Belle Joseph ‘Beyond Words’

Join us for this week’s CuSPP seminar:

Beyond Words? Trauma in Literature from the Concentration Camps

Thursday 25 October, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

Cathy Caruth’s studies on trauma and literature, especially her seminal 1996 work, Unclaimed Experience, laid much of the groundwork of literary trauma theory. Caruth labelled trauma ‘the unexperienced event’. Direct knowledge of the traumatic experience, according to Caruth, is impossible; the ‘threat of death’ is never truly confronted by the victim at the time, and can only be approached subsequently and in an imperfect manner.

The question of psychic trauma in literature is of particular relevance when it comes to memoirs and other writings by those who survived the concentration camps, the scene of what have become in the collective memory the archetypal traumatic events of the 20th century. Yet to date, the considerable body of writings produced by concentration camp prisoners during their internment has been largely overlooked in debates on trauma in literature. By looking at writings from the camps by French prisoners and others, including the contemporary Sonderkommando testimonies, I will show that far from manifesting the victims’ incapacity to come to terms with what they are experiencing, these texts are evidence of the authors’ genuine engagement with the harrowing realities of internment and with the proximity of death. Traditional literary strategies, including lyricism, aesthetic imagery, and metaphor, are used to confront and interpret the traumatic events experienced. Reading these texts compels us to come up with a more nuanced model of how profound psychic trauma might find voice in literary texts at the very moments in which the traumatic events are experienced.

Dr Belle Joseph is a Sessional Lecturer in the French program in SLLL. She was awarded her PhD in French in 2017 for a thesis investigating the poetry written by French prisoners in concentration camps during the Second World War. She has a research article forthcoming in the Australian Journal of French Studies.

Russell Smith: the dead pan

Join us for this week’s CuSPP seminar:

The dead pan: Nathanael West’s unfunny jokes and modernist anti-sentimentalism

Thursday 18 October, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

Though Nathanael West’s novels are often read in terms of an ancient and revered mode of misanthropic humour—satire—in this paper I want to draw on recent work that seeks to situate his work in relation to distinctly modern comic modes—slapstick, burlesque, black humour, and especially, dead pan. In Miss Lonelyhearts (1933), we read of the constantly-joking newspaper editor Shrike:

Although his gestures were elaborate, his face was blank. He practiced a trick much used by moving-picture comedians—the dead pan. No matter how fantastic or excited his speech, he never changed his expression. Under the shining white globe of his brow, his features huddled together in a dead, gray triangle.

Drawing on Michael North’s Machine-Age Comedy, and recent readings of West by Jonathan Greenberg and Justus Nieland, I want to draw out the inhuman aspects of West’s anti-sentimental modernist comedy. In particular, where for other modernists the mechanical aspects of human behaviour are a source of comedy, and laughter itself the most mechanical of human behaviours, West’s ‘strange and unfunny jokes’ (as he called them) depict these human mechanisms of collective emotion in breakdown, pulling out the rug of sensus communis on which satirical humour traditionally rests. The result is a comedy which may not, in fact, be funny.

Russell Smith is a Lecturer in English in SLLL. This paper will be presented later this month at the annual conference of the Australasian Modernist Studies Network on the theme of Modernist Comedy and Humour.

Upcoming HRC event: Scientists in Australian Fiction


Conversations Across the Creek is an initiative by the Humanities Research Centre (HRC) and the Research School of Chemistry (RSC) to provide a space for continuing dialogue among scientists, social scientists, and humanities scholars. Meetings are held monthly, with the aim of stimulating and unearthing research and teaching collaborations across the university.

Join us for the fourth Conversation for 2018, where three diverse scholars ‘cross’ Sullivan’s Creek, presenting on their latest research. The topic of this event is Creators of Culture: Scientists in Australian Fiction.

