurr from the University of Geneva (who was also the organiser of the conference) started his presentation by evoking various epistemological boundaries traditionally erected between visual and verbal texts. Immediately, a wealth of responses opposed these distinctions (and also clashed among each other). It was impressive to see in what unexpected and yet crucial ways each student's research project seemed affected by this issue. Prof. Spurr then offered a glance at a variety of intermedial collaborations in an ekphrastic context. Prof. Clarke Hulse from the University of Illinois at Chicago approached the topic through a re-reading of Lessing’s Laokoön: he traced a theoretical gray-zone in the text which he then invested with the issue of framing in favour of a different approach that revived Lessing and his seemingly outdated status in the present theoretical landscape. Finally, Prof. Massimo Bacigalupo from Genoa University paid a visit to a variety of crucial sources on media potentials, including Mario Praz' take on traditional systems of periodisation and the media interactions that they cover (in both senses of the term).
These seminars were followed by sessions in which students presented their thesis projects. The keynote speakers' fields of expertise frequently intersected with the various projects and led to specific feedback. More importantly, however, they provided very pragmatic suggestions related to the scope and strategies of the individual projects, and also to their position in the current publishing market. I also very much enjoyed getting a closer look at the concerns and projects of my fellow students. It was great to openly discuss, test and exchange ideas which are all too often born and maintained among the solitary walls of the library. The informal setting in the Bernerhof Hotel and the wonderful mountain air and landscape of course contributed to these lively exchanges, and the picturesque setting also offered us the opportunity of a wonderful trip to the Oeschinensee on Saturday afternoon, which rounded off an exciting and memorable weekend.
Check our new doctoral reading group meetings here
History module: Literature and the Material Text, Geneva 1-2 October 2010
Invited faculty: David McKitterick, Peter McDonald, Kathryn Sutherland The texts that are studied in departments of English language and literature were initially made public in a specific form, as material artefacts: in long-lasting books, in ephemeral pamphlets or broadsheets, or posted on unstable and unverifiable blogs. The material form of texts is dependent on the historical conditions of their production and consumption. From the early days of print to the internet, the material form in which texts are made available to consumers has influenced their reception through identifiable and sense-producing effects, such as typography, layout, illustrations and paratexts. This Doctoral Programme module intends to foster a greater awareness of such effects and to help students take forms of bibliographic production into consideration during their research.
Over two days, students will participate in a varied and thought-provoking programme, including lectures, papers, seminars led by our guests and feedback sessions on work in progress. We are eager for students whose main approach does NOT focus on the material text to participate in this module, and teaching on offer will reflect this diversity of methodological background. Although the module will not be heavily geared towards giving papers, the programme will include a handful of student papers. Prof. McDonald will give a lecture provisionally entitled: Literature, Institutions and the Question of the Book, and will give a broad-based, interactive and introductory seminar on material textual analysis. Prof. Sutherland will give a lecture provisionally entitled Defining the Material Text in the Digital Age, with a seminar on the same topic. More details & online registration
CUSO 40th Anniversary Prize
Annick Challet, a doctoral student at the University of Geneva, has been awarded the CUSO 40th anniversary prize of Sfr. 5'000 for her project entitled “Of Cannibals and Zombies: The Migration of Caribbean Tropes.” The project is based on her thesis, which studies the question of “hybridity” in Caribbean women’s writing in English and French.
Reports from the field
University of Basel, 17-18 April 2009: "History: Medieval and Early Modern English Literature and the Question of Periodization" - a report by Emma Depledge, University of Geneva
The doctoral workshop on ‘History: Medieval and Early Modern English Literature and the Question of Periodization’, organized by Prof. Ina Habermann at the University of Basel from 17-18 April 2009, provided a wonderful opportunity to mix with fellow graduate students whilst enjoying stimulating and thought-provoking discussions.
The two-day workshop began with informal introductions, with each participant identifying the period in which their research lies: ‘early modern’, ‘Jacobean’, ‘Elizabethan’, ‘Medieval’, ‘Renaissance’, ‘Restoration’, and so on. Having confidently catalogued our research, we were then asked to question the labels we had used, along with all that we thought we knew about periodization. Where did these labels come from? Who coined them, and why? When do these periods start and end? Why use labels which describe a monarch’s reign? The room was brimming with thoughts and ideas as the workshop leaders, Professor Gordon McMullan (King's College London) and Dr David Matthews (Manchester), guided students of two, now apparently not-so-distinct, disciplines on an exciting journey of discovery.
The second stage of the workshop involved students introducing their thesis topics and argument to the other participants, without the aid of notes or prompts. Those still in the process of defining their thesis topic received a noticeable confidence boost as they realized how much material they did have and how interested their audience was in what they had to say. The more advanced students were treated to a mini-viva, and a chance to see their topic through the eyes of others. I know that I am not the only one who left the room feeling revitalized and extremely grateful for suggestions which would help me to write a better thesis.
As advertised, the workshop enabled us to consider both ‘Medieval’ and ‘early modern’ texts in the context of periodization, and I was delighted to get the chance both to study a text which was new to me, Mandeville’s Travels, and approach familiar and much loved-texts, such as Shakespeare’s King Lear and the anonymous play, King Leir, from a new angle. The sense of isolation which comes with writing a PhD seemed a million miles away as we were unified by our passion for these wonderful texts, with Mandeville experts infecting new comers with their enthusiasm, and the King Lear club helping to guide virgins through the confusing world of Quarto and Folio variants.
The event was rounded off by fascinating key-note lectures from David Matthews and Gordon McMullan, prompting yet more enthusiastic discussion of the issues raised during the workshop. That the event was so pleasurable is surely down to the excellent choice of workshop leaders, and the beautiful setting and warm hospitality of the University of Basel. All in all, I found this to be a very rewarding experience, which enriched my doctoral work while allowing me to network and socialize with fellow doctoral students over a glass of wine or two.
Sils-Maria, 31 August - 3 September 2009: "Theory: Genealogies and Modern Literary Theory" - a report by Julianna Bark, University of Geneva
What does your personal landscape of theory look like? Mine isn’t very hospitable, I’m afraid. The landscape I imagine is a kind of post-nuclear wasteland. Its colors are slate grey and airforce blue. Its climate is cold and damp there is an atmosphere of impending disaster. The prospect of engaging in literary theory had always seemed to me rather bleak for one reason or another, and I have always seen waging war on theory as the more attractive way out. As David Simpson explained to me during the course of the workshop at Sils, my anti-theory stance – and the post-nuclear landscape associated with it – could be explained by the fact that I attended graduate school in the United States. “Theory is not something Americans do because it is not American.” he said. He may be right. I recently spent six years in New York, where I recently completed a dissertation in art history, under the supervision of the late Robert Rosenblum, whose erudition and “common sense” approach to art always seemed to me infinitely superior to any theory that could be applied to it. This die-hard formalist way of doing scholarship seemed retrograde to most of my peers. To me, it only seemed legitimate. Also, since it was recognized as retrograde it felt transgressive and new in some bizarre way, and I liked that.
Now that I am back in the Old World, perhaps my views of theory will gain in moderation. Certainly this is the direction in which the CUSO workshop I attended in Sils Maria pointed me. Under the aegis of David Simpson, Peter de Bolla, Simon Swift and David Spurr, the question of theory took on a kind of urgency. Simon Swift pressed us to see the violence encoded within the concept of enlightenment. David Simpson spoke of the fetishism lurking in the work of Marx, Freud, Lacan and Cixous. Peter de Bolla urged us all to take a stand for our aesthetic judgments. David Spurr demonstrated the centrality of Hegel in the way we think about the arts today. As conversation on all of these topics ensued, it became clear that the more we talked the less we agreed. Assertions like “I think my Kant disagrees with your Kant” (Simon Swift) multiplied. At the end of the day it seemed that if we agreed on anything at all it was that it might be more conducive to misunderstand (and mistranslate) theory than it is to do otherwise, as our misreading will give someone else down the road the chance to say something new. The question of theory’s usefulness was brought up time and time again, as was the problem of multiplicity of theories. How do we explain that theories have emerged in recent years with the breathtaking pace of ever-changing fashions? Food for thought indeed.
While I’m not sure about how much theory I will make use of in my new dissertation in early modern literature, the effects of this workshop were immensely stimulating. Largely this was thanks to the professors present – the four mentioned above were joined by Thomas Austenfeld and Margaret Tudeau-Clayton – who were so generous in providing us with the consolation of their advice and guidance. Anyone in need of a sounding board to their unresolved dissertation-writing issues – no matter how post-nuclear and hopeless these may seem – should not give it a moment’s hesitation, they should plan on attending the next CUSO event.
Pictures - copyright Prof. Patrick Vincent