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.

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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.

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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.

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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!


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.

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Dr Rowan Boyson (KCL) brings Coleridge and Wordsworth into dialogue with Foucault's Les Mots et Les Choses, another anniversary text ( first published 1966).

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Swiss doctoral students discuss the conceptions of body and sensation operative in the different historical periods that their research engages.

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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.  


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