The speakers will explore the representations and dynamics of scientists in Australian fiction, and why they matter. Special guest: Peter Goldsworthy AM, award-winning poet and writer. There will also be a glassblowing performance by Mark Eliott. This event is free to attend but registration is esssential. Register now!

Monique Rooney, ‘Only Mediate’

Join us for this week’s CuSPP seminar:

Only Mediate: The Mere Interest of Interbrow in Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret (2011) and Howards End (2017)

Thursday 11 October, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

‘Only connect’ functions both as the epigraph to E. M. Forster’s Howards End (1910) and as the central character Margaret Schlegel’s exhortation to her husband, capitalist entrepreneur Henry Wilcox. With her exasperated ‘only connect’, Margaret means for Henry to recognise that his refusal of hospitality and condemnation of the actions of others involve blindness to his own culpability in the tragic events that have unfolded. Signalling potential hospitality in any given situation, ‘only connect’ is here a means to an altruistic end. This paper repurposes ‘only connect’ as ‘only mediate’ in order to think about bourgeois conduct underpinning middlebrow narrative, interpersonal mediation and the role of intermedia in Kenneth Lonergan’s film and television work. The television miniseries Howards End (2017, screenwriter Lonergan, director Hettie McDonald) and the film Margaret (2011, director and screenwriter Lonergan) are coming-of-age narratives in which tragic storylines pivot on the actions of young, middle-class women who insert themselves into the lives of other people. This female, bourgeois mediation can, moreover, be understood in terms of the capitalist-media environment in which both Howards End and Margaret were produced.

My coinage ‘interbrow’—crossing ‘middlebrow’ with ‘intermedia’—points to my interest in the role and significance of contemporary media in the context of bourgeois concern, with further reference to what Sianne Ngai calls ‘mere interest’. ‘Mere interest’ is a weaker or cooler version of the curious that, for Ngai, corresponds to the circulation of the artwork within a bourgeois public sphere and among late capitalist networks of production, distribution, commodification and consumption. In this context, ‘mere interest’ gestures to our aesthetic proclivities, judgements and actions as they hyperconnect, enmeshed within distributive networks. This paper considers the transformative possibilities and limits of ‘mere interest’ as a will to ‘only mediate’, investigating the interbrow of Lonergan’s productions and their portrayal of a feminine drive toward resolution for selves and others.

Monique Rooney is a senior lecturer in the English Program, School of Literature, Languages and Literature ANU. Her book Living Screens: Melodrama and Plasticity in Contemporary Film and Television (2015) explores the far-reaching legacy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ur-melodrama Pygmalion as a form that is essentially about mediation and metamorphosis. She has published on the role and significance of intermedia in Angelaki and New Review of Film and Television Studies and her essay on melodrama is forthcoming in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia.

Gemma King on Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival

Join us for this week’s CuSPP seminar:

Denis Villeneuve’s multilingual cinema: Decentring space, time and language in Arrival

Thursday 4 October, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

With dialogue in Arabic, English, Finnish, French, Hungarian, Japanese, Mandarin, Norwegian, Russian, Somali, Spanish and even extraterrestrial languages, Québécois filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s cinema revolves around language. From 2010’s trilingual Incendies to 2017’s heptalingual Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve’s films increasingly feature protagonists who not only speak multiple languages, but use multilingualism to exert social power. In these films, lingua francas like English and French remain essential, but it is the ability to manipulate peripheral and even marginalised languages that is key to unlocking oppressive structures and shifting power dynamics within them.

This talk analyses Denis Villeneuve’s multilingual, transnational cinema, in which characters not only understand multiple languages, but deploy them strategically. Drawing on Bill Marshall’s vision of cinema and nation in Quebec National Cinema as a ‘very mobile spiral’ (2000: 3), it charts the progressive decentring at play in Villeneuve’s 2016 quadrilingual film, Arrival.

Gemma King is a Lecturer in French at the ANU. Her research explores language, power and cultural representation in contemporary French, Francophone and transnational cinemas. Her first book Decentring France: Multilingualism and Power in Contemporary French Cinema was published with Manchester University Press in 2017, and her work has also appeared in Contemporary French Civilization, French Cultural Studies, The Australian Journal of French Studies, The Conversation and Francosphères. She is currently working on the book Jacques Audiard for the Manchester French Film Directors series.

Ally Wolfe, Broken Bodies, Remade Wholes

Join us for this week’s CuSPP seminar:

Broken Bodies, Remade Wholes:
Unwind as Frankenstein Retold and Reversed

Thursday 6 September, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

New technologies create new opportunities for anxiety, and using human body parts to create life is a special kind of horrifying fictional procedure. At first glance, Unwind by Neal Shusterman and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein approach this concept in inverted ways. In Frankenstein, a ‘monster’ is built out of the parts of corpses, and rises against his horrified creator, while Unwind centres on a society that justifies breaking down its own children for their organs, and using these parts to sustain itself, until the children rise against it. Unwind is centred on the precept that that which is broken down still lives, in a divided state, controllable by the larger body to which it’s donated. The children broken down for parts are perceived and understood by the authorities of this fictional universe as criminals waiting to happen, excess bodies and liabilities. Frankenstein’s monster horrified Dr Frankenstein due to his perceived imperfection and lack of accuracy to his father’s vision of the perfect creation. Unwind is inspired to take its children apart due to that same disgust. Fear of what one has created and its difference from oneself pervades the horrors and potential horrors of both works.

In my paper I argue that Unwind mirrors Frankenstein in how it centres on an adult fear of the children it has created, placed specifically in a time and place where they have the technology and the lack of empathy to tell themselves that it is better not to ‘waste’ what they have made. Unwind and Frankenstein both delve into old fears and new technology, embodying and perpetuating a cycle of technology prompting anxiety prompting technology, until all fear what they have wrought.

Ally Wolfe is a PhD student in English Literature at ANU. Her work focuses on Young Adult fiction, dystopia, and technologies.

Chris Bishop, The Dark Gaze of Galla Placidia


Join us for this week’s CuSPP seminar:

The Dark Gaze of Galla Placidia

Thursday 23 August, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL


The Roman empress Galla Placidia haunts the Cantos of Ezra Pound:

And there was grass on the floor of the temple,

Or where the floor of it might have been;

            Gold fades in the gloom,

            Under the blue-black roof, Placidia’s,

Of the exarchate; and we sit here

By the arena, les gradins… (Canto XXI)

The numerous drafts of Canto XXI demonstrate the significance of the empress and her centrality (in the mind of the poet) to a meeting in Verona, at a café near the Roman arena, where Pound met T.S. Eliot in the summer of 1922. That year, Pound was in Verona with both his wife, Dorothy, and his lover, Bride Scratton, and the latter had a strong recollection of Eliot placing a manuscript of The Waste Landon the table before Pound.  Pound had just finished his revisions of that poem and found himself both in awe of Eliot’s genius, and dismayed by what he saw as his own inability to achieve the same level of brilliance.  Eliot, on leave from his position at Lloyds Bank, was becoming increasingly critical of Pound’s Bel Esprit venture, and feared that the public-funding promised by it would see him lose his job.  And so, they met, Pound and Eliot (and, apparently, Galla Placidia) in a café beside the Veronese arena.

This paper will explore some of the complex receptions of Galla Placidia during the early 20th century, focusing primarily on the poetry of Pound, but also contextualising that reception within the memories of Aleksandr Blok and Carl Gustav Jung, both of whom also fell in love with the long-dead empress.

Dr Chris Bishop he teaches Latin, Ancient Greek and History in the Centre for Classical Studies (ANU). This paper will appear in East is East? Orientalism and the Western Reception of Ancient Women in Power. His publications include Text and Transmission in Medieval Europe (2007), Medievalist Comics and the American Century (2016), and numerous articles on modern receptions of Classical and Medieval literature